Several times a year, the Hôtel de Ville in Paris plays host to exhibitions that are free for all visitors, proudly showing off the connections between the featured exhibitions and the city itself. If you’re lucky to be around when two exhibitions are running concurrently (i.e. one at Salon d’accueil which entrance is on 29 rue de Rivoli, one at Salle Saint-Jean which entrance is on 3-5 rue de Lobau) you could easily see both, one after another.
The latest exhibition organised by the Mairie de Paris flaunts the illustrative talent and humour of Jean-Jacques Sempé. I managed to contain my (considerable) excitement and eventually queued up for the exhibition a week after its opening, first thing on a Saturday morning, along with a (not-so) secret partner in crime. ;)
I first got to know Sempé’s work through another exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville itself, back in 2009. I happened to be passing the city and managed to squeeze in the exhibition of Le Petit Nicolas on its last day. (Over at Salle Saint-Jean, an exhibition on Gustav Eiffel was attracting the crowd with its longer queue.) In case you wonder, Petit Nicolas is a series of children’s books which I quite like and they make good reading materials for non-fluent non-Francophones like me. The author René Goscinny (of the Astérix fame) enlisted Sempé to visually bring the characters to life with simple (mostly) single panel drawings. I remember leaving the exhibition smiling wistfully to myself, such was my enjoyment of these imaginative and story-rich oeuvres.
Sempé not only provided illustrative works for these books, but is humourist in his own right. With a few clever strokes and glibly-filled speech bubbles, Monsieur Lambert was born. Throughout his career, he also sketched the lives of Parisians and New Yorkers, sometimes with teeming crowd, other times with elegant single lines which cleverly create the silhouettes he intended them to be. Even his “silent” drawings tell you more than a thousand words, often leaving you chuckling, softly or right out loud.
Many a cover of The New Yorker magazine have been created by Sempé. The photo above is a mere collage of four covers which I managed to sneakily photograph during the exhibition – moi la rebelle quoi ;) – there were dozens more from over a hundred commissioned. Overall, with some over 300 pieces of his work on display in this exhibition, it does take a little time to go from one drawing to another, some coloured, some in black and white. I even bought the exhibition’s companion coffee table book so I can peruse through them in my own time at home.
If you want to know what Sempé has sketched of Paris, my advice would be to see them for yourself. Get to the Hôtel de Ville early in the morning so avoid having to queue outside for too long (this winter may have been mild but standing outside for more than 20-30 minutes could quickly turns unpleasant and chilly) and to enjoy the exhibition without having to jostle with the other enthusiasts. Especially now that the exhibition is closing soon. In my personal experience, closing exhibits tend to pull crowd in like nobody’s business – a wait of 2-3 hours would not be out of place!
Sempé, un peu de Paris et d’ailleurs has been in exhibit since 21 October 2011 and is due to end on 11 February 2012. Just a month to go peeps! Open daily except Sundays and public holidays, from 10am to 7pm (last admisssion 6.30pm).