I’ve been looking forward to the Louvre’s exhibition on medieval Morocco for quite a while. Before it opened in October, I could see an amazing lit chandelier being set up at the exhibition entrance. I was excited to learn more about a period of art history that I haven’t encountered much since I took a survey course in college.
Alas, I was to be very disappointed.
Let’s start with the good:
The scenography was interesting. A royal purple covered the many of the walls, and a Mashrabiya-like wall separated the entrance of the exhibition from a room with a contextual video.
The objects were fascinating. I loved the towering minbars with intricate decorations presented in several rooms. The architectural elements were displayed beautifully, like a doorframe from the 14th century that was lit so that shadows poured onto the floor in interesting patterns. A metal lion was on display with a mechanism in its stomach that allowed it to make noise.
And now for the bad:
As I am not a medieval Morocco art historian, I needed help in understanding the presented artworks. I turned to the wall texts for help. They listed centuries of history and a multitude of names that I was not very familiar with, rather than giving me cues for how to visually understand the objects.
(I spoke with a friend who had actually worked at one of the Moroccan sites presented in the exhibition, and she said that the labels left out vital information for understanding the history. So while the texts were too in-depth for me, they were too simplistic for her. Who was the intended audience for this exhibition?)
I suppose the audioguide would have helped me understand how to look at specific artworks. But, as it is not included in the price of the exhibition, it should not be vital to the understanding of the discourse.
I felt a bit lost in the space, which felt too big for the scale of most of the presented objects. And the artworks were intermingled with texts, photographs and even reproductions of objects that couldn’t travel; this made for a very busy visual landscape that diluted the primacy of the artworks.
I left feeling frustrated; there were many beautiful objects that I wanted to understand more clearly.
If you are going to visit this exhibition, I would recommend visiting it with the audioguide or a friend who is well-versed in the subject matter (or, dare I say it?, skipping it all together and checking out the concise and delightful exhibition on Rhodes in the Richelieu wing exhibition space...).
Le Maroc médiéval at the Musée du Louvre (until January 19, 2015)
Address: Palais du Louvre 75001 Paris ∣ Métro: Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre (line 1 or 7) ∣ Opening hours: Wednesday to Monday from 9am to 6pm, open until 9:45pm on Wednesday and Friday