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Beyoncé and Jay-Z in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the video for “Apeshit” (all screenshots by the author via YouTube)

On Saturday, at the end of a concert in London, Beyoncé and Jay-Z surprised the crowd with a new album and a new music video for its lead single, which finds the couple behaving regally around the Louvre. The video for “Apeshit,” directed by Ricky Saiz, marks the Carters’ return to the Parisian museum, where they famously posed in front of the Mona Lisa back in 2014.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the video for “Apeshit”

While Leonardo’s alluring painting is, unsurprisingly, the music video’s star artistic attraction, many major works from the Louvre collection play supporting roles, from other masterpieces of European art including Jacques-Louis David’s monumental “The Coronation of Napoleon” (1807) and Théodore Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” (1818–19), to antiquities including the Venus de Milo (101 BCE), the Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BCE), and the Great Sphinx of Tanis (c. 2600 BCE). Slightly less iconic works also make appearances, most notably “Portrait of a Black Woman” (1800) by Marie-Guillemine Benoist and Rosso Fiorentino’s “Pietà” (1540). Even I.M. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid gets screen time in some of the video’s only exterior shots.

Beyoncé and her dancers in front of Jacques-Louis David’s “Coronation of Napoleon”

Beyoncé and Jay-Z in front of the Winged Victory of Samothrace

The artworks in “Apeshit” often have thematic resonances with the lyrics with which they’re juxtaposed, or visually echo the dance movements performed in front of them, but the video’s real thematic anchor is the Louvre itself. The former royal palace is the perfect setting for the debut music video by pop music’s royal couple as an official duo, “The Carters.” Not only does the video’s setting enshrine them in the glowing aura of European monarchy (further underlined by “The Coronation of Napoleon”), it also works in a contemporary context. After all, who but Beyoncé and Jay-Z could secure exclusive access to the busiest museum in the world to shoot a music video? Here, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are flaunting the Louvre as a kind of supreme status symbol.

Jay-Z contemplates Théodore Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa”

Beyoncé and Jay-Z in front of the Great Sphinx of Tanis

But the video also represents something of a missed opportunity. Rather than familiar examples of European painting and Greco-Roman statuary, why not pose more difficult questions about what’s in the coffers of European museums? The shots of Benoist’s “Portrait of a Black Woman” and those in which the couple flanks the Great Sphinx of Tanis begin to hint at such issues, but more could have done in this vein. How much more compelling and challenging would it have been to see shots of Beyoncé and Jay-Z in the Pavillon des Sessions, where the Louvre lumps together artifacts from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Oceania? Or amid the Assyrian reliefs in its Department of Near Eastern Antiquities at a time when the Assyrian artistic heritage continues to be threatened in Iraq and Syria? It’s indisputably striking (and amazing) to see Beyoncé at the center of a line of dancers moving in perfect synchronicity beneath David’s “Coronation of Napoleon,” but it also seems like a pretty obvious pick. Given free reign of the Louvre, you’d hope the Carters would have had more adventurous taste.

Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy Sherman, and other divisive issues have...

5 replies on “Beyoncé and Jay-Z Return to the Louvre in New Music Video, Picking the Greatest Hits”

  1. Huh! I like it. All the dancers lying in front of Winged Victory, regal clothing, and“Portrait of a Black Woman” (1800) by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, and Mona Lisa, Gives us an update on the culture we need. Very expensive rental and “I can’t believe we made it,” or was it I made it sums it up. Gorgeous. Good for them.

  2. Benjamin Sutton are you sure you are not just nit picking? This seems is a terrific artwork, very well done, strong images, outrageous, elegant. In the tradition of Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama and Kahinde Wiley as well.. Glad you wrote the article.

  3. Benjamin Sutton, thank you for the article. I do wish the article written here would have addressed the fact that this video calls attention to representation of people of color within museums, and the systems within museums that uphold whiteness and colonial ideals as normal and standard. I was hoping this article would take the opportunity to engage in dialogue about the questions that are in the forefront of American cultural “institutions”: how do we decolonize museums?

  4. I have to confess I didn’t get this video. The Louvre? Mona Lisa, the Hello Kitty of the Renaissance? The grotesque absurdity of the Coronation of Napoleon? Maybe that was the point. Yes — the Winged Victory fossil — we should all fall down and lie at its feet. Rolling Stone, dumb as ever, seemed to think the video was a deathblow to Western Civ, but Western Civ is not the Louvre; the Louvre is mostly just swag from a long-gone previous edition. Western Civ still has its teeth and it’s still ripping up the world even if it does seem to be staggering around a bit.

  5. I have to confess I didn’t get this video. The Louvre? Mona Lisa, the Hello Kitty of the Renaissance? The grotesque absurdity of the Coronation of Napoleon? Maybe that was the point. Yes — the Winged Victory fossil — we should all fall down and lie at its feet. Rolling Stone, dumb as ever, seemed to think the video was a deathblow to Western Civ, but Western Civ is not the Louvre; the Louvre is mostly just swag from a long-gone previous edition. Western Civ still has its teeth and it’s still ripping up the world even if it does seem to be staggering around a bit.

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