In Paris, Artists and Acrobats Dare At a Museum the Bus Tours Ignore

You've come to Paris to see the big museums. You waited out the line to get to the ticket counter. You even pushed through 20-tourist-deep crowds to snatch a peek at the Mona Lisa. But now museum burnout is taking hold: Louvre galleries seem to be lengthening, and the "Winged Victory of Samothrace" suddenly is very far away.

So try one of Paris's small museums - one the bus tours haven't heard of. You'll find the Zadkine Museum, once the home and studio of Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine, down an alley, across from the Luxembourg Gardens. (The address is 100 bis rue d'Assas, Paris 6. Look for a small black-and-white sign suspended between two buildings.)

You can walk through the museum's current exhibition on acrobats in less than seven minutes, but you'll want to stay longer. There's more going on here than handstands, leaps, and tightrope dancing.

The acrobat, or "person who walks on extremities," was an inspiring figure for modern artists. Acrobats challenged the order and limits of everyday life. Spectators see the lightness and grace of the performance. But for those taking the leap into space - or breaking artistic conventions - what counts is precision, balance, and the landing. Acrobat and pioneering artist both work without a net.

There's nothing in this show that is not a joy to see. Marc Chagall's "Acrobat" (above) shares his wire with a green cow, who has opted to walk on the underside. As if to press the point, Chagall signed the painting twice: once in the traditional lower right, again in the upper left (upside down).

Other masters of modern art - Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, and Alexander Calder - play on similar themes here. Calder's "Les Acrobates" (1944) sculpture looks like a solid work, but one acrobat is perfectly balanced on the other. (Ask an attendant to let you touch it.)

You won't quickly tire of this show. If you do, there's a splendid garden across the street. The exhibition closes Sept. 14.

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