Seen from Paris, blog about Paris

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Orsay reopens

Musée d’Orsay reopens with a new presentation route. A route where a part of its soul may have been lost…

As the upper rooms of the national museum for 19th century art reopens, visitors discover the new artistic path the academic staff created for them. C’est vrai, since its opening a quarter of a century ago, the presentation hadn’t changed, and visitors where taken on a simple route, that pretty much followed a time line. Each movement, each pack of artist where pushing a new limit as time went by, and all in all the lay out created in the 80s was rather clear and efficient in getting even the most reluctant provincial tourist to understand how these artists crushed the rules, created their own, and where crushed by the following wave. And the amazing spaces created by Gae Aulenti in the old Paris-Orléans train station brought enough soul to the whole thing to generate emotions in each visitor and feel the art around.

Of course, none of this has been lost: the interior design hasn’t been changed, and the pieces are still there. Better even, the new cafeteria on the roof is a contemporary success, with its unexpected broken lines and its creative menus. Non, what seems to have disappeared is a part of the soul. It’s not because the people who did it did not care, in fact their intentions were good. They wanted to fool around with the topics, with the collections as they were given by outstanding patrons, with the artists. To generate some kind of an artistic whirlwind. To take all of us back in the 19th century art de vivre. But it unfortunately did not end up as they wanted, probably because this new route was too ambitious. If presenting Paris night life with Lautrec makes sense, what sense does it makes to stick it between early Degas works and the Symbolist gallery? One of the obsessions in contemporary muséographie is dialog. A curator wants the masterpieces to talk together, no matter how different they are from each other. Orsay may have reached the limits of dialog, since the result is more confusing than interesting. Inside each room, everything is fine, pieces do speak well to each other. But the route itself has failed, and by brutally taking the visitor from one world to another, a little bit of the magic have been lost.

If it is your first time in the Orsay, you probably will not even notice. You will just have a hard time understanding the course of Art History during that era. If you came before to the Orsay, you will feel the confusion. Yet, you will be delighted to see the paintings on colored walls, instead of the original white walls that cannibalized the colors on canvas. At least, closing down for a year brought out something good…