exhibition, painting, Paris

Hooray for Hookers! (at Orsay)

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[Long live the whores / Hooray for hookers] Note on the exhibition’s guestbook

Before one visits Splendour and Misery. Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910 at the Musée d’Orsay (until January 17, 2016), one wonders a bit anxiously if this exhibition will be as empty as Masculin Masculin, as superficial as L’Ange du Bizarre, or on the contrary as stimulating as the one on Sade, which moved me deeply. It was not as overwhelming as the latter, but it was definitely instructive: this exhibition is pedagogically very interesting, as it describes very well the political, social, moral, economic context in which prostitution fostered in the nineteenth century, as it exposes its mechanisms, as it characterizes its protagonists and its spaces. The exhibition presents prostitution as a coded, regulated universe, with its laws, its consumer guides, its idiosyncrasies, such as the ambiguous gestures designed to show the goods and to lure in the client. This is what Édouard Manet illustrated in 1880, drawing only boots, a bit of uncovered shin and a red dress, three clues that make the lady’s trade abundantly clear to the audience.

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