Even stuffy museums can offer risqué revelations. Naked statues in a museum’s sculpture collection are not a surprise. A naked body is.
My first trip to Paris targeted the exemplary. Among other iconic landmarks, the Louvre Museum was a highlight. The most memorable spectacle I saw there was not a museum acquisition. The building itself is a work of art from the ornate halls of the royal palace to I.M. Pei’s twentieth century glass pyramid. Entering the Denon Wing, I paused to admire the timeless Renaissance statuary in a long gallery illuminated by tall windows.
I only expected to scratch the surface of the cultural and artistic treasures during my daylong visit. Nonetheless, I had hoped to view the Venus de Milo; Egyptian antiquities; Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People; and, of course, Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. These would be supplemented by other classics and, perhaps, some random surprises.
Nearby, a guide gave introductory background to a tour group. In French-tinged English, she said, “The Louvre is the world’s largest art museum. Every day, there are over 35,000 works on display from its collection of 380,000 objects.” Few in the crowd looked at the art. Most fiddled with their headsets or stared down at the brochure. You miss the art if technology blinds you to the tangible.
The tour group moved on. A flood of people rushed by to join the horde in front of the Mona Lisa with nary a sideward glance at these magnificent, carved creations.
Their loss because as I was looking at a larger-than-life marble warrior, something unusual caught my eye. Behind a nearby statue, a tall model surreptitiously posed topless for her photographer. It was a hot day, so I did a double take to be sure I wasn’t seeing a heatstroke induced mirage. Not at all. As I discreetly watched, the woman closed her jacket and walked over to talk to the photographer. After a minute, he pointed toward another window. She wore a stylish calf-length skirt and a tight, cropped jacket, both in black. The model walked to the window behind another large statue. Perching on a ledge, she fluffed her shiny hair, wet her lips, undid the two buttons on the jacket, let it slide from her shoulders, and revealed … everything.
This is not something you see every day at home in Colorado. Without a hint of concern for the crowd or security guards, she struck several poses while the camera clicked. When he signaled he’d had what he wanted, she re-buttoned the jacket. While checking the pictures he’d just taken, she pointed and said, “C’est tres bon.”
Very good, indeed. I was intrigued by the, uhh, ‘artistic’ nature of this activity, so I continued to observe to expand my cultural education. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about the window backdrop. There were no paintings or statues in the frame. I surmised the background wasn’t supposed to be the focal point of these particular photographs. But, then why have the ‘session’ in the Louvre instead of a studio? It must be my ignorance of art. They do say, ‘it’s all about the light’. And, I must observe, the bright light did justice to her flawless complexion. The episode continued for several more poses at various spots in the hall. From her demeanor, the young lady was clearly a professional model and not a thrill-seeking tourist. She was relaxed; maintained a neutral, runway expression; and looked like she could benefit from a few healthy meals.
This was quite an unwanted distraction from my serious art appreciation state-of-mind. Nonetheless, I was intellectually curious. If this was a commercial or fashion shoot, I couldn’t determine what they were selling. The jacket was pulled mostly off her arms and likely was barely visible in the picture. Therefore, it was doubtful the shoot was about her clothing. Maybe, it was for an advertisement for a skin cream? From my distant vantage point, her skin certainly looked exquisite. Or, perhaps it would be used for an enticing perfume ad? Hair? The necklace she wore? While I pondered, the woman and photographer walked off in the opposite direction.
To be certain this wasn’t a sanctioned, immersive piece of performance art, I did a quick check. However, this exhibition was not listed in the Museum brochure. I shook myself out of my concentrated state and started to get agitated. The nerve. A topless woman! In the famous and crowded Louvre!! Right here among all the naked statues!!!
When I thought of it that way, the model wasn’t so out of place after all. A small glimpse of natural and ephemeral art among the timeless masterpieces. She was the perfect demonstration that art can be alive and organic in the most literal sense. I think Leonardo would approve.
On to the Venus de Milo. But, I gotta say, Old Venus was going to have to be pretty darn impressive to top that unexpected display.
Bill Diamond lives in Colorado where the Rocky Mountains are both an inspiration and a distraction. He writes to try and figure it all out.