A performance artist has been released after two days in custody for stripping off in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Deborah de Robertis’s lawyer has accused museum officials of being prudish and hypocritical for lodging a complaint against her.
Visitors were already aware of the potential for nudity at the Splendours and Miseries exhibition: statues of bejewelled prostitutes, blurry pictures of early porn amid the nudes from Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Manet.
But on Saturday there was an extra exhibit. Artist Deborah de Robertis stripped off and lay down in front of Edouard Manet’s famed painting Olympia.
Security officials were quick to cover her up before evacuating the room and calling the police. She was then detained for two days on suspicion of indecent exposure.
This is not the first time the 31-year-old Luxembourg artist has staged a performance at the Musee d’Orsay. In 2014, she partially undressed in front of Gustave Courbet’s Origin of the World.
“She’s not just stripping off in the Musee d’Orsay, she is giving artistic performances,” said her lawyer Tewfik Bouzenoune. “This time she was re-enacting Manet’s Olympia.”
The painting of a reclining nude first sparked controversy in 1856 when it was presented at the Paris Salon. Olympia is not an elegant nude in the usual bucolic or ancient setting but a naked woman in her slippers, most probably a prostitute.
Museum officials were unimpressed with De Robertis’s take on the famed painting.
“It’s paradoxical, hypocritical,” De Robertis told the BBC after her release from custody.
“They put on an exhibition about prostitution and then censure an artist who speaks for the naked model. I wanted to re-interpret Olympia, use the model as an author and record the reaction of the public. They should have accepted my gesture.”
She recorded her performance and arrest with a GoPro camera attached to her forehead.
Apart from the latest collection, the Musee d’Orsay has in the past organised several exhibitions on sex and nudity including one on the male nude and another on the Marquis de Sade.
“The museum can be a source of inspiration for contemporary artists but we did not authorise this performance,” says museum spokeswoman Amelie Hardivillier.
The head of the museum, Guy Cogeval, has been accused of using sex to increase attendance.
But he told French daily Le Parisien that sex was central to the art and literature of the time and he hated exhibitions that “don’t tell anything, when we know that Manet, Maupassant and so many others died of syphilis because they spent their days in brothels”.
Paris has been no stranger to artistic controversy in recent months.
Anish Kapoor’s sexual Dirty Corner was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti after it was installed last June in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.
A sculpture by Paul McCarthy was vandalised because it looked more like a sex toy than the Christmas tree it was meant to be.
The Musee d’Orsay exhibition closed on Sunday, so there is no chance of further disruption. But, as Deborah De Robertis’s lawyer remarked, her actions raised no public complaint on the day.