High Art Flow : How Beyoncé & Jay-Z Took Over the Louvre
theFlow was founded on our belief that the limits between high and low art are no longer relevant. That art has a key role to play at the centre of modern culture and should not be limited to museums and gallery walls. We live in a generation that craves experiences over objects, transformation over slogans.
And Beyoncé and Jay Z just served us up a super-sized portion of FLOW.
The first release video from their album Everything is Love is set in the Louvre. And when I say ‘set’ in the Louvre, I don’t mean it’s a backdrop. The masterpieces housed in the hallowed halls of one of the most elite museum in the world are weaved into the video’s narrative. And it works on so many levels.
The video is beyond doubt a huge power-play. Here are two of the greatest pop/rap stars of our generation standing side by side in front of the Mona Lisa - the most famous art work on the planet. Yet they are not looking at the work, rather they are standing proudly in front of it. A clear declaration that they are of equal cultural importance - and we are mere on-lookers.
The level of financial and cultural influence required to record a music video within the Louvre is mind-boggling. Who would even have believed it would be possible - seeing these images is almost dream-like.
Who could ever have imagined one day seeing Beyoncé perform an insanely hip line-up choreography in front of the Consecration of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David? The latter was a tool of power-propaganda at the time of its creation depicting Napoleon himself placing the crown on Empress Josephine’s head as the Pope looks weakly on. This is the original statement of usurping the established order. Elsewhere she writhes in a white sculptural dress in front of Nike, goddess of Victory, as if a modern day deity-come to life.
Yet the narrative is much more complex than a simple power-play. There is complexity in the scenes created, the gestures, the juxtapositions with intimate settings and urban scenes. Indeed the video can be seen as a cultural manifesto.
The images subtly portray the predominantly white history of the Louvre being powerfully and peacefully conquered by an African American narrative - as if announcing a seismic societal change. Indeed the video begins with bells tolling, as if a new era is beginning.
A key scene reveals black bodies laid out on a pristine white stairwell undoubtedly built by white colonial exploitation across the African continent, amongst others. The video sees The Carters colonise the Louvre, elevating black culture - coiffing afros, hip-hop and fashion - to the level of High Art.
The video builds into its narrative references to the America football players who ‘took the knee’ as mark of peaceful protest and the juxtaposes an Afro-American couple embracing beside a painting of a stabbed youth in the arms of his love, referring to police violence. The video also reclaims the black female body from the violent associations of the past - referred to in the video by the Rape of the Sabines. Two black females in front of the portrait of Mme Recamier, a society-beauty in the Napoleonic era, reasserts society’s definition of beauty.
Yet the pure strength of this video is in the retenue - in place of dancing or even rap-stancing, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are mostly still - statuesque. Taking the form of the art works that surround them.
The Carters have the desire to elevate their music and videos to the level of not just art, but high art. Like all great art is timeless, ambiguous in meaning and of thing of immense beauty.
The fact that The Carters felt the need to turn to fine art as a statement of their status is in itself hugely significant and embodies what we explore at theFlow - the blurring of lines between high and, by opposition ‘low’, or popular art. The result of which is an injection of meaning and ‘art’ in everyday culture that can bring comfort and consolation to many.