PARIS — An Italian artist decorated the Louvre museum's glass pyramid Wednesday for the first time in the iconic monument's history, in a protest against capitalism. The artwork, a huge three-looped infinity sign made of mirrors, faces due west onto France's business district, La Defense.
Michelangelo Pistoletto, one of the world's leading conceptual artists, covered one panel of the pyramid with the reflective symbol that's meant as a defiant political gesture: Politicians and society must look at follies of excess that led to the global financial crisis.
It had spectators gawping – some in awe, others in confusion.
"It's fantastic. It's like an eye looking out onto what Paris has become: finance, greed," one spectator, Fabrice Bing, said.
Another onlooker, Anthony Cuvillier, was less certain: "I don't know what it means, but it definitely looks cool."
Pistoletto, one of the main exponents of "Arte Povera," an influential movement that uses poor and everyday materials in art to protest against consumerism, has no doubt as to his art's message.
"Politicians should look at themselves in the mirror, and learn to take responsibility for this terrible mess and think of the infinite future ahead for humanity," he told The Associated Press.
Pistoletto is the first artist the Louvre has invited to work on the outside of the pyramid, the large glass and metal structure, designed by architect I. M. Pei, that was commissioned nearly 30 years ago – to great controversy – by former President Francois Mitterrand.
The installation continues deep inside the museum in more than a dozen separate works that the artist has "hidden" among the sprawling classical antiquities, made from mirrors and secondhand rags.
"It's a mystery. The public is asked to come on a treasure hunt," said curator Marie-Laure Bernadac, who agreed that the works will appeal to the many tourists who still come and see the pyramids because of the mysterious associations from Dan Brown's best-selling book "The Da Vinci Code."
But the works also have their fair dose of humor.
One work near the "Mona Lisa," consists of mirror with an image of a tourist taking a photo.
"I'm also poking fun... I'm trying to say that people don't look with their eyes any more, they just consume and take photos of the Mona Lisa because it's famous. I'm trying to make people think," Pistoletto said.
One of the strongest works is a marble statue of Venus, being pushed back by a gargantuan heap of rags. Pistoletto said it was a metaphor for how all the refuse in the world has cluttered and polluted nature.
"They're secondhand rags, but they're all very well washed," he joked. "Don't forget, this is the Louvre."
Pistoletto's "Year 1, Heaven on Earth" will run until Sept. 2.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP
Venus de Milo
<a href="http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/aphrodite-known-venus-de-milo" target="_hplink">Venus de Milo</a>. Parian marble, ca. 130-100 BC. Found in Melos in 1820. Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)
<a href="http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/mona-lisa-%E2%80%93-portrait-lisa-gherardini-wife-francesco-del-giocondo" target="_hplink">The Mona Lisa</a> (or La Joconde, La Gioconda). Leonardo da Vinci. ca. 1503-1505. Department of Paintings: Italian painting
Liberty Leading the People
<a href="http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/july-28-liberty-leading-people" target="_hplink">Liberty Leading the People</a>. Eugene Delacroix. 1830. Department of Paintings: French painting
Psyche Revived By the Kiss of Love
Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l'Amour (Psyche revived by the kiss of Love). Antonio Canova. 1793. Department of Sculptures
Oedipus and the Sphinx
<a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CE4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.louvre.fr%2Fen%2Foeuvre-notices%2Foedipus-explaining-enigma-sphinx&ei=bAEkULuALqnkywGikIDIDw&usg=AFQjCNGkH39WhcYpr5sgxloK_XhjhR5gcg" target="_hplink">Oedipus and the Sphinx</a>. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. 1808. Department of Paintings: French painting
The Raft of the Medusa
<a href="http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/raft-medusa" target="_hplink">The Raft of the Medusa</a>. Theodore Gericault. ca. 1818-1819. Department of Paintings: French painting
Milon de Crotone
<a href="http://www.louvre.fr/en/departments/sculptures-en" target="_hplink">Milon de Crotone</a>. Pierre Puget. 1682. Department of Sculptures
Louis XIV (1638-1715)
<a href="http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/louis-xiv-1638-1715" target="_hplink">Louis XIV (1638-1715)</a>. Hyacinthe Rigaud. 1701. Department of Paintings: French painting
Death of the Virgin
<a href="http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/death-virgin" target="_hplink">Death of the Virgin</a>. Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio. 1601-1605/1606. Department of Paintings: Italian painting
Cy Twombly's Ceiling
<a href="http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/upward-with-the-arts-the-louvres-cy-twombly-ceiling/" target="_hplink">The Louvre's Cy Twombly Ceiling</a>
BONUS: The Islamic Art Collection
Although it won't reopen until September of 2012, the <a href="http://www.louvre.fr/en/departments/islamic-art" target="_hplink">Louvre's Islamic art collection</a> totals 3,000 objects spanning 1,300 years of history and three continents. It's certainly a must-see.