The Louvre is, so they say, the most visited museum in the world, racking up 6 plus million each year. Tickets run about 10 Euro, so do the math. It’s a business. As a business those who run it know what “sells” and at the entry are large notices, with Leonardo’s pin-up girl blown big, pointing the way to Mona Lisa, the fabled mysterious lady. There, pushed away about 3 meters by a large wooden barrier, and encase behind thick glass, she looks out, bemused. It is not a very big painting, so between the distance and the glass casing, it is not really possible to look at it, qua “painting.” What you see is Mona Lisa, spectacle, and the spectacle of Japanese and Korean girls posing, leaning against the barrier, smiling and/or with their ubiquitous V fingers, long ago having lost its meaning and now simply a mandatory reflex before a camera.
In my view this painting is not actually a very good painting, especially when compared to contemporaneous work. While Leonardo was clearly an intellectual giant of his times – polymath engineer, inventor, painter, poet, etc., he wasn’t really that great a painter. Or so says humble me. (A similar opinion I hold for Van Gogh, whose museum I visited yesterday in Amsterdam.) But the matter of whether La Gioconda is really a great painting or not is irrelevant: it is a most famous painting, and that is what the Louvre is selling. Along with the name The Louvre, which is as its numbers testify, also famous. And hence the new Louvre Abu Dhabi, building designed French architectural star Jean Nouvel, begins to rise, the arts logo mania gone wild.
But, back in Paris, the old Louvre, formerly the absurdly vast home of French royalty, became a museum, and not so long ago, I.M. Pei, installed his pyramid, gracefully placed in the court-yard, an impeccable work of high-modernist style, nestled almost invisibly into the ornate classical French architecture which houses the museum. It was Pei’s new entrance which kick-started the Louvre, shifting from fusty old museum to modern market economy logo champ.
Regardless of the revamping, the vast spaces of the Louvre, while housing unquestionable works of art of the highest order, is also the warehouse for great swath’s of art of questionable taste and quality. In fact, from an artistic viewpoint, perhaps 80-90% could be skipped without any loss, unless one is a historian or has some other specialized reason to look at huge canvases of dubious artistic value, however much prized they were in their own time. Thus it becomes a kind of amusement to look at bedraggled tourists glancing at the little placards beside the paintings, and looking upward to vast battle scenes, historical tableaux or religious tripe, gazing at the meters of canvas, and thinking it is, because it is in the Louvre, great art. Small wonder they collapse on the benches, exhausted from taking in this vast collection of stuff, and wonder what it’s all about.
Here’s a little compendium of things I took shots of, not because I thought it great art, but because I found it of interest in one way or another – because it was odd, kitschy, or otherwise stuck out from the generalized dross which covers the walls of this massive museum.
Those are some of the paintings I took photographs of, for this reason or that. As it turned out the one painting I really wanted to see, and wanted to show to Marcella, Vermeer’s tiny Lacemaker, just happened to be in a wing that was closed on Thursdays, the day we were there. So we didn’t get to see it. I’d seen it before, when it was in a different place, in a narrow and tiny little alcove backed up against the huge room full of ghastly Rubens paintings. Alas.