Since 2005, the Louvre has given comic book makers from Europe and Asia carte blanche to portray the museum in graphic novels. According to Fabrice Douar, curator and responsible for the Louvre’s comics collection, the museum wants to give prominent comics authors “the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with the collections, the spaces and the history of the museum”. In this way, he believes, the Louvre bridges the gap between classical, academic, official art and the vibrant world of comics. Classic and vibrant, it accurately summarizes the exhibition with work by twenty comic book makers.
The exhibition Comics from the Louvre in the Belgian Comic Strip Center, which can be seen until September 11, the visitor gives the visitor more than an overview of the comics from the French-language series, which partly appeared in Dutch. In addition to original work, the exhibition shows the creative process through sketches, storyboards and background information. The makers come mainly from French-speaking countries and from Asia. The latter is not illogical: manga has been the most sold in France for years and the authors, including Taiyo Matsumoto, Jiro Taniguchi and Naoki Urasawa, are as well known as the European colleagues present, such as Christian Durieux, Enki Bilal, Étienne Davodeau and Nicolas. de Crecy.
The exhibition is divided into the three hall colors of the Louvre. They mark the different starting points, summarized as the works of art, the public and the muses. Of course the Mona Lisa and the Nike of Samothrace not, just like the Grande Galerie and the Pyramid. It becomes more exciting when an author chooses for the museum public, as David Prudhomme does. In unfortunately still untranslated La traverse du Louvre the French comics maker looks at how visitors behave – his preliminary studies and illustrations are the highlight of the exhibition. His working process is perfectly translated and wonderfully portrayed, to be right on top.
The Asian authors seem particularly impressed by the grandiose: they opt for a poetic translation that is more abstract and dreamy, with a corresponding result in the museum setting. It is unguided, the visitor misses the author’s voice. You don’t get to know what possessed them personally.
Another highlight is the work of Christian Lax (The toeless eagle† finch bread† This French comic book maker tells in the beautiful graphic novel mother with child a moving and socially critical story that connects the museum with Africa, the colonial French past and the looting of art treasures, which can also be found in the Louvre. The exhibition could have done more with this: the current social impact of the story would certainly have been of added value. The exhibited originals now say too little.
Comics from the Louvre is definitely not a walk in the parkwalk in the park. With 150 originals, a lot of sketch and study material and a good amount of background information, it is almost too much. But because the exhibition is soberly designed, with a lot of light and space, the visitor is not immediately overstimulated. It is overwhelming under all circumstances, classical too: in museums, comics are mainly hung in frames on the wall.
At the end of the exhibition, the office of the Belgian comics maker Judith Vanistendael (Penelope† The Whale Library): a sweet and cluttered table top scene in a horizontal display case, sketches on the wall and photos pasted on with tape. Her strip is about the Cycladic sculptures of the Louvre and is the twentieth in the series, nota bene the first by a female comic artist.
One floor lower in the Stripcentrum is the exhibition The secret of the swordfish about the work of EP Jacobs, the creator of the comic book classic Blake and Mortimer† There, attention is paid to ‘the woman as taboo’. Strict censorship was introduced just after the Second World War, in the interest of morality. The presence of women in comics was labeled indecent and Blake and Mortimer was almost banned for that reason. That was then, the Louvre would do well to broaden its horizons in the near future: it is high time for contributions from Pénélope Bagieu, Carole Maurel, Marjane Satrapi, Rumiko Takahashi, Catherine Meurisse or Aimée de Jongh, to name a few candidates. After all, we are 75 years later.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 17 March 2022
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of March 17, 2022