Man versus Beast in Paris

hunt museum IX I have never understood hunting as a sport. The very idea of killing an innocent animal is repugnant to me. I rarely eat meat and I have been known to gently scoop up stink bugs and release them into the garden. But today my agenda in Paris was to visit the Museum of Hunting and Nature. The reason was twofold: I wanted to understand the history of hunting in France as part of the research I am doing on a book, and secondly I am always interested in how museums fold contemporary works into traditional collections to create a dialogue between old and new. The museum’s collection is grouped into hunting weapons, hunting ‘products’  like taxidermied animals, and artistic works related to hunting. hunt museum III The contemporary artist whose works are currently dispersed around the museum is Danish artist Lin Utzon whose father designed the famed Sydney Opera House. Lin Utzon’s Cosmic Dance exhibition at the Museum of Hunting has been heavily influenced by sparse nordic landscapes and her belief in the interconnection between every living creature and the common destiny we share. hunt museumIn the museum’s inner courtyard, her tall, sentinel  ceramic forms (above) are set on a sea of black coals and make a startling introduction to her work. However, I find her black and white imagery even more interesting when set against hunting artifacts and the depiction of hunting throughout the ages. hunt museum V I suppose I can accept that hunting was part of the natural order way back when, but when an animal is pitted against a man with a gun, that just seems wrong. I silently asked forgiveness of some of the taxidermied animals but the one room covered in ‘trophies’ made me queasy. hunt museum VI They were displayed in the same gallery as antique guns with beautiful mother of pearl inlays and other ornately decorated firearms. As my museum buddy pointed out, there was an uneasy juxtaposition of the dual beauty created by Nature and by Man. Utzon’s work at times seemed very graphic, almost Ikea-like, yet on the whole her oeuvre conveyed the nobility of Nature and provided an important reminder that the museum is called the Museum for Hunting and Nature. hunt museum II In one tiny little room, preserved animal parts were suspended in large glass containers, but the curator lightened the mood by including one jar containing a preserved teddy bear. In the same room a video of a unicorn was mesmerizing. hunt museum X Apart from the trophy room, the  museum was beautiful and partially succeeded in conveying the sense of respect that hunters hold for their prey. One gets an understanding of the long history and ritual of hunting  in French culture and in a way, I was able to see the connection between hunting and conservation. I was still having mixed feelings about the museum when I heard a distant but unmistakable roar of an angry crowd that makes one’s hair stand on end. I hurried out to the street to see what was going on and walked straight into a sea of demonstrators holding placards and yelling obscenities at the museum and its visitors – myself included. hunt museum VIII The manif (demonstration) was organized by the Society for the Protection of Animals, and where better to air their opposition to inhumane farming practices and hunting than the Museum of Hunting?  I could not believe the timing of this event with my visit. I was already in two minds about the nature of the museum’s contents and to be confronted by hundreds of emotionally charged protesters violently opposing the existence of the museum at that very moment I finished my tour certainly shook me up. I overheard a passerby asking one of the demonstrators what sort of museum this was and the response was: “A museum for psychopaths and assassins”. hunt museum VII When the procession of demonstrators and police cars finally moved on and the shouts of “Liberté aux animaux” died away, I snuck guiltily down the rue des Archives away from the museum whom only moments earlier I had looked at in a more favorable light.