Pop Culture Spotlight – Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Louvre Takeover

Joanne Artman Gallery
Jul 6, 2018 7:53PM

Much as history is a record of events in time as told from a particular perspective, so art history is a biased study and record of such events, filtered through a particular lens. Prior to movies and TV, it served as entertainment as well. Accurate or not, the particular images and objects that have become preserved and revered show changing customs, fashions, beauty ideals, and politics, as well as our remembrance of this history. The objects that we see on museum display are there through status, provenance and cultural value, elevating and bestowing significance through a cultural record system.

A still from Jay-Z and Beyoncé's new video for "Apeshit."

The accepted, and recognized nature of this system makes for a perfect foil to Beyoncé and Jay Z’s most recent collaboration, Apeshit, which takes place in the venerated Louvre, with masterpieces from its permanent collection as a backdrop. Appropriation and disruptive re-contextualizing are key themes in the music video, bringing new nuances to the format as well as bridging the boundary between entertainment and high art. By both recognizing as well as directly taking on the dialogue around art and history Beyoncé and Jay Z bring the revered cultural institution of the Louvre into contemporary discourse. Engaging and provocative at the same time, the music video is a multi-layered statement that plays with social and institutional hierarchies, symbolism, and established visual language.

Jacques Louis David, Coronation of Emperor Napoleon and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in Notre Dame de Paris, December 2, 1804, 1805-07, oil on canvas. (Image courtesy of WikiCommons)

The chosen location, as well as featured artworks represent the old guard in the video’s narrative - time honored traditions, cultural values and the Western record of history. Front and center in the video are Queen B and Jay Z - posing in the museum as the icons of pop, masterpieces of their own creation. Behind the celebrity of their status is the incredibly subversive nature of what they represent (underlined by the mixed race dancers throughout the video) - black bodies in the hallowed spaces of the museum institution - a space historically, notoriously, lacking in minority voices and diversity.

There is important symbolism in the works shown in the video as well, such as the obvious allusion in the use of the Winged Victory of Samothrace to the prominence and recognition that the couple have achieved. Besides Greek sculpture, there are several works included from the Napoleonic period by Jacques Louis David – a time during which Napoleon commissioned works of art on classic subject matter taken from antiquity. By aligning himself to historically moral, heroic ideals, Napoleon sought to direct the dialogue around his reign via visual means, much the same way that Beyoncé and Jay Z are appropriating and redirecting the conversation via the visuals in their video in a double entendre. Beautifully orchestrated sets and imagery juxtapose the western emblems of power and prestige with subversive overtones of authority and dominion. The result is a bold, multi-layered statement on ownership, history, and power.

But most importantly, you can now take a Beyoncé and Jay-Z inspired tour of the museum – a true success in engagement with the public by the institution.

                                Writen by JoAnne Artman Gallery  ||  www.joanneartmangallery.com

Joanne Artman Gallery