The Louvre Presents Manga As Art

The Louvre presents manga as artAn exhibition featuring manga and bandes dessinees — or French graphic novels, called BD for short — is being held at Grand Front Osaka in Osaka.
The “Louvre No. 9” exhibition is a project undertaken by the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The show introduces works by 16 artists — nine from French-speaking countries and seven from Japan. Hirohiko Araki, known for “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure,” is among them.

The approximately 300 items on display include manuscript pages from popular manga or bandes dessinees. Their storylines all unfold in the Louvre.

Christian Durieux drew an encounter between an old politician and a woman at the museum during a private party, while Jiro Taniguchi chose a manga artist — who goes back and forth between dreams and reality — as his protagonist.

Bande dessinee dates back to the 19th century. It has been recognized in France as the “ninth art” — in addition to eight already accepted forms of arts such as architecture and painting — since the 1960s.

In recent years the Louvre has turned its eye to the expressions and artistry of such works. In 2003, the museum launched a project to commission works from well-known comic artists at home and abroad, in a collaboration with a publishing house.

The museum has issued 12 publications so far based on the project and held related exhibitions similar to the current show.

So why has the Louvre — a pantheon of authentic artworks, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and other classical masterpieces — turned its attention to comics?

Fabrice Douar, deputy director of the museum’s department of publications, said the original purpose of the project was to collect contemporary art, street art and living art.

“We wanted to reinvigorate culture,” he said. “Consequently, it should also bring in the younger generation [to the museum].”

The museum commissions works from artists on three conditions: 1) They must have excellent drawing skills. 2) They must present a convincing plot. 3) They must combine them in a good composition.

“The works must have a distinctive character that can rival other artworks in the collections at the Louvre,” Douar said.

Shinichi Sakamoto, known for “Innocent,” is one of the artists featured at the exhibition. His popular manga featuring an executioner in 18th-century Paris has been carried in a weekly comic magazine since 2013.

The artist from Osaka Prefecture joined the Louvre project for the first time with “Ohi Antoinette, Mona Lisa ni Au” (Marie Antoinette meets Mona Lisa), a story describing the fate of da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.”

Sakamoto portrays how the painting — once placed in the Palace of Versailles — survives through time. Videos on how he created the work will also be presented at the venue.

Sakamoto said he never imagined himself being associated with the Louvre. “I’m honored to become part of the project,” he said. “I can feel the potential in manga’s reach, both in distance and time.”

Sakamoto cited the frequency of publication that defines the difference between manga and BD.

“BD is basically published on a yearly basis, while Japanese manga are continuously carried in magazines,” Sakamoto said. “I think that is the reason why BD is very rich in color. I also feel time passes more slowly in them.”

He said it would be great if the two genres would further improve by influencing each other.

The exhibition continues until Jan. 29 at Grand Front Osaka in Osaka, before moving to the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Fukuoka (April 15-May 28) and to the Matsuzakaya Art Museum in Nagoya (July 15-Sept. 3).