We went to the Louvre during our trip to Europe this past summer. While it had been a while since our last visit, some things hadn’t changed: incredible being amidst so many fine works, from Egyptian antiquities to mythical mainstays, and, ridiculously filled with tourists, which isn’t surprising for August. If you’ve ever been to the Louvre, you know that it’s large enough to have a completely different experience with every visit. We took advantage of the “Another Louvre” tour this time, which exposed us to rooms I’ve never seen and probably otherwise wouldn’t have. It also allowed us to think about and see works of art differently alongside the running dialogue from our overly enthusiastic and utterly charming Parisian guide.
But some things had changed: the Mona Lisa was moved. For a few months, its home was the Galerie Médicis (through October, 2019, read the NY Times report here). This had a twofold effect of madhouse confusion and a situation that we now affectionately refer to as”Mosh pit Mona”.
Confusion. The maps weren’t updated so you head over the to Denon wing only to realize you’re meant to be waiting to enter the Richelieu wing. This means an extra round of waiting to board the escalator up to Richelieu, unless you happen to already be on the mezzanine level from (thinking about) eating at the restaurant or hall cafe up there. In that case, you can just swing into the mezz level ticket gate wing entrance and begin your experience.
Mosh pit. After winding through a back and forth queue that rivals the customs line at ATL Hartsfield-Jackson, a rectangular area is set up just in front of Mona into where a group of general public members are permitted to advance in order to get the “closest look”. This amounts to a small hoard of folks elbowing towards front and center while guards hoot and howl about staying back, stopping flash photography, and keeping it moving. After watching the mosh pit experience unfold for a while on ahead, we requested to be forwarded to the end of the queue. This meant foregoing a chance to get an up close with Mona but we wouldn’t have to deal with the pushing. Ironically, in requesting as much, we got closer to Mona than anyone else because we were ushered right in front of her. I took loads of pics with my minds eye because our suit-coated security person made us promise we wouldn’t do so physically. Is it a ticketable offense? I still wonder. Our pictures from the side and above the crowd captured plenty.
Mona has always been popular. This is next level. It’s art as celebrity and the plebeians just want to be close to her. No one is looking at the painting. Ten seconds isn’t enough time to parse brush strokes. There’s no chance to move forward and backward to work on deciding if there’s a grimace or a smile. But maybe most poignantly, the situation has me wondering about how to handle the world’s most popular paintings.
Maybe the Louvre should offer multi visit tickets. Who has time for that in their travel schedule? What about limiting visits to one wing on any given day? But, I’m here to see the Mona Lisa! Should visits with Mona be scheduled, timed, and in small groups? We’re going to lose money that way.
It’s their museum and their problem, most assuredly. But from my perspective as a cognitivist, there are too many works, too many people, and not enough time to process all of the art in the Louvre in even a week’s time. It’s simply a matter of attention overload. Just like sometimes we lose the ability to notice if a gorilla walks by, it’s probable that very few – if any – persons were able to process what Mona is wearing. And, what about her hands: are they in the painting? Many of you reading this now will have to scroll up to find out. At least cameras allow for zooming in and longer looks later. But it is alarming to see so many people willing to wait in line to take a snap surrendering their right to simply look longingly.
Just this past week, a new article about the fate of Mona was published in the Times. The stance put forth by its author, Jason Farago, is that the Louvre’s smartest move would be to put Mona out to pasture. Or, out to its very own museum, at the very least. Apparently Mona is in her new digs in the Louvre but the overall experience seems to be the same: long queues, lots of selfies, moving visitors through as if free flu vaccines were being given. I agree with Farago when he says that the Louvre is being held hostage by Mona. So many individuals place such high priority on seeing Mona that the Louvre is actually unable to deliver any real museum-going experience. It’s a walk through that leaves many, if not nearly all, wondering what all the fuss is about
As for the regular works adorning the Medici Gallery: absolutely incredible but I don’t think many took the time to enjoy them while moving through the queue. Here’s just one them (below).
My advice for your next trip to Paris: Musée d’Orsay. The museum is a joy to visit with its shorter lines, phenomenal architectural space, stunning permanent collection, fantastic special exhibitions (check listings before you go), and by far the most important factor– space enough to allow one to linger. I posted a slideshow below of just some of the things we saw, none of which were expected and all just as thrilling (maybe even more so) as Mona.
If you do decide to tackle the Louvre, get a special tour ticket , which might need to be purchased a week or more in advance depending on time of year. This allows you to be placed in a special entrance queue, guarantees admittance in case the museum is nearing capacity, and affords you with focused time on some magnificent works. And, you can stay after and see whatever else you like. Louvre: Closed on Tuesday, open late on Wednesday and Friday, free on the first Saturday evening of each month.
Lest this post is leaving you too stuck with my complainey airs, it still was a wonderful trip to Paris, the Louvre, and everywhere else we dragged the kids — à bientôt!