The Facebook algorithm has noticed that I have something to do with art and museums, and presents me with a snapshot of a Louvre ticket from the pool of my earlier posts. At the time of the post the scrap of paper had already survived for years as a bookmark in a non-digital storage medium, a paperback from my time as a student in Paris.
Back then my day at the Louvre was always the first Sunday of the month. Free entry! Too bad that the side cabinets with Dürer and Vermeer were only open on weekdays, when students were entitled to the “tarif réduit C.” Half price, eight francs: equivalent to three baguettes. Today the Louvre is free for the youth of the EU under 26. The full price is 15 euros, equivalent to at least fifteen baguettes.
Mind you, the Louvre is now a great deal larger than it used to be. The “Grand Louvre,” with I.M. Pei’s hotly discussed glass pyramid, was one of President François Mitterrand’s “grands projets.” He led a cultural offensive along with his minister Jack Lang, as if this might save the already dented “grande nation.” No government since then has believed so resolutely in the reforming power of culture. The only foolish thing was that even the socialist Mitterrand was royally fixated, as it were, on “grandeur”—and on Paris.
The Grand Louvre is a huge success with tourists, and the most frequently visited museum in the world. But despite its expansion to Lens, into an economically stricken province, and the opening of an Arts of Islam gallery, the cultural belief that a Louvre could strengthen social cohesion has evaporated. Such manoeuvers, like the controversial founding of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, served more to focus a cultural-historical brand.
But suddenly now this: the newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, uses the neo-pharaonic glass pyramid, of all things, as the backdrop to his first speech, and sets the bar high in referring to its “audacity” and the Louvre as a founding icon of republican culture.
Not only in the light of such emotionalism do my visits to the Louvre in 1984 feel like time-capsule dives into the nineteenth century. At their heart were the Grande Galerie, the Italian collection, and the halls with the sublime historical daubs of Delacroix and Géricault. You just stood there and tried to make something of them.
For the Louvre, that product of the French Revolution, from which its founder Vivant Denon wanted to make a people’s museum, was still a museum of the elites in 1984. Communication, apart from date and title: zéro. But it was a treasure trove of art before the flood of images, a museum before the museum shop, the museum selfie, and solicitous impartation. There was nothing except the art. So you tried to understand what this art was. If you didn’t understand it here, where else?
It was all cloaked in magic, which for me has been lost in the oiled wheels of the art-consumerism machinery with direct shopping-mall connection. The ticket from 1984 has unexpectedly become the entry into this yesterday world.
PS: The share is fluctuating around 150 dollars. Ex-Facebook executive Antonio Garcia-Martinez reflects in the Guardian on Facebook’s ethical problems with target-group advertising: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/ 02/facebook-executive-advertising-data-comment. And Internet critic Geert Lovink asks in his recent book: “What is the social in social media?” http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1509507760.html