Paris art opening: the wrong impressionists

Artist exhibition openings in Paris are usually neither rare, nor rarified. So democratised is the attitude to art in France that seeing a horde of unwashed people on the nicer streets of the capital can just as well signal the latest violent uprising, as the opening of Hokusai at the Grand Palais.

And if we’re talking democracy, when it comes to art I’m defiantly Plebian.

So to late November, when a friend listed in my phone contacts as “Anthony Artist” – in the same spirit as “Jeffrey Cleaner” – invited me to an exhibition opening on a cold and rainy Thursday night.

Openings are always great to attend, especially if you love drinking cheap red wine from plastic cups: you fill your cup with plonk, then do a quick circuit of the art, and see which makes your feel nausea first.

The address was a gallery in the 8th arrondissement, an embassy district of Paris that already makes me feel out of place; and the feeling’s definitely mutual.

From Rue de Naples to Rue de Rome, the district’s wide and quiet streets and avenues are lined with high-ceilinged apartments that stretch the length of the block, and bear the names of the cities once more economically important to France than Doha, Riyadh and Beijing.

Enter me, exiting the metro wearing green gumboots, blue baggy jeans, and a large down parka, with a bright red beanie over my head; to the well-heeled locals I must have looked like a lost New Zealand farmer looking for Rue de Wellington.

Multi-tasker that I am, I passed by an electronics store en route to buy a glorified selfie stick, which I was carrying in a large, dirty-looking store-branded plastic bag. To underscore the point, in large bold letters this bag proclaimed D A R T Y, and a crease naturally made the A look like an I.

Walking into the Gallerie Lelong (Rue de Teheran), I was confronted by a polished white stone stairway, and my heart sunk. This was not your average artistic booze-a-thon, but the crème-de-la-crème of the Parisian art world.

Well-heeled women in fine dresses, accessorised with young bachelors in suits of heavy cloth, and prematurely aged silver hair perfectly coiffed, who were even more well-heeled than the women.

I was there at Anthony’s invitation, and in hindsight, probably should have checked before bringing some plus-ones along. Suffice to say, my friends were equally unaware of any dress code.

So together we stood yabbering, in front of the €160,000 canvases, like a meeting of the NZ Dairy Industry, making the best kind of right-wrong impression.

Sometimes it’s a pretentious crowd that’s the real piece of work.

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