The Lady with the Unicorn: the famous medieval tapestries meet contemporary art at the Musée des Abattoirs. We have until January 16 to visit this unique exhibition in France offered in partnership with the National Museum of the Middle Ages.
This is the big surprise of the season at the Abattoirs. Who would have imagined that the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Toulouse would host the famous tapestries of the Lady with the Unicorn, jewels of the Musée de Cluny (national museum of the Middle Ages) in Paris, from where they hardly ever come out. This tremendous opportunity presented itself last spring. Cluny being closed for works, its director, Séverine Lepape, looked for a French museum likely to exhibit “Medieval Mona Lisa”, as the Lady with the Unicorn is nicknamed. A meeting with Annabelle Ténèze, director of the Musée des Abattoirs, took place in May and the project to confront these very old hangings with validated contemporary works of art. We can expect a large crowd at the Abattoirs, because the presence of the Lady with the Unicorn in Toulouse is as unexpected as it is magical.
When the unicorn meets the Minotaur
The first tapestry that we see when entering the basement rooms where the exhibition is held is the best known and the most mysterious of the six pieces constituting the set of the Lady and the Unicorn. This magnificent tapestry with bright colors and abundant decoration, produced by French weaving virtuosos around 1500, does not illustrate one of the five senses like its neighbors. It is called “My only desire” because these three words are inscribed on a dome behind the central figure. Framed by a lion and a white unicorn, the beautiful lady seems to take a piece of jewelry from the chest held out by her lady companion. At Les Abattoirs, this flamboyant work occupies an entire white wall, facing Picasso’s stage curtain, “The remains of the minotaur in harlequin costume”, released for the occasion of six months of hibernation. A judiciously chosen location, in the modern setting of the Abattoirs, even if Picasso’s stage curtain seems bland compared to this medieval tapestry on a red background.
“Neither backward-looking, nor cliché”
“We invited contemporary artists who are inspired by the Middle Ages, thinking that this would bring us closer to these very old works, that it would give them a context of understanding, in a vision that is neither backward-looking nor cliché,” explains Annabelle Ténèze. In the rooms where the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are exhibited, we notably discover an amusing “monument to the glory of the unicorn” carved in lime stucco, produced by the Marseille collective Southway Studio; a horse’s head in gray metal by Jean-Marie Appriou placed at the foot of Picasso’s Minotaur; coats of arms in cut iron, half-tuning, half-medieval; “La noble pastorale” by Suzanne Husky, pastiche of the Lady with the Unicorn, proposed by a bulldozer cutting trees; a fantastic fresco by the Toulousian Agathe Pitié, in the style of illuminations … These artists are in the Middle Ages echoes with the contemporary world, such as ecology and feminism.
The practical side of the exhibition
The exhibition “The Lady with the Unicorn. Medieval and so contemporary ”, inaugurated today Friday, October 30, will be held until January 16, 2022 at the Musée des Abattoirs. Lectures, screenings and performances will be organized by the museum. This Saturday, October 30 at 4 p.m.: inaugural conference by Béatrice de Chancel, chief curator of the Cluny museum. Abattoirs Museum, 76 Charles-de-Fitte alleys. Open Wednesday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Prices: 5 and 8 €. Phone 05 62 48 58 00 www.lesabattoirs.org