This weekend marks my 4th week in the city of light. All this time, I’ve been commenting to my Cornell friends how this can’t possibly be, that the notion of studying abroad for a semester suddenly seems like studying abroad for a week, that time is flying and there is so, so much to do.
After three weeks of being in Paris, I was resolved to visit the Louvre yesterday, for the first time in my life. Well, at least part of it. It’s colossal, four floors of paintings, sculptures, and artifacts from 15 centuries B.C. to the 19th century A.C. I joked that it wasn’t that big because it was Paris and everything is considerably less large than in the U.S. Proved wrong by my traitor feet, I decided it WAS a lot of art – and a large span of time covered in the museum, too.
My friend Tu and I started in Denon, one of the three wings of the Louvre (Denon, Sully, and Richelieu). Mainly because of my request to see the da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, la Joconde (meaning the smiling one). Essentially, I am a tourist, a foreigner, so it was acceptable to want to do this, right? Tu and I had decided to purchase audio guides, which was cool, but after the 4th hour, not so much, as the Nintendo 3DS hanging around my neck started to feel very present. Still, I wasn’t totally anxious to see the Mona Lisa, so before wandering into the room with the huge glass case, we looked at 16-18th Italian paintings and somber and dark Spanish ones.
Alas, I saw the Mona Lisa. Her smile was as mysterious and deceiving as ever, but more distracting and amusing than her smile were the crowd of tourists fighting at taking a front-row selfie with her, some being scolded by a Louvre officer for bringing out their selfie sticks. I, too, took several photos with la Joconde.
After recovering from the initial tourist shock of the Mona Lisa, we wandered into the room with the large 19th century French paintings. Of course, we saw and appreciated La liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix, reminiscent of the turbulent past of class struggle in France. This one, too, had its own crowd, and we asked some French girls for a picture, the picture to symbolize the Paris study abroad experience (after the Eiffel tower photo).
Nonetheless, one of the most strange and bothersome things I felt at the Louvre was not the tourists nor the incessant walking (8 hours straight). It was the massive collection of Egyptian artifacts. I was immensely impressed by all of them, by the sarcophagi, by the sphinxes, and possibly most by the hieroglyphics and the complex [French] instructions on how to read them. What I kept reflecting on was the fact that France owned precious Egyptian antiquities. It didn’t rest well with me. Naturally, I thought about colonialism, racism, [cultural] appropriation, and Napoleon, who ransacked Egypt in the 18th century.
While the grandeur of this ancient civilization appealed to me and posed many more questions to me than the European paintings, I think an acknowledgement and a critical analysis on how institutions such as national museums have a crucial role in political domination is essential to having a complex understanding on art and politics.