If you have recently visited a museum where there are no special restrictions and visitors are allowed to take as many pictures of the works on display as they want, you have probably also witnessed funny moments of complete silliness. It is indeed not uncommon seeing visitors interacting with the works, using them as backgrounds for a selfie or maybe trying to camouflage themselves in a life-size bas relief. But while you may have just seen them, author David Prudhomme actually turned them into the main protagonists of a lovely graphic novel.
At the beginning of the story, Prudhomme is looking for his lost girlfriend Jeanne, or maybe that's just an excuse to walk through the museum at a quick pace in his baggy clothes and massive fur cap. First the author seems interested in admiring a Rembrandt self-portrait, but then he switches his attention onto visitors and starts recombining the art and the people together in his mind and on the paper. Paintings and statues soon become amazing props for a giant comic book in which Prudhomme is living, while his visit turns into a voyeuristic exercise in watching people.
The author – taking the role of museum flâneur – sees a man behind the Seated Scribe, as if attempting to read over his shoulder; a tourist snaps a photo of an old warrior's genitals; in the hall of antiquities, several visitors place their heads in a lion's mouth or stand behind a beheaded statue to create funny optical illusions and randomly hybrid combinations of animate/inanimate figures. In the meantime, the Mona Lisa smiles her eternal smile and gets photographed by hundreds of camera phones.
Quite often the gestures, look or positions of the visitors mirror the actions portrayed in a specific artwork: a group of visitors sitting on a bench in front of Théodore Géricault's "The Raft of the Medusa" uncannily looks as if they were part of the painting; a guide lifts a finger in imitation of St. John the Baptist in Leonardo da Vinci's painting; a Spanish speaking guide carrying in her hand what looks like a red feather duster calls to mind Marianne raising the French flag in Eugène Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People", a painting commemorating the July Revolution of 1830; couples kiss or sit next to bride and groom sarcophagi, while a teacher reading to a group of kids stands in front of a picture of the Virgin Mary surrounded by angels.
Prudhomme doesn't make fun of these visitors, because he knows that they are snapping pictures since they have finally found not something they like but something to lose themselves in. Besides, every now and then he portrays people from the point of view of the artworks, wondering for example what Mona Lisa would see if she bothered to look back at all her admirers.
The volume can therefore be considered as an irreverent storytelling experience told through a visual stream of consciousness style that turns the immense Louvre into a wonderful set for great human interaction.
The drawings of the chaotic Louvre are delicate and beautiful, quite often undefined and random, but always surrounded by a dreamy and soft aura, a clever use of lights, planes and perspectives to which the author adds a trademark comical twist.
David Prudhomme has won multiple awards at the Angoulême International Comics Festival and published over two dozen graphic novels in France. This is a special volume since it is actually part of a series of graphic novels commissioned by the Louvre to prominent artists - including The Museum Vaults by Marc-Antoine Mathieu; On the Odd Hours by Eric Liberge; The Sky Over the Louvre by Jean-Claude Carrière and Bernar Yslaire; An Enchantment by Christian Durieux; Glacial Period by Nicolas De Crécy; Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki; Phantoms of the Louvre by Enki Bilal, and the soon-to-be released Guardians of the Louvre, by prominent mangaka Jirô Taniguchi - and published by NBM's ComicsLit imprint.
Though Cruising features many famous artworks preserved at the Louvre (and includes a long list at the back, with dates, number of rooms, galleries and even miles of toilet papers used every month at the museum, in case readers want to know more about these details...), it is a light and fun experiment.
Museums looking for new visitors should take example from the Louvre: commissioning exclusive graphic novels set among the works of art on display in a specific institution (imagine also an intriguing story developing among the dummies, garments and accessories of a fashion exhibition...) is indeed a clever way to win the hearts of large numbers of readers and visitors.
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