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70: THE PALACE OF ART

#70: THE PALACE OF ART. It’s Spring, the euro’s having taken a dive suggests cheap air fares and this young (ahem) man’s fancy turns to Paris. Guide books of course are not usually meant to be read end to end, but I’ve spent the last few evenings reading the Knopf guide to the Louvre (1995) and have once again been overawed, enchanted and set to dreaming. The Louvre has not only a glamor but a long history no other such institution can touch—so long, no one is entirely certain how the place got its name. Its foundations, now excavated and visible, dig back into the fourteenth century, expanding on its twelfth century original form; it was site and witness to coronations and festivals as well as massacres and revolution; it survived the shift from monarchy to republic; it has the focus and financial support of a centralized, socialist government; it houses the largest collection of art in the world. Repeat, the largest, most dazzling collection of art in the world, and with its extension into the Richelieu wing in the nineteen-eighties it expanded its display space by almost a third. What the Knopf guide brings across is the dynamism of the place: it’s always changing, experimenting, trying things out, enraging the locals and carrying on. The I. M. Pei glass pyramid, just for most recents, caused an even better-than-usual rack-up of hysteria and protests in 1989; but now, well, there it is, and it’s hard to remember when it wasn’t there. Those who think of art museums as institutionalized fust have no notion of the Louvre’s presence in the city’s mental life. And, flipping through the pages on the Louvre’s collection, one’s jaw drops all over again. The Knopf guide is high-nineties book design, with its cubist text arrangement and innumerable reproductions caroming off of each other. (On the cover the words “Knopf Guide” give the Mona Lisa a flirtatious set of eyelashes.) You come away from it with your eyes crossed and your head spinning, but that experience is not unlike a trip to the Louvre: if you can visit the Louvre and not find yourself overwhelmed, you simply cannot BE overwhelmed. The Guide gives you all the tourist info you could need, details of that part of the city for further visiting, even what types of fauna and flora you’ll see in the Tuileries park. Get that passport ready….

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