How Beyoncé and Jay-Z Took the Art World by Storm in their New Viral Louvre Video
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon treats black bodies
In another heartstopping moment for pop culture, pop music’s power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z (the Carters) have released a music video for their latest album’s lead single ‘Apeshit’ – filmed in complete secrecy last month at Paris’s Louvre Museum. Beyoncé and Jay-Z shocked fans when they released the album Everything is Love over the weekend, while kicking off their world tour in London. But the accompanying music video is even more surprising. Taking in the Louvre’s iconic masterpieces over the course of six minutes, through synchronized dance sequences and long camera pans, the film isn’t just a tour of art history’s greatest hits, but makes a deeper political point about the marginalization of bodies of colour in the Western cultural canon.
Directed by Ricky Saiz (co-head designer of Supreme), the video tracks across the Louvre’s galleries and plaza, constantly drawing attention to the artworks’s (and elite institution’s) celebration of the white, largely male genius – and the choreography of bodies of colour beneath. ‘Apeshit’ begins with Jay-Z and Beyoncé, dressed in silken, pastel green and pink suits, posing in front of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (c.1503–06) – the piece returns throughout the video, including a shot behind a woman combing a man’s hair with an afro pick. Meanwhile dancers form a line in front of Jacques-Louis David’s The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine (1805–07) – with the empress’s crown hovering just above Beyoncé’s own head.
The official court painter to Napoleon features heavily elsewhere in the video. David’s works Oath of the Horatii (1784) and The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1799) are both nodded to. And a shot of his Portrait of Madame Récamier (1800) – a depiction of a famous Parisian socialite – with two black women in headwraps seated beneath, is also included.
The video takes in millennia-old masterpieces – the Hellenistic marble sculpture The Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BCE) is a recurring point – as well as a granite sphinx from ancient Egypt (c.2600 BCE) and the iconic Venus de Milo (100 BCE), in front of which Beyoncé sways in a nude bodysuit. ‘Apeshit’ also lingers on the architectural details of the museum itself, from the ceiling of the regal Apollo gallery to the controversial pyramid courtyard designed by I.M. Pei, and finished in 1989.
While Beyoncé sings ‘I can’t believe we made it,’ the video surveys a whole host of other celebrated works, including Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa (1819), depicting French soldiers struggling for survival after being shipwrecked off the coast of Senegal, and perhaps most intriguingly, Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s Portrait of a Negress (1800). This deeply ambiguous portrait of an unknown black woman, wearing a hooped earing with a white scarf veiling her head (the video crops out her bare breast) is a rare work in the Louvre’s collection – painted by a woman after the first abolition of slavery in France, and featuring a sole person of colour. The video returns to the Mona Lisa for a final time, before the duo turn around to face it.
It’s not the first time the couple have posed in front of the Louvre’s paintings – in October 2014 they were photographed with their child Blue Ivy alongside several museum pieces by the artist Awol Erizku (many of which return again in the video). Nor is it the first time that they have used the gallery as a filming location. Jay-Z’s 2013 video for his single ‘Picasso Baby’ was filmed at New York’s Pace Gallery, and starred Marina Abramović among other art world celebrities. But this is the strongest statement by the Carters which considers the art historical canon, and the placement of people of colour within it. ‘I think it was important to my mother to surround us with positive, powerful, strong images of African and African-American art so that we could see ourselves in them,’ Beyoncé said in a New York Times interview in 2017.
The Louvre is one of the world’s most visited art institutions (8.1 million visitors passed through the doors just last year). The museum management said they were delighted by the film, although the couple only raised the idea for a film in May: ‘The timing was tight, but the project quickly won us over, because the synopsis showed a real attachment to the museum and its works, which made a mark on them,’ the museum said. The Louvre did not disclose how much the couple paid to hire the gallery. Around 500 film productions take place at the museum each year, with each costing around USD$17,500 (previous outings include the films Wonder Woman and The Smurfs 2).