Note: this post mostly covers the decorative arts section of the museum, however this address also includes the Paris advertising, graphic design and fashion and textiles museums.
I’ve written before about Paris museums that thrive on contradiction. Light and dark, old and new, life and death; museums in la ville lumière know how to strike a balance between seemingly opposing concepts. But none more so than the intriguing and sometimes downright bizarre Musée des arts décoratifs, or Museum of Decorative Arts.
Unlike its partner the Musée Nissim Camondo, which embraces its 1700s heritage, the Musée des arts décoratifs is not only concerned with the past. The museum combines old and new, sitting intricate, centuries-old clocks next to contemporary installation art. It mixes amateur and professional, displaying French design students’ work near Rococo cabinets straight out of Versailles. It melds art and design, arranging furniture, light fixtures and trinkets as though they are as noteworthy as Renaissance paintings or Greek sculptures.
But more than anything, the Musée des arts décoratifs clashes high culture with low. Located only a few steps from the hallowed Louvre, the hallmark of high art, the museum praises the low-brow, even housing the Warhol-esque Advertising Museum within its very walls. In one room, you can find delicate Belle Epoque furniture, in a wood-panelled, light-filled traditional space. But turn the corner and you’ll enter a plush, windowless den strewn with sparkling jewellery, a naked mannequin submerged in a bathtub full of costume pearls. In one room, an authentic, Mad Men-esque 1950s office space is recreated in perfect mod detail. In the next, a suicidal mannequin is posed surrounded by owl wings.
On the one hand, the Musée des arts décoratifs could be seen as trashy, or at least as culturally confused. But on the other hand, the museum succeeds in doing what several others do not; breathing new life into old objects. Displaying a bureau from Marie Antoinette’s home in the same space as lipsticks and plastic necklaces makes a weird sort of sense, reminding us, like Coppola’s film, that the last French Queen was actually a flashy pop princess in her day.
The Musée des arts décoratifs questions the boundary between high-brow and low-brow, tradition and pop. Which I love. Rococo is just 18th-century bling, when you think about it.