Would the Mona Lisa still smile if she knew she was sharing her home with a man whose tattooed back, to be peeled off after his death, was bought by an art collector for 200,000 euros ($241,800)?
Tim Steiner, the owner of that precious skin, is one of the items in an exhibition at the Louvre devoted to the Flemish enfant terrible Wim Delvoye. In fact, Steiner displayed his body only at the opening, long enough to be photographed for the show’s catalog.
Delvoye, who was born in 1965 and works in Ghent, Belgium, made his name with scatological provocations. At the Documenta IX art exhibition in 1992, he surprised visitors with glazed tiles featuring pictures of his own feces.
In 2000, he built “Cloaca,” a digestive machine inspired by Chaplin’s film “Modern Times” that turned food into excrement. The smelly output, neatly packaged in cute jars, could be purchased by admirers of his art.
At the same time, Delvoye experimented with tattooing live pigs. When he ran into trouble with the authorities, he moved his “Art Farm” to China where animal -- and human -- rights are less of a concern.
In the Louvre show, the pigs appear in a form that even animal-rights activists can accept: They have morphed into polyester molds sewn into Indian and Turkish carpets.
Perhaps out of respect for the venerable Paris institution or because he has mellowed, Delvoye has toned down his provocative impulses.
At first, he wanted to top the Louvre’s glass pyramid, which he hates, with a steel construction, a kind of medieval belfry. When the curators protested, he settled for an 11-meter-high phallic sculpture inside the pyramid named “Suppo” (for suppository).
Looking closely at the piece, you discover distorted elements of Gothic architecture, another source of Delvoye’s exuberant imagination.
References to Gothic style also abound among the 30 or so objects displayed in the apartments of Napoleon III, an odd contrast to the pompous 19th-century furniture.
They include models of a chapel and a Gothic dump truck -- both made of laser-cut steel -- hand-carved car tires, a taxidermied rabbit on slippers and a 5-meter-high stained-glass window.
In the past, Delvoye peopled his church windows with copulating skeletons and other sex scenes. A sharper eye than mine may discover obscenities in this window; to me, it looks innocent.
The exhibition, which is supported by Mercedes-Benz AG and Louis Vuitton, runs through Sept. 17. Information: http://www.louvre.fr
(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s New York weekend and Lewis Lapham on history.