PARIS — How do we decide what is the world's top museum? Its size, prestige, collection, the number of visitors — and the way it showcases its brand. The Louvre remains champion. The latest music video from the world's most famous musical couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, is shot amid the museum's timeless masterpieces and along its storied halls, has created a bonafide cultural furor for the past week. The video for the song "Apeshit," from the Everything is Love album has ardent supporters; others think the whole scene is vulgar.
Not a word from the Louvre itself, as it conducts its affairs in silence, leaving the door open to questions of all kinds. Only one thing is certain: The reigning royals of music are at home in this former palace of kings. Among the questions going unanswered: The Louvre refuses to say how much money the couple paid. The regular rates are said to be around 40,000 euros for two nights. This figure may make experts chuckle, and yet, hundreds of minor shootings that take place each year in the museum only brought 260,000 euros in revenue in 2016 and 400,000 euros last year. The totals indeed are quite small in comparison to its annual revenue of 145 million euros, or recalling that the museum has been used as a set for Da Vinci Code (2006) and Wonder Woman (2017), whose main character is one of the Louvre's curators.
It is true that filming can only take place on Tuesdays, when the museum closes its doors to the public, or at night. And the only projects accepted are those that create added value for the museum. It would be highly unlikely, for example to see in on cinema screens some futuristic vehicle crashing into I.M. Pei's iconic pyramid.
The Louvre's officials note that they have no financial aspirations when it comes to film shoots. Meaning, they does not run after clients but rather lets the client come to them, which might explain why the revenues are so small. However, the museum changed its course in 2014, opening a "filming" service with a team of four. This comes as the Louvre's finances grow ever tighter, depending on visitors for revenues, as well as the state, which is constantly demanding that the museum find its own way to be self-sufficient.
It is mostly an advertisement.
However, perhaps with this music video, you can feel a hint of discomfort at the Louvre. It is not a film, and though there is music, it is mostly an advertisement for the couple's new album. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have already pushed the limits in respecting the elegance of this temple of ancient art. For instance, already back in 2013, Beyoncé admitted to having a fantasy of having sex in the museum; and a year later the couple booked the whole museum to visit it privately with their daughter. This video veers sharply from statements recently from the Louvre's president's, Jean-Luc Martinez, who said he wants to go back to the museum's fundamentals. We could just decide to agree that the definition of fundamentals is quite flexible.
Sure, Beyoncé and Jay-Z know the museum well, and the Louvre could say it was a shooting like any other. But this is no regular shoot — it is much more interesting. For the first time in a scripted and choreographed video, the Louvre is not just a set or decor, but a character equal to the human performers. You see the most famous paintings put forward, as well as the Galerie d'Apollon and its ceiling, the Daru staircase and Pei's pyramid.
For this reason alone, on top of the rental revenue earned, the Louvre has pulled off its best PR move in years. The tens of millions of views of the video on YouTube will translate into the world speaking about the museum for weeks, and millions of selfies to come of people posing in front of "that painting from the Beyoncé and Jay-Z video."
The Carters — Apeshit
In 2016, the Louvre was the most "Instagrammed" museum in the world, ahead of New York's MoMa and Metropolitan museum. In "Apeshit", Beyoncé and Jay-Z appear like privileged tourists, left to contemplate the Mona Lisa all alone. It is really quite perfect, a music video that manages to mix pop culture and high culture, commercial pursuits and high-end creativity. The director, Ricky Saiz, works in the worlds of advertising and fashion, and the choreographer is Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a true master of dance. The couple wears glitzy outfits, but sits in a classic sofa designed by Pierre Paulin.
Last but not least are the 30 artworks we see in six minutes, which is quite a lot. Some are obvious Louvre classics. But other notable moments are when the camera stops on the black characters in paintings, mixed together with images of the video's black dancers. It is a touch of politics, and thus somehow gives the museum an unusual social role. We don't have to believe it, though the museum clearly does, and is preparing a tour of the video's location, starting in July. It is a surprising tandem indeed: Two musicians who create a stir and a museum that stays silent.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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