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A grand optical illusion teases conspiracy under the Louvre

The 183,000-square-foot mural was both an amazing 3D illusion and a metaphor of the ephemeral nature of art itself.

A grand optical illusion teases conspiracy under the Louvre
[Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images]

An amazing 183,000-square-foot optical illusion collage appeared last Friday at the Louvre’s courtyard showing the imaginary, fantastic guts of the museum’s glass pyramid–only to be destroyed in a few hours by visitors. No, apparently we can’t have nice things, but its destruction was actually part of the art itself.

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The collage at the Napoleon Court was the design of French artist Jean Rene, aka JR. He used perspective optical illusion to create a three-dimensional image that extended the Louvre Pyramid deep into a rocky abyss (of course, there’s no Cheops-sized pyramid buried under the museum’s grounds, Dan Brown). He then printed his drawing on 2,000 strips of paper that were glued together by hundreds of volunteers over the course of several days.

[Photo: Flickr user Greg Wolf]

The Louvre commissioned the piece to mark the 30th anniversary of the museum’s famous glass pyramid designed by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei. The Louvre Pyramid rises at the center of the palace’s courtyard, serving as the museum’s main entrance. The now-iconic pyramid was surrounded by controversy when it was built in 1989, with some critics saying that it was a pretentious, megalomaniacal folly imposed by François Mitterrand, who was then President of France.

On his project page, JR points out that “images, like life, are ephemeral.” He expected the project to disappear quickly after the volunteers finished their job, as this was not only about the cool three-dimensional illusion but the process and the passing nature of art: “The sun dries the light glue and with every step, people tear pieces of the fragile paper.” This project, he says, is about presence and absence, reality and the memories of volunteers, visitors, and souvenir collectors. And although nobody was actively encouraged to destroy it, that’s exactly what happened, by design. Which is fine by me. It beats ripping off the Mona Lisa’s smile and taking it home.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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