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PARIS — When I stepped into the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, I knew I would be seeing a lot of taxidermy trophies and guns in this museum of the hunt and nature, but I wasn’t expecting contemporary art. However, since its renovation in 2007, the museum in Paris’ Marais neighborhood has embedded installations and works of art in its stately space, a move which definitely lightens what could be very dated-feeling period rooms where stuffed bears and foxes rest alongside antique furniture and old oil paintings of hunting scenes. Yet there in the room that celebrates dogs (many of the rooms are devoted to a different animal) is Jeff Koons’s ceramic “Puppy,” and in the unicorn room set up like a cabinet of curiosities is a 2005 video of a unicorn in the rain by French artist Maïder Fortuné. Belgian artist Jan Fabre has also covered a ceiling of the owl room with owl feathers (and some heads), and Mark Dion has a permanent installation of the interior of a hunting cabin.
The museum also regularly has exhibitions with contemporary artists, alongside more historic focuses like antique archery targets (this was apparently a quite fruitful medium for political and social themes), and I happend to get a preview of Dutch artist Arno Kramer‘s current installation, Echappée(s) … (translated to “Escapes” or “the Escaped”).
All sides of the space by a grand stone staircase are covered with Kramer’s massive drawings, which have deer, hares, wolves, owls, and other forest creatures in their quick lines. Two long cabinets on one side have smaller drawings, depicting more animals, and, naturally for the setting, hunting. While Kramer’s art was new to me, as he hasn’t exhibited much in the United States (aside from a few shows in Philadelphia), he has been heavily involved in promoting contemporary Dutch drawing as a curator and has exhibited all over Europe, especially in Ireland. That’s likely where the snatches of Seamus Heaney poetry come in, like “A letting go which will not come again. Or it will, once.” scrawled beneath two standing hares, taken from Heaney’s “Human Chain” poem on mortality. And what is a museum about hunting but a tribute to the mortality of all animals beneath human ingenuity? Of course, the Musée de la Chasse has become much more than that, but Kramer’s embodying of the animals with these heavy reminders of their brevity of life, whether it’s the half-drawn deer or the strange blood pouring from a sketched wolf, really brings a darkness that much of the other contemporary art in the museum does not (for example, an animatronic talking boar’s head in the trophy room).
The installation also incorporates some items from the museum, with a sculpted, elegant deer as the focal point flanked by candelabras. There are no actual dead animals in the room, but in just the next room are a couple of lions. But they don’t need to be there, Kramer’s installation is haunting on its own, with drips of light watery color and the dragged lines of glimpses of animals on the huge pieces of paper tacked to the walls offering enough reminders of their ephemeral nature. It’s really interesting to have a museum invite these kinds of installations of contemporary art as direct dialogues with their collections, and it really makes the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature a special place to visit for its eclectic interpretations of human’s history of hunting and our relationship to nature.
Arno Kramer: Echapée(s) … opens today and continues until September 29 at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (62, Rue des Archives, Paris).