Musée du quai Branly

The Musée du quai Branly is comprised of works of both historical and artistic importance from throughout the former French colonial empire.

To be completely upfront and explicit: there’s a lot about this museum that makes me uncomfortable. Were these objects taken from their cultures? Were they willingly given? Whose point of view is the museum from? That said, the objects were presented in a respectful way that told the stories of the cultures they were from, and the French government will repatriate objects if the government of the current country asks for them back. They also incorporated modern art made by people from these cultures, which I assume the museum acquired in the traditional way: by paying the artists who made the works.

All that said, I found this museum super-interesting for not-the-usual Paris museum reasons.

The museum’s plaques did directly address the controversy of showing some of the more culturally sensitive artifacts, like these decorated skulls. Unfortunately, my not-so-good French made them hard to understand.

Hair art was super common as part of decorative masks throughout many cultures. (There’s also a tradition of hair art in the West, especially as a part of Victorian mourning culture. The podcast Dressed covered it well last year.) The amount of hair and craft that it takes to make these are incredible.

This is one of the modern works created for the museum. It’s fish, but in a weird Escher-y way.

This is another of the modern works based on traditional arts.

There were a number of trunks and containers from Southeast Asia that are both super gorgeous and remind me of the same sized trunks and containers that you see from European cultures as well. Everyone likes pretty things to store and move their stuff . The patterns and textures of these were gorgeous.

After the arrival of the French and the native cultures’ conversion to Christianity, they would incorporate elements of Christianity into their already existing belief structures. This, for example, is Lucifer and one of his demons. But very much not the Lucifer you would see in any Western depiction. And I kind of love it.

And this is St Michael, who will cast Lucifer out of heaven and into hell. Those wings are super-impressive.

In short, I think this museum is good because it makes me uncomfortable, and because it forces me, a white person, to reckon with colonialism and the not-so-beautiful side of the French culture I enjoy. But it also helps me understand other cultures around the world, too. Overall, it’s worth an afternoon.

The International Olympic Museum

I enjoyed The International Olympic Museum more than I expected to. Lausanne is where the IOC is headquartered; ergo, the museum makes sense. (Lausanne in general is a very sporty town, we found.)

This is one of two olympic flames that never goes out. The other is in Greece.

This is the entrance to the museum; it’s also the current high jump world record. That is, someone has jumped over this bar (that most people can easily walk under) without anything like a pole or trampoline to help them along. It’s 8′ 0.25″, and the record hasn’t changed since 1993, according to Wikipedia.

There is a lot to the museum, like the history of the Olympics and what its goals are, the torches that have been used – the design retrospective through the years is fascinating, how different body types are good at different sports, but my favorite is the costumes. These are the costumes that Torvill & Dean wore for their famous Bolero routine.

This is Jim Craig’s sweater from the Miracle on Ice in 1980. (This is when a team of college kids from the US beat the all-professional team of Soviet hockey players in the 1980 Olympics. You can assign all the Cold War significance to this event that you want.)

Usain Bolt’s jersey if for no other reason than he is fast.

A basketball that every member of the 1992 Dream Team signed. That’s the year that the US finally sent its professional basketball players to the olympics – the team that included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson – and won their games by an average of 44 points. (Dream Team was a fun book to read about their journey, but the narrative arc – the golden team that stayed golden – isn’t the most interesting.)

Jessie Owens‘ shoes from the 1936 Olympics, when he definitively proved that Hitler was a racist asshole. (I mean, didn’t everyone already know that? But still, keep shouting down racist assholes.)

The gardens outside the museum were full of statues (as well as Olympic sports to try, including a 100m dash course), mainly of sports. But there was this tribute to abs, which I found amusing. Yes, it’s all about power and performance. But also: abs.

This was the most out-of-place sculpture – it’s a gentleman holding an umbrella that’s made of water. It is whimsical, if a bit out of place in a place that is a tribute to sports.

The Olympic Museum is a bit on the expensive side, as is most of Lausanne, but it was totally worth it. I really enjoyed the visit. But then: the Olympics has so many good stories, and I am a sucker for a good story. Recommended.

Antiquities in Copenhagen

We visited the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum founded by a Carlsberg of the brewing family, while we were in Copenhagen. I wanted to go because it has a famous bust of Pompey; it turned out that we showed up on free admission day. Yay! (We splurged and ate lunch at the museum, an always expensive proposition. It compensated for not paying admission.)

It’s got a good collection of antiquities. I’m always (of course) most interested in anything Ancient Rome, but there was also a handful of artwork from the 1800s. It’s a lovely museum, worth a few hours of your time.


You enter the museum (after you buy your ticket) through a central atrium. It was a bright day in Copenhagen, this room was not air conditioned. (It’s clearly not normally that sunny; it was hot.)

The central statue in the atrium. It’s both impressive and disturbing. I can’t image that many babies needing my attention all at once.


I enjoy this little hippo statue hidden amongst the foliage. It’s cute.


Non-bust antiquities

There are a lot of heads on pillars (aka busts) in the Glyptotek. LOTS. These are a few antiquities that aren’t busts.

God of the Dead
I’m pretty sure this is Anubis – the Egyptian god of the dead. But don’t quote me on that.


Hieroglyphics that, I think, tell the story of an animal sacrifice. (I should really record what these photos are of when I take them.)


The Roman Emperor Nerva. He succeeded Domitian (who the Senate really, REALLY hated – he had a bad reputation for centuries) and was the first of the five Good Emperors.


Ancient Heads

You turn the corner and look into this room and it’s, quite frankly, a little disturbing. I definitely did a double take.


Pompey the Great, sporting Alexander the Great’s hairstyle. (All the ancient generals wanted to be Alexander – to the point of copying the way he did his hair.) This one is famous.


Augustus, Ancient Rome’s very first emperor. He looks like an awkward, if determined, young man to me, here, with his ears sticking out.


Livia, Augustus’ wife. She was probably not as evil as Robert Graves’ I, Claudius wants you to think she was.


Septemius Severus. He had a reputation of being a hard-ass, but he was also putting the empire back together after 100 years of mis-management. He needed to be a hard-ass.

Like I said earlier, there was also some art from the late 1800s, both French and Danish – lots of early Gaugin, actually – but this post is long enough as it is and the majority of the art in the Glyptotek is of the ancient variety. It’s a nice little collection.