Eco, lists, and the Louvre

Doesn’t he look like Hercule Poiret?

I confess, despite having left University, I still manage to have professor-like crushes on men I’ve never met, and Umberto Eco comes first and foremost on my list. He wrote the bestselling The Name of the Rose novel, is the preeminent semiotician, and more recently has written treatises On Beauty and On Ugliness. So how chuffed am I that he’s curating an exhibition at the Louvre as part of its recent shake up? Very.

In exploring the infinity of lists, his chosen subject, Eco studied the Louvre’s collection for two years to create Mille e Tre. He likens our tendency to make lists as one that attempts to order and quantify chaos. This leads us to accumulate lists of saints, catalogues of plants, collections of art, and encyclopedias. One painting that represents this might be a Dutch still life, with its profusion of naturalistic and bountiful fruit. Eco chose works related to the subject of lists and enumeration but also voluptuousness and the effects of abundance, or “vertigo.”

Eco, from Art Newspaper, says:

“The search for The List in the corridors of the Louvre was as exciting as hunting the unicorn. Painting has a beauty that is born of accumulation; art embodies the plurality and variety of reality in the limits of the form. From Antiquity down to the 19th century we have been prisoners of the picture frame; in painting, the frame tells us that ‘everything’ we should be interested in is inside it. I want to invite people to go beyond the form of the physical limits of the picture, to imagine the etcetera, a very important concept that suggests that it may continue. I want to invite people when they look, for example, at the Mona Lisa to go beyond what is most obvious and to observe the background landscape and wonder whether it extends into infinity—something that Da Vinci perhaps intended. To look at a picture as if we had a movie camera that would do a travelling shot to show us the rest.”

If you want get more of a taste of my crush, check out this great Spiegel interview. Lucky for me, who won’t be visiting the Louvre before the exhibition ends this February, is that Eco has written a book entitled The Vertigo of the Lists to complement the exhibition. On one hand, a list seems like a simple enough thing; we all make grocery lists or task lists. But if you think of an encyclopedic museum like the Louvre, what is it but a large list of universal culture, trying to encapsulate in one building objects the signify all of human achievement?

4 thoughts on “Eco, lists, and the Louvre

  1. I mean, I guess I should be pleased the reaction around the blogosphere is outraged, but I’m just so over the New Museum discussion. I think because they never really did anything noteworthy, this fiasco doesn’t seem like so much of a loss

Leave a Reply