"Napoleon III Is Kitsch": Wim Delvoye on His Irreverently Lavish Exhibition at the Louvre

"Napoleon III Is Kitsch": Wim Delvoye on His Irreverently Lavish Exhibition at the Louvre
Wim Delvoye, "Twisted Dump Truck," 2012
(© Wim Delvoye ADAGP, 2012)

PARIS — "Wim Delvoye at the Louvre," which opened last month and continues through September 17, sees the artist playing hide-and-seek in the Napoleon III salons with uncharacteristic subtlety. No excrement machines this time around, and no live pigs. The artist is doing something different that he calls "Wim Delvoye for Dummies." Some pieces are sculptures resembling monstrous projections that seem to evaporate or melt into the air like the lightest fabric or fleeting spirits, while others are complicated and contorted models of Gothic architecture.

"What I'm doing now is more shocking than 'Cloaca,'" Delvoye told ARTINFO France, referring to his digestive machine that produces excrement from food. "I have the luxury, thanks to 'Cloaca' and the tattooed pigs. I've proven myself, I know how to do Duchamp and avant-garde. Now I want to be very, very naughty." He consciously set out to make beautiful objects, adding that some took two or three years to create. "It's criminal, it's also amazing, shocking, to be so generous when every week there is a fair that lasts five days," Delvoye said. "The Louvre helped me... it's a good brand. Paris, the Louvre — I'd like to be as strong a brand."

The highlight of the exhibition consists of eight crucified Christs shaped into double Moebius strips, which are placed on the tablecloth in the grand dining room of Napoleon III's apartments. Another body, that of "Tim," stands with his back to viewers in one of the salons, showing tattoos of a skull above the face of the Virgin Mary. Delvoye tattooed "Tim" in 2006, and he was previously part of a retrospective of the artist's work in Tasmania for four months. At the Louvre, "Tim" is on view for only one week.

Delvoye has placed small porcelain figures in the displays, which he expects will remain unnoticed by the "thousands of people" who pass through the galleries talking to each other. He also installed three little pigs made of Iranian carpeting — a reference, no doubt, to the luxurious Persian rugs of the period. "For me, Napoleon III is kitsch, it's not real," Delvoye said. "The gold isn't gold, the platinum is fake platinum, everything is sculpted from wood — it's without love, it's not tribal, it's a kind of artificial wooden sculpture." It's a phenomenon that the artist sees in the contemporary art world as well. "Now we have kitsch for everyone. Art shouldn't cost too much — it's for dentists and doctors. When you have to participate in this, you have to think about this fact. And that's what I don't want to do anymore."

The show marks a change from Delvoye's provocative style. But the artist — his bluntness, sincerity, and bravado — remain the same. "Art history isn't the history of poor artists. It's the history of collections," according to Delvoye. "Art with a big A doesn't exist." The artist is still concerned with the art market, and has a lucid outlook on his own era. The collaboration with the Louvre has brought a change in perspective. "I love the Louvre because you can see incredible things," Delvoye told ARTINFO France. "You realize that you can't do anything safely, politically. I asked about installing 'Cloaca' to hear 'no' for once, and I was happy. It worked out well — this is what I'm doing now."

This article originally appeared on ARTINFO France.