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All eyes are focused on Paris this month as contemporary artists and Houston hostesses take a renewed interest in the Louvre, a formerly debauched club turns hipster lounge and a Hamptons foodie shares her savory faves.

HIGH ART

PARIS — Though he’s perched high on a ledge outside the Louvre museum, the boy in the parka beating a drum isn’t going to jump. That’s because “he” is a sculpture by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Since it went up at the beginning of the month, crowds of curious passersby have stopped to stare at the odd sight. “That’s just the point,” explains Marie-Laure Bernadac, the museum’s chief curator, who has been in charge of bringing contemporary art to the Louvre since she left the Pompidou Center last year.

People think there’s something contradictory about contemporary creations in this historical museum,” she sniffs. “But it’s really an old story. Under Napoleon, living artists showed here. In the Second Empire, there were contemporary salons. Even in 1954, the museum asked Georges Braque to paint a ceiling, but somewhere along the line the tradition was lost.”

Bernadac’s first exhibit, titled “Counterpoint,” features the work of 12 artists juxtaposed with the pieces of their choosing. Xavier Veilhan, for example, plays with the notion of celebrity with an installation near sculptures of France’s illustrious men. Gary Hill’s video installation stands in proximity to Mesopotamian writing tablets from 3000 B.C., while Cameron Jamie’s “Halloween” photographs and drawings are shown alongside ancient mortuary relics. Frederic Sanchez, known for doing soundtracks for fashion shows, has a sound installation in Philippe Auguste’s dungeon.

“Art has always sought inspiration in the past,” Bernadac explains. “It’s an imaginary journey into the artist’s mind.” — Robert Murphy

Rue Romance

NEW YORK — As the “Barefoot Contessa,” Ina Garten has been mixing up simple, fresh recipes since 1978, when she bought a small storefront in East Hampton, N.Y., and began selling everything from shrimp salad to coconut cupcakes. The store closed over a year ago, but Garten still hosts “Barefoot Contessa,” a Food Network TV show, and is currently on tour promoting her fourth cookbook, “Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home.”

This story first appeared in the November 16, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“What I tried to do was find shortcuts for the classics so you can make them without spending a day in the kitchen,” Garten says from her Hamptons office. (Her latest book offers a crème brûlée that she insists you can make in 10 minutes.)

Since she spends a month or two of the year at her Left Bank apartment, WWD asked Garten to cull her favorite locales for the perfect dinner party.

THE CLASSICS: “As opposed to chasing the new fashion, it’s what’s really old in Paris that’s really good. The shops that have been owned by one family for [more than 100] years, like the wine shop Legrand Fille et Fils [1 Rue de la Banque]. It is the really traditional: Poilâne [8 Rue du Cherche-Midi] for bread, Barthélémy [51 Rue de Grenelle] for cheese; Mariage Frères [30 Rue du Bourg-Tibourg] for tea, these are really the classics and they’re classics for a reason.” Barthélémy’s staff is expert at picking out the perfect fromage. “I love when they say, ‘Are you going to eat it between 5 and 7 or between 7 and 9?’ The attention to detail is amazing.”

SIMPLE PLEASURES: “I am big on not making dessert because there are so many options. In terms of macaroons, I really like La Maison du Chocolat [225 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré]. Pierre Hermé [72 Rue Bonaparte] has this fabulous chocolate cake in the shape of a slice of a cake with a cherry on top. It’s fabulous — it’s basically all buttercream.”

ON SETTING A (SMALL) TABLE: Garten stocks up on dishes and glassware at Muriel Grateau (37 Rue de Beaune) and fabric at Caravane (6 Rue Pavée and 19 Rue Saint Nicolas) that can be used as a tablecloth or runner. When it comes to table size, Garten is emphatic: “The secret ingredient of a dinner party is a small table. It’s where everybody’s seated elbow-to-elbow and the room is dark and there are candles on the table that bring your attention in.”

FLEUR FIND: Garten gushes over Marianne Robic’s flowers (39 Rue de Babylone). “I pop in for a little bouquet and end up walking home with two armfuls,” she says. “Sometimes she has huge buckets of mint — why wouldn’t you use just mint?”

CORNER BISTRO: “We always go to Le Voltaire [27 Quai Voltaire] and whenever I go anywhere else I think, ‘Why didn’t I go to Le Voltaire?’ I don’t like fancy restaurants. A glass of champagne and an omelette at Flore [Café de Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain] is my idea of heaven.”

TALK THE TALK: “The big difference in Paris is the dinner table conversation — it’s all political. They really can take a subject and investigate it thoroughly. In New York, it’s more about having fun; there, it’s about great conversation. And I like both of them.”

LOCAL FLAVOR: “There’s something about Paris that’s a little fancier, so I’m more likely to use Baccarat crystal and Muriel Grateau dishes for the table. In New York, I tend to eat in the kitchen, it’s much more family style. There, it’s Paris. I don’t want to have a party in Paris, I want to have a Paris party.” — Jamie Rosen

FASHIONABLE FRIENDS

HOUSTON — John and Becca Cason Thrash inaugurated the American Friends of the Louvre in style last week at a party for 260 at their granite and glass mansion. “It’s probably an unlikely place to do a Francophile event in an election year, but I’m not the only Francophile in this town,” Becca explained as co-chair Christopher “Kip” Forbes, who brought an entourage of family and friends from New York, Palm Beach and Paris, milled about her house. “The Louvre is the number-two American museum,” asserted Louvre director Henri Loyrette, who flew in for the evening, adding that 1.2 million Americans visit it every year.

Intent on creating a semblance of the Louvre’s famed I.M. Pei glass pyramid, Thrash covered most of her indoor swimming pool with Plexiglas to create a stage for a Chado Ralph Rucci couture show, sponsored by Neiman Marcus. The next day, glamour gals from the party ordered more than a dozen of Rucci’s couture gowns.

As the evening wound down, Becca Thrash estimated the party netted $400,000 for the Louvre, earmarked primarily for audio tours and signs in English. “Not bad for a Monday night in Houston,” she said. — Holly Haber

AFTER SUNSET

PARIS — Tell a taxi driver you’re headed to Le Baron and chances are he won’t need the address and nine times out of 10 he’ll offer a quizzical smirk.

That’s probably because he thinks you want to go to the old Baron, which was the city’s most infamous cabaret-cum-prostitute club. (Rumor has it cabbies got $100 every time they delivered a customer.) But the vice squad closed that Baron a year ago and this fall it found new proprietors, who have resurrected it into the hippest bar Paris has seen in years.

“We liked what we found: mirrors and the kitschy Eighties red color scheme,” explains Lionel Bensemoun, who runs the bar with Andre, a graffiti artist known only by his first name. With its velvet banquettes, dank light, smoked mirrors etched with erotic scenes and miniature Venus de Milo behind the bar, Le Baron’s decor could be termed brothel chic.

These flourishes have gotten a hipster spin. A barkeep was imported from London’s Milk and Honey; Air de Paris gallery lent a collection of erotic Thirties photos and Sebastien Tellier took over as the club’s first performer. Meanwhile, Michel Gaubert, Pedro Winter and Ariel Wizman are often found spinning there. Sofia Coppola, who is working on her next film in Paris, has become a quasi-regular. And Björk stopped by recently and offered to perform a few impromptu songs. — R.M.

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