Nude Performance Artist Speaks Out after Musée d’Orsay Arrest

Deborah de Robertis is accusing the Paris museum of being hypocritical.

Deborah de Robertis is angry after her arrest
Photo: via the artists Facebook

The performance artist Deborah de Robertis has spoken out against the Musée d’Orsay and the French police following her arrest for recreating Edouard Manet’s Olympia (1863) at the museum this past weekend.

De Robertis recreated Manet’s groundbreaking portrait of a prostitute in front of the canvas itself, which was on display at the museum as part of the exhibition “Splendor and Misery: Images of Prostitution 1850–1910,” which closed on Sunday after a highly successful four-month run.

“The museum is perfectly happy to use nudity when it comes to encouraging people to come to the exhibition, and there are even pornographic films being shown in the museum, but when it comes to a contemporary artistic performance like mine, they don’t recognize it as art, and they censor it,” de Robertis said on Monday, following her release, the Guardian reports.

De Robertis entered the museum on Saturday with a group of supporters, and set up her performance in front of the painting. On realizing what she was doing, museum security staff swept in and ordered that she get dressed. Upon her refusal the police were called, she was arrested, and spent nearly two days in a French jail cell.

Édouard Manet, Olympia (1863). Image: Courtesy of New Directions.

Édouard Manet, Olympia (1863). Image: Courtesy of New Directions.

“I wanted to represent the model in the painting but in a contemporary setting. But the guards ran up and covered me with a sheet then stood in front to hide my nudity from the public,” De Robertis said. “I’d taken some friends along as a kind of false audience and set up a mise-en-scene so they’d applaud if the situation got difficult, but other spectators in the real audience were clapping too. The guards were trying to clear the room, but not everyone wanted to leave.”

“They like nudity in art, they just don’t want it to be moving. I don’t understand how you can have this kind of exhibition if you are not prepared to go to examine nudity in the real world,” de Robertis said, defending her work.

De Robertis ran the gauntlet of French law enforcement in May 2014, when she recreated Courbet’s infamous masterpiece L’Origine du Monde (Origin of the World) (1866) in the Musee d’Orsay for a video work Mirror of Origin (2014). The performance was interrupted by museum security on this occasion as well, and she was also arrested.


Deborah de Robertis performing Mirror of Origin (2014).
Photo: Video still via DailyMotion.

“In both cases, I chose works of art that scandalized people at the time they were produced, so another aspect of what I am doing is to recreate the scandal in a contemporary setting,” she continued. “This time I wanted to show the feminine model Olympia in the age of the iPhone.”

Tewfik Bouzenoune, the lawyer representing de Robertis spoke out in defense of his client: “The Musée d’Orsay has organized this and other exhibitions featuring nudity and there are posters advertising them all over Paris […] Deborah de Robertis is an artist. She was just doing her job. She made a performance and ended up in a police cell. We have to ask what kind of impact this sort of censorship has on the creativity of artists if they have the sword of legal action hanging over them,” he said.

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