Blood, bones and beetles at the Louvre

Rembrandt and Rubens may be turning in their graves. The latest show at the venerable Louvre sees blood, bones and beetles cohabiting with the grand masters of the Dutch, Flemish and German schools.

For the fourth year running, France’s biggest museum has invited a contemporary artist to show works “in counterpoint” with those of the old masters, juxtaposing art produced hundreds of years apart.

And this year’s guest is none other than provocative Belgian artist Jan Fabre, a painter-cum-sculptor-cum-performer turning 50 this year, obsessed by life and death and body art and body parts, as well as insects.

Fabre’s show opening on Friday comprises 39 eye-catching and often awesomely sized pieces inspired by the northern European masters he grew up with—Bosch, Vermeer and Van Eyck as well as Rembrandt or Rubens—who, he says, play second fiddle to star draws at the Louvre such as the Mona Lisa.

“I chose this department because this is what I know, this is my tradition” he said at a preview. “Many of these works are very avant-garde.
Our imagination is fantastic. It’s never a glorifying of power. It’s about celebrating life.”

“It’s important to rediscover this wing,” he added.

Fabre, who made about 50 visits to the Louvre in the two years he spent preparing the show, opens the exhibition with a sculpture of himself peering so closely at one of the great old masters that his nose bleeds on to the floor.

“This is respect of the master,” he said. “I let myself run dry, bleeding like a sacrifice, emptying myself to these masters.”

Fabre, who describes himself as “a contemporary mystic”, has peppered the exhibition with sacrificial lambs and other religious-like symbols, including hollowed-out monks manufactured in bone, or a coffin fashioned in blue-green beetle-shells and stuffed peacock parts.

Parrots, lambs and pigeons too figure prominently in Fabre’s bestiary, and one work, The Decapitated Messengers of Death, features five owls’ heads placed on a church cloth.

But beetles clearly take the spotlight at Fabre’s Angel of Metamorphosis show, an insect he describes as both warrior and the world’s oldest computer. “They are a bridge between life and death,” he said.

Fabre, who claims links to famed French 19th-century entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre, for example has placed opposite Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef his own big Skinned Beef, a piece made of brown and red beetles that all but bring the hunk of meat literally crawling back to life.

And in the vast Rubens gallery dedicated to portraits of French queen Marie de’ Medici, Fabre has installed a graveyard, carting in 40 tonnes of granite tombstones engraved with insect names and dates of philosophers and artists—in the middle of which wriggles a giant worm with Fabre’s talking head.

“If you take the worm out, the earth goes bad; if you take the artists out, society goes bad,” he explained.

So what is his exhibition about? “It’s a celebration of life and death. But death is not negative energy, it’s positive energy,” he said.—Sapa-AFP

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