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23.12.04

Modern Art in the Louvre

Other Articles:

Le Louvre invite des artistes contemporains (France 2, December 13, with a video you can watch)

Harry Bellet and Sarah Leduc, Le Louvre et Orsay, résolument contemporains (Le Monde, December 4)

Harry Bellet, Un jeu de piste amusant, qui peut devenir dérangeant (Le Monde, December 4)
I did a pseudo-series of posts this summer on the practice of embedding new art within historical art, in several exhibits in Europe (go to my posts on August 13, August 30, and September 9). Well, as Marie-Guy Baron writes in a recent article (Louvre : l'entretien infini, December 10) for Le Figaro, they are doing it again, this time at the Louvre, where eleven new art works have been installed among the permanent collection in an exhibit called Contrepoint (my translation):
Everyone has his own Louvre and his own favorite works. Today's artists also have their favorites, and among them that one work that speaks the most to them today. At the Louvre's invitation, eleven contemporary artists reveal that personal exchange in the exhibit "Contrepoint." Beyond the classic dialogue between past and present, they revive the vein of the ancient masters. The new walk through their creations reactivates the way we look at the permanent collection and recalls the force of art.

Masterfully so by Gary Hill in the Department of Oriental Antiquities. In a confrontation between humanity's first written language, on Mesopotamian cylinder seals, and that of computers, he illustrates the fragility of civilizations and the importance of their relics. On video screens, American tanks in Iraq destroy cuneiform writing: an imaginary translation is given a tape loop in French, based on words excerpted from a speech by Bin Laden.

To this violence of Thanatos, Eros responds sensually in its own way, in the work of Jean-Michel Othoniel. In the neighboring Khorsabad room, he has place the ancient small idol of the goddess Ishtar in its alabaster roundness. Her ruby eyes are fixed on a gigantic necklace of pearls decorated with nipples: its double row runs like the Tigris and the Euphrates, the two rivers of seed and milk nourishing and making fertile the Mesopotamian lands. Nearby, three jewels in balls of giant colored glass make the woman seem like the faces of monumental Assyrian dignitaries.

Feminity again among the Egyptian antiquities, with the homage of Marie-Ange Guilleminot to Absalon, of which she presents models of living cells across from Egyptian room models in terra cotta. With her pleated wedding gown that seems to have been created in that period along the Nile [presumably for the Louvre's female statue, probably Nefertiti] and with her Oursin, an enormous but light sculpture/installation in golden tissue that swells up like a warm balloon in the cold Cour Marly. Still the feminine in the Department of Islamic Art where Susan Hefuna examines the moucharabieh [the Egyptian screenguard] in a work of sculpture and photography, while José-Maria Sicilia, interested in Arabo-Spanish culture, interprets the 1001 Nights through an oriental rug with plantlike decoration floating on a floor of painted plaster diamonds.

Inspired by the Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities, Ange Leccia projects, in the mosaic room, the trembling and slow-motion image of a statue of a child by putting together on flat screens the interior shots of a sarcophagus, the technique of the pixellated image recalling here that of the combination of tesserae. A slide toward personal archeology dear to Christian Boltanski. His Reconstitutions d'objets ayant appartenu à C. B. is found in the middle of those everyday things found during recent excavations of the museum and exhibited by the curators in the Boltanskian manner, in glass cases in the underground medieval space. Nearby, around the donjon room of the château of Philippe Auguste Charles V, Frédéric Sanchez has created a sound spectacle, La Salamandre, based on the legend of King Midas with the ass's ears and the death of Etienne Dolet, burned alive for having doubted the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

From these resonant ruins, the visitor proceeds to the mystery of Watteau's Gilles. He allows Jean-Michel Alberola to delve into the enigma of this canvas through a series of drawings that retrace the themes of his own painting, from Celui qui fait les gilles to Beau parleur and the donkey in L'Éclairagiste. Elsewhere, in the Department of Art Objects, Xavier Veilhan offers another vision of an animal. He seized on the space of the room of famous 17th-century men in Sèvres china, to install them on a modern dais in the company of his own 20th-century celebrity: Laika, the dog sent into space by the Russians. As for the anthropologist of art, Cameron Jamie, he has focused on the contemporary rituals of America, costumes and exorcism of violence, and brings them into comparison with rituals practiced among primitive civilizations. To develop his version of Western primitivism he had the old glass cases of the Musée colonial de la Porte-Dorée [which will now be incorporated into the new museum on the Quai Branly; see my post on October 13] brought to the Louvre's Pavillon des Sessions. A fascinating juxtaposition of Halloween, Tyrol masks, and Korwar reliquaries from Africa.
I am reminded of Gertrude Stein's remarks, in the opening paragraphs of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, about her housekeeper Hélène, who was so impressed by the recognition that later came to the contemporary artists she had helped entertain in her employer's salon:
She said isn't it extraordinary, all those people whom I knew when they were nobody are now always mentioned in the newspapers, and the other night over the radio they mentioned the name of Monsieur Picasso. Why they even speak in the newspapers of Monsieur Braque, who used to hold up the big pictures to hang because he was the strongest, while the janitor drove the nails, and they are putting into the Louvre, just imagine it, into the Louvre, a picture by that little poor Monsieur Rousseau, who was so timid he did not even have courage enough to knock at the door.
Yes, that's Henri Rousseau. Gertrude Stein could truly say she knew them when. As the article from France 2 notes, "This dialogue is not new, because in 1948, Picasso was invited to hang his own paintings in the Grande Galerie, and Georges Braque even decorated a ceiling in the Louvre." The Louvre has just opened its renovated Galerie d'Apollon, too (see my post from November 27), with a Delacroix hiding among Baroque paintings and sculptures.

You can download the exhibition catalogue (.PDF file) and a press packet (.PDF file), both of which have pictures of the works and explanatory text in French. Contrepoint: L'art contemporain au Louvre will be at the Louvre, in Paris, until February 10, 2005. A similar exhibit, Correspondances, will be at the Musée d'Orsay, until January 23, 2005.

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