By Karli Barnett

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A South Florida artist had a once in a lifetime experience by getting to take in some of the world’s most famous artwork with almost the entire museum to himself.

On July 6th, local artist and professor John Bailly was the first person back in the Louvre in Paris when it reopened.

“It’s a unique experience, and I’m aware of how fortunate I am to have that,” he told CBS4’s Karli Barnett over Zoom.

Bailly is a professor at FIU Honors College and a painter. He’s part of the Artists in Residence program at Deering Estate and is represented locally by LnS Gallery in Coconut Grove.

He goes to Paris every summer, and this year, due to the pandemic, he says it was a completely different travel experience.

However, once he arrived, he wound up getting a unique opportunity.

“I landed on Friday night, and then Saturday morning at 9 a.m., I had my reservation for the Louvre,” he says. “I was actually the first person in the Louvre.”

Bailly got to be the first one to walk through the doors as it opened back up. The world’s largest art museum had closed in the middle of March, due to coronavirus concerns. They only let a certain number of people in, and visitors have to reserve a time slot ahead of time. Bailly happened to get the first.

“I quickly went to the Mona Lisa, and I was alone in the room with the Mona Lisa, able to look at it as a painting,” he says. “Leonardo came to life, and the Mona Lisa, as a character, came to life. It was just a really moving experience”

Not having to see the art through a crowd of people, Bailly could really observe the work in a way that would not otherwise be possible.

“When you’re trying to see the Mona Lisa, and all you’re seeing is phones in front of you, and not the Mona Lisa itself, it’s hard for the painting to be able to conjure the life that’s in it.”

Bailly was able to share the moment with others through social media, after posting some of his photos.

“I’ve had lots of people say ‘hey, can you find this painting? Can you post this? Can you send it to me?’ Absolutely,” he says. “We have to come together and share together.”

Some of those who reached out were his friends, but others were people he did not even know. He says it was a “beautiful thing” to see the dialogue begin and community forming over art.

Since many are unable to travel right now and had to cancel plans, Bailly says he is glad he can share something beautiful and positive in these times.

He points out, though, we do not necessarily need to reveal far to view beautiful artwork. Much of it is accessible in a brand new way.

“Lots of museums, galleries, and artists are finding creative ways to interact with their audiences through social media or through zoom meetings,” Bailly explains. “I would encourage people to pursue those things.”

Bailly is in Paris the rest of the month and will be back to teach at FIU at the end of August.

Karli Barnett

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