The Louvre & Centre Pompidou

Posted on February 5, 2009

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I spent an exhausting five hours in each of these two legendary establishments, and here is what I learned.

1. Museums should never, for any reason, be that big. Every piece in each establishment deserves, I’d say, at the very least 3-5 minutes of focused attention. This would take days, and you do not have days, so in an effort to see everything, you wind up pacing restlessly through the rooms, glancing cursorily at each artwork like you are filling out a checklist (Nude Descending A Staircase? Got it!). Leaving each museum, I felt absolutely shellshocked, and not uplifted or nourished in the slightest.
2. A surprising number of people go to museums to score with their girlfriend/boyfriend.
3. While my complete lack of affection for or interest in any painting from, oh, 1500-1850 remains intact, there is a Dutch master whose name is Jan Weenix. I think this is fantastic.
4. I am not alone in my philistine tastes, because the painting with by far the largest crowd, aside from the Mona Lisa, which I would describe as, “The Mona Lisa,” is the one of two topless ladies, one of whom is giving the other what the layperson would recognize as a “titty twister” or “purple nurple.” I’m not sure what the art history term is. Also apparently the women portrayed are sisters. Incestuous Titty Twister.
4b. Re: The Mona Lisa, I would contend that no one can see that painting. All of us in that room looked at it, but we didn’t see it. We have seen it so many thousands of times before; we have seen it on TV screens and postcards; we have seen it venerated as an unquestionable masterwork; we have seen it mustachioed, defaced and mocked; we have seen it zoomed in upon slowly on the History Channel while baroque music plays in the background. In particular I recall a Monty Python animation in which the lady in question lewdly propositions another cartoon. I think the phrase “big boy” is used. Anyway, that work has become such a casual cultural touchstone that I don’t even know why exactly it is considered sublime, and I probably never will.
5. Adjusting oneself in the Louvre feels inappropriate, but there are scores of empty rooms of Dutch 17th century paintings in which one can find peace and quiet to do so.
6. There are a lot of beautiful women in museums. Sometimes they are a little bit more interesting than the art on the walls.
7. I can understand why Donald Barthelme isn’t so into conceptual art. It’s like having a friend that tells you the same joke every time you see him.
8. The proliferation of the digital camera is bad for art. But for a simple, non-theoretical reason. In any (popular) museum, you are constantly dodging in and out of camera sightlines, sometimes three or four at once. Imagine trying to contemplate the Venus de Milo while evading sniper fire.
9. There is a sense, perhaps the most vital one, in which you can appreciate art without any involvement of the mind. Upon seeing it, you feel an expansiveness, a rumbling in your gut, a sense of holiness, whatever you want to call it when your breath catches and you forget that there are unattended children running all around and tourists wielding cameras like the soul-stealing machines they were once thought to be and couples lip-locking in front of water jugs from 2nd century sumeria and everything becomes very, very still and silent.
This is the way I appreciated this Louise Bourgeois piece, Precious Liquids, to which I returned over and over.

Along the top it says, ART IS A GUARANTY OF SANITY
amen.

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