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Louvre collaboration brings often-missed masterpieces to light

POSTED: December 10, 2008 10:02 p.m.
Courtesy High Museum of Art/

"Lion Crushing Serpent" is one of the masterpieces on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as part of "The Louvre and the Masterpiece." The exhibit, which ends the three-year partnership between the High and the Louvre Museum in Paris, will be up through Sept. 6.

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ATLANTA — In September, we will say "au revoir" to Louvre Atlanta, the three-year partnership between the High Museum of Art and the Louvre Museum in Paris.

But that still leaves you lots of time to enjoy the third and final exhibition of the series, "The Louvre and the Masterpiece."

David Brenneman, director of collections and exhibitions, said "The Louvre and the Masterpiece" gives art lovers a chance to see masterpieces they have yet to discover.

"For the third year, we wanted to do two things. First of all, we wanted to try to deal with some of the issues that the Louvre is grappling with today, and issues that it’s trying to deal with in looking forward to the future," Brenneman said.

"And secondly, we wanted to come up with a topic that we thought would be both appealing to our visitors, but also would be a project that, from a curatorial point of view, you know, would be kind of a really interesting topic. And so we focused on the masterpiece."

Brenneman said most visitors to the Louvre, many from outside France, come to see only three works of art — the "Venus de Milo," the "Winged Victory of Samothrace" and the "Mona Lisa."

"One of the things that they’re trying to sort of figure out is how can they be a vital, vibrant museum that is meaningful not only to people that are coming to see a couple of works of art, but to their public and to their community," Brenneman said.

"So they were interested in trying to look at objects in their collection that they consider masterpieces or looking at objects that maybe were once considered masterpieces and now aren’t, or at looking at objects that weren’t considered masterpieces that are now considered masterpieces."

In other words, curators wanted to highlight other great works that typically get passed over.

"These are probably pieces that, if you were to go to the Louvre and not know about them in the way that we’re presenting them, you might just walk right by them and have no clue," he said.

One such piece is "Lion Crushing Serpent," a large bronze sculpture by Antoine-Louis Bayre. Popular in the 19th century, Bayre’s works were widely collected in the U.S., but his style did not fit well with the prevailing styles of the 20th century. As a result, Brenneman said, Bayre’s work fell through the cracks.

He said Bayre’s work is now being rediscovered by scholars. Visitors to the High can see Bayre’s process, with several sculpture "studies" on display along with the finished product of the regal lion.

Brenneman said the exhibition also gives artists a chance to study the concept of the masterpiece.

"I think it’s an opportunity for artists to really reflect on what that concept means. One of the things that happened in the 19th century in France, which was a direct result of the establishment of the Louvre, was this notion that a museum is a place where one encounters masterpieces, which was both inspiring but was also daunting to artists. They thought, ‘How can I compete with Leonardo da Vinci? How can I compete with Raphael?," Brenneman said.

"I think one of the things that artists today should be thinking about is, whether it’s their work or the work of artists that inspire them, why will these works stand the test of time? Why do they inspire me? How can I make art that will inspire others?"

Brenneman said the three-year partnership with the Louvre has opened the door for the High to work more closely with the museum, and that Louvre Atlanta "has really created an institutional relationship that I’m sure will outlive the exhibitions themselves."

Works of art on loan from The Louvre will be on display as part of the upcoming exhibition, "Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture: Inspiration and Invention," which will open Oct. 3.



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