Rediscovering the Louvre, in the footsteps of eleven artists

Sculptor and ceramist Simone Fattal, at the Louvre Museum, in Paris, November 7, 2023.

The Swiss art critic and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, a figure with the gift of ubiquity of the contemporary art world, reactivates in his own way an adolescent reading. It was during a school trip to Paris, when he was a high school student, in the mid-1980s, that he bought the fascinating The Louvre Dialoguesfrom the art historian Pierre Schneider (1925-2013), where he describes his walks and discussions through the museum, in 1971, with eleven artists of his time, including Alberto Giacometti, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro and Pierre Soulages. Giacometti, who had “almost the entire Louvre in the head, room by room”notably gave his vision of art as “a school of vision”.

This will be his initiation into the Louvre, his ” manual “ of the museum, where he will spend an entire day modeling his route on that of each of the artists. Some forty years later, Obrist proposes to repeat the experience with The Louvre Conversations (Seuil/Musée du Louvre, “Fiction & Cie” collection, 176 pages, 20.90 euros) and eleven artists of today, from all generations, including five women – when Pierre Schneider’s book only included ‘one, the Portuguese artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992). In the meantime, the Louvre itself has evolved: it housed only around 25,000 works at the start of the 1970s, compared to nearly 500,000 today, with new departments to boot.

These walking interviews between Obrist and the artists in the empty Louvre are extended by exceptional visits (by reservation), by the artists themselves, as part of the museum’s contemporary program, orchestrated by Donatien Grau. If no approach resembles the others, it is striking to note that the majority of artists choose to stop in front of a painting by Eugène Delacroix, and especially in front of Scenes from the Scio macres (1824), one of the Louvre’s favorite paintingsAnselm Kiefer, which depicts the 1822 macre of the island’s Greek populations by the Turkish army. The German artist also confides that he often returns to look at the same paintings, including a small watercolor, The Barricade (1848), by Ernest Meissonier, a friend of Delacroix, who depicts a street littered with the bodies of revolutionaries.

Kader Attia stops in front of Women of Algiers in their apartment (1834), paradoxically seeing this painting as “a cry of pain” facing modernity, “an attempt, for Delacroix, to hold on to a world that is disappearing. At the forefront of the industrial revolution, the painter creates a cozy atmosphere where the flow of time seems to have stopped.”. Further, faced with the opulence of Baroque art, he speaks of the ghost of slavery, which nourishes him in the hollow, evoking its “painful beauty”.

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