Word of the Week: Trompe L’oeil

IN a grand artistic trick of the eye, the iconic 70-foot-high glass monument of I.M. Pei in Paris has disappeared since the beginning of June. What you see instead are black-and-white photos of the surrounding 16th-century buildings, each of them meticulously covering the famed glass pyramid that has been standing in the main courtyard of the Louvre Palace since 1989.

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CAPTION FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: For his latest exhibition, French street artist JR is covering the Louvre Pyramid with photos of the 16th-century palace. PHOTO: JOEL SAGET/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Behind this major monthlong trompe-l’oeil art exhibition is the French street artist, JR. Called JR at the Louvre, the installation, on view through June 27, took six people to complete in a 24-hour takeover of the museum. They placed colossal photos over the pyramid’s 700-odd glass segments, using a crane to ensure the mirage was complete. The pyramid, covered not just on one side but two, gives viewers the sensation that it is not there at all.

Trompe l’oeil is exactly what it is. Pronounced “tromp loi,” it literally means “deceives the eye” in French.

trompe l’oeil |ˌtrɔmp ˈlɔɪ| (n) (plural: trompe l’oeils, same pronunciation)

・visual illusion in art, especially as used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object.

・ a painting or design intended to create the illusion of a three-dimensional object.

Fun was no doubt the goal of JR’s whimsical endeavor, but he had also hoped that the temporary disappearance of the pyramid would reignite the debate on modernism—one that divided French society in the 1980s, when the pyramid was designed and built.

Many opposed the project back then, on the grounds that the modernist glass-and-metal monument would mar the Louvre Palace, the 16th-century architectural jewel in the City of Light. Three decades later, the pyramid has become one of the city’s most photographed monuments, a symbol of the city’s modernity and audacity.

“At the beginning it was criticized, now it is widely accepted,” said JR. “I thought it would be fun to show how the Louvre would look like without it.”


I invite you to write to me at  viv@mywritinghome.com if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.

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