Music to Her Eyes

Article excerpt

Byline: Amber Haq

Patti Smith, the high priestess of punk rock, also knows her way around a camera and a sketchpad.

She may be an icon of rock and roll and the godmother of punk, but today Patti Smith is in a mellow mood. Sitting by the window in a fifth-floor, all-glass office at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris, she's pondering how it all came about. Back in May 1969, when she first set foot in Paris with her sister Linda, her camera, her art supplies and little else, she lived in a small apartment around the corner. The impressive glass-and-steelabuilding that houses Cartier didn't even exist. "We met a filmmaker and a couple of street singers, and they lived in this small flat," recalls Smith, 61. "We slept on the floor. I would stick my paper on the wall and draw. I used to tell my sister, 'I'm going to be a great artist. I'm going to have a big show in Paris,' and--even though we didn't have enough money to eat--'Someday we'll be eating caviar!' " Smith smiles sagely. "I was so arrogant then."

Others might call it prescient. Several of those works now feature in the deeply intimate Cartier Foundation show "Land 250" (through June 22), Smith's first European art exhibition. The show is dominated by some 200 black-and-white photographs that Smith took with the vintage Polaroid Land 250 camera that never leaves her side. But it also includes sketches, artifacts, installations, video footage and documentaries chronicling her career as performer, painter, photographer and poet from 1967 to 2007, luring viewers into her fascinating inner universe.

Smith shaped musical history, redefining the role of women in the industry and heralding New York's 1970s punk-rock movement with seminal albums like "Horses" (1975). But for her, music and visual art are really two sides of the same coin. "Art ranges from the most precious, spiritual and intellectual experience to really animating some creative moment primarily to serve the people," she says. "Rock and roll, after all, is really the people's art."

And yet rock and roll is not the focal point of this exhibit. Purposely lacking a chronology, it lets viewers wind their way through a maze of rooms that pay tribute to the various influences in Smith's life. …