It is early afternoon, and the iDbus is pulling into the parking lot. First thing first, I walk into their bookstore to see if they have any of my books. Nothing. What a shit-hole! All first impression is deeply personal, and may defy logic, for none of my books are currently in print. I think about Versailles: In the beginning it was something like this — a hill with a windmill, a village without a church, a hunting cottage. I understand Duke Saint-Simon perfectly — swamps, forests… where am I? I belong in the city. Unfortunately there are no good cities left.
In the twenty-first century going against geographic fatalism doesn’t seem to be as avantgarde — we force civilization to go places where it does not want to go. They did it with Brazil in Brazil, with Astana in Kazakhstan, and now Lens, France. Lens is different though, Lens is not conceived as an administrative capital, Lens is to be a center of high culture, and this is why this Zen building, about to dissolve in its landscape, has an Olympic stadium for the background. Fine, we are not going to look that way. Where should we look?
The glass cube is the entrance, the bookstore, the information desk, the restaurant; this cube springs two aluminum wings: these are the galleries that house Louvre masterpieces thematically arranged as “Art Through the Ages” and “Renaissance.” It’s a pleasure to be inside a museum after a three-hour bus ride, especially when you find yourself somewhere where you would least expect a museum, clean bathrooms and soap! People are happy to see you there, a little surprised too. It’s mutual.
The important thing is that the mood is changing. I ate a cheddar-cheese sandwich and went to check out Lens Renaissance. Of all the paintings by Leonardo The Virgin and Santa Ana is probably the most atrocious; he knew it, and couldn’t bring himself to finish it. Salai is used as a model for both women. This is probably why one of them is seated on the lap of the other; nevertheless, the overall impression of the section is quite satisfactory, it could probably work to liven a class of six-graders. We have a bronze Spinario and that famous engraving by Pollaiuolo that Leonardo laughed at: “Here in Venice we have a painter whose figures flex all of their muscles at the same time.” Pollaiuolo was a visionary, he anticipated the late XX century developments in body building.
Let us see “Art Through the Ages” now. The first artifact that catches my attention comes from Syria, 3000 B.C. They call it Eyes Idol, and the sign assures us that it could be anything from a human to a deity, not excluding a spinning tool. As you walk through the wing, you are actually walking downhill; the wing ends with Vanitas — a child propping himself on a skull and an hourglass: Very appropriate! Impermanence — all these pieces are going to stay in Lens for a year, before they are sent back to Paris.