In 1969, before Patti Smith ever set foot in the legendary New York City rock club CBGB, before she moved into the Chelsea Hotel with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, before she recorded her 1975 album Horses and became the Godmother of Punk, she went to Paris. "Since childhood it was my dream to go where all the poets and artists had been," she says. "Rimbaud, Camus, Picasso, Bresson, Godard Paris for me was a mecca."
And so "Patti Smith: Land 250," showing from March 28-June 22 at the Fondation Cartier in Paris, is not only Smith's first major visual arts exhibition in Europe it is also a spiritual homecoming. The collection of Smith's drawings and photographs (taken on a vintage Polaroid Land 250), along with video and audio recordings of her commentary, music and poetry, reveals a deep connection to the literary and artistic figures who have accompanied the musician along her creative path. "I counted on them when I felt alone," she says. "They shepherded me through my adolescence. They gave me an example to follow."
Smith's black-and-white photographs capture objects and moments that are at once haunting and poignant: Hermann Hesse's typewriter, the river where Virginia Woolf committed suicide, a pair of Mapplethorpe's slippers. Her often surreal drawings reveal influences such as Antonin Artaud and Amedeo Modigliani; her penchant for fusing handwriting with images recalls her long fascination with William Blake's Songs of Innocence.
But it was the 19th century poet Arthur Rimbaud who started Smith's love affair with France. When she was just an ungainly adolescent in New Jersey, Smith discovered his work Illuminations in a used book bin. "I loved everything about him," she recalls. "His youth, his beauty, his language, his irreverence, his spiritual quest." For her first Paris sojourn, she chose a sixth-floor "French crash pad" at 9 Rue Campagne Première, the street Rimbaud as well as Man Ray, Yves Klein and Marcel Duchamp once called home. Forty years later, Smith's drawings from that 1969 stay are now on show in the same Montparnasse neighborhood. "It's very moving for me," she says. "These drawings were done here with so many hopes and dreams, and they made it." Inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame last year at age 60, Smith has made it, too.
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