I was walking along the St Pancras platform to board my train to Paris when urgent steps came rushing up behind. I turned to face a Eurostar official brandishing a clipboard. My heart sank.
But then, unbelievably, came the question every budget traveller longs to hear: “Would you like to upgrade—free—to First Class?”
As I settled into my extra-wide seat it was clear I was on course for a great weekend. It also turned out to be as unexpected as it began.
It’s usually deemed that for quirky originality London trumps Paris every time. But on this trip our Gallic friends had put on an exhibition with more than a nod to us eccentric Brits. Our current fondness for “cabinets of curiosities” has certainly travelled south.
The Louvre, touchstone of French culture, can be an exhausting place: galleries and sculpture courts packed with instantly-recognisable treasures from the Mona Lisa to Michelangelo’s Slaves. So when I stumbled upon a king-size bed in one of its rooms I wasn’t just taken aback—I’d have loved to collapse onto it and curl up. Two silver boots lay discarded at its side.
All around was an array of quirky objects: masks, gourds, plastic toys, strange pieces of furniture. But if you’re thinking Tracey Emin mark II, think again. All were exquisitely arranged, ordered and pristine.
It turned out to be US theatre designer Robert Wilson’s recreation of his Long Island home and studio, a mass of items that inspire him—in bizarre juxtapositions. I could see how his creativity would be unleashed by lying in the timber bath with a view of the Louvre’s glass pyramid—and then stimulated by the melange of paraphernalia hanging above. I loved moving among white shelves displaying a stuffed rabbit next to a pre-Columbian pot, an elegant Asian buddha next to a contemporary American art photograph. And most of all I was intrigued by the many chairs in styles from Shaker to 1950s’ kitchen, several suspended on the walls upside down.
I moved on to a room of Wilson’s video portraits of Lady Gaga depicted as well-known works of art. There was Gaga as the head of John the Baptist and again as Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière. The near-static scenes had sudden flickers of movement: eyelids fluttering or a bird flitting behind. I guess the original works that inspired the videos have celebrity status in their own right, and were therefore ripe for reinterpretation by today’s cult star.
I continued my Louvre journey past its most famous female image. My best view of her was on a video being filmed on an iPhone held above the scrum. I wondered whether she might wink, or least break into a grin.
Living Rooms and Lady Gaga by Robert Wilson is at the Louvre, until 17 February