Retrospective

Toni Morrison on Looking for ‘Wordless Forms’ at the Louvre, in 2006: From the Archives

Toni Morrison.

DAVID HARTLEY/SHUTTERSTOCK

When Toni Morrison, the acclaimed author of various texts about American histories of racism, died at 88 earlier this week, her loss was felt in the art world. Already, one of the most notable American artists, Kara Walker, has responded by producing a cover about Morrison for next week’s issue of the New Yorker. But Morrison’s presence in the art world didn’t only come in the form of influence—she also created a project for the Louvre in 2006 in which she organized a series of programs called “The Foreigner’s Home.” Reprinted below is a brief interview with Morrison from the November 2006 issue of ARTnews in which she discusses the project. —Alex Greenberger

“A Novelist’s Approach”
By Rachel Somerstein
November 2006

“The idea is to find people able to bring something new to the life of the museum,” says Louvre Auditorium director Jean-Marc Terrasse of the “Louvre Invites . . .” program. This year, the institution looked to Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison to offer a fresh perspective on the museum’s collections by organizing a series of events, including readings, film screenings, lectures, and music recitals. “Somebody who is not an artist or who is not a specialist” in the visual arts often asks the “kind of questions curators never ask themselves,” explains Terrasse.

Morrison recalls that she was in the midst of examining depictions of foreigners in 19th- and early-20th-century literature—“how writers invented and dealt with their notion of who belonged and who did not”—for her courses at Princeton University when she was approached by the museum. She says she is particularly interested in Theodore Géricault’s The Raft of Medusa (1819)—a highlight of the Louvre’s collection—because of its depiction of blacks and whites struggling to survive alongside one another at a time when slavery was the norm.

With her recent research and painting in mind, Morrison organized the programs, running from the 6th to the 29th of this month, around the theme “The Foreigner’s Home.” Scheduled events include a screened excerpt from Margaret Garner, an opera based on Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved, and readings from Michael Ondaatje, Edwidge Danticat, and Assia Djebar—authors who, Morrison explains, “are writing in places where they were not born or writing about being demonized in their own home.”

“I began to look at wordless forms like painting and choreography as journeying somewhere that I’d never thought of,” says Morrison.

© 2019 ARTnews Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved. ARTnews® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.