Despite the PHENOMENAL art on display at the Louvre, which saves me from hating the place wholeheartedly, in the darkest corner of my stone cold art historian heart I still harbor a bit of hate for the ol’ heap. And it’s for many of the same reasons that I sometimes lack patience with NYC’s Met. First, it’s too big, it’s too crowded. The casual visitor doesn’t know where to start or end and probably doesn’t have a very fruitful experience because of that. It’s overwhelming even when you KNOW a lot about art and they don’t allow pack mules inside to carry the necessary snacks. Second, the Louvre has the distinction of being particularly famous for a particularly uninteresting painting. WHY of all paintings has the Mona Lisa become the draw that she is? WHY. One of my dissertation chapters was on women’s portraiture in Renaissance Italy, so I’m not asking this question out of ignorance, but rather a complete lack of comprehension of its appeal. And it’s hardly revolutionary for me to say this, but the viewing conditions for that painting are APPALLING. Huge crowds, a barrier, thick glass, why bother? Especially when, in the same room even, there are way more fascinating paintings (including a study by Tintoretto of his Paradise, which the real huge giant version is in Doge’s Palace, Venice)?!?! I’ll never understand.
The NYTimes Travel section (which I’ve had, uh, issues with in the past), recently featured an article about the idea of slowing down in museums, and being less focused on a check-list and more contemplative of artworks that you as an individual are actually interested in. While the NYTimes is rarely timely with their trend pieces, I genuinely hope this idea catches on. Because it’s the check-list mentality that makes certain (cough *Mona Lisa* cough) works the subject of much crowds and unpleasantness, when a broader scope of appeal for a wider range of artworks would make for a better experience for everybody. I know not everybody has the knowledge base that I do– thank god, an art history phd is really, really, really NOT for everyone (or almost anyone honestly)– but if the Mona Lisa wasn’t such a “must-see” (a concept that I abhor), it’s possible that visitors to the Louvre might engage with an Etruscan sarcophagus, or Babylonian gate, or a freaking amazing Tintoretto painting that actually fascinates them in a meaningful way. And the Louvre, which is so big, and has so many spectacular works (thanks for being so good at looting, Napoleonic soldiers!), could easily absorb all of its visitors, if only they weren’t all jammed into one room.
Sigh. But, it’s still hard to deny the sheer grandiosity of the collection there. So I love the Louvre, but like with most love affairs there’s a wee bit of hate in there too.