January 9, 2007

Is it vulgar for a museum to lend out its collection

Posted at 10:30 pm in Similar cases

I have often argued that in todays world it makes a lot of sense for museums to be able to share their collections with other institutions, to develop reciprocal agreements & to generally encourage a more free flow of cooperation between them.
It would appear though that certain sectors of the Parisian elite believe that this is entirely the wrong thing for institutions such as the Louvre to be involved in.
In many ways though, it is good that it is possible to have such an argument now, as it is not long ago that the situations would not have existed to have started such discussions in the first place.

The Times

January 08, 2007
Purists vilify Louvre over ‘vulgar’ plan to lease out masterpieces
Adam Sage in Paris

Leading figures from the French art world have accused the Louvre of cultural prostitution for signing a multimillion-pound deal to exhibit works in Atlanta and negotiating a second deal to build a branch of the museum in Abu Dhabi.

Critics say that the Louvre is being turned into a vulgar brand name to fill state coffers.

The row pits purists, who believe that art must stand high above politics or business, against modernisers, who say that globalisation requires a new approach to cultural values. In the latest salvo, senior curators and art critics have launched a petition denouncing the Government of President Chirac for authorising France’s museums to rent out their collections.

“One can only be shocked by the commercial and promotional use of masterpieces of our national heritage,” said a text written by Françoise Cachin, honorary director of Les Musées de France, the body that oversees French museums, Jean Clair, a former director of the Picasso Museum, and Roland Recht, an art historian. “Cultural objects are not consumer goods.”

The petition, signed by almost 1,000 people, came after the announcement that Paris was negotiating with the United Arab Emirates to establish an outpost of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

The institution would be the centrepiece of a new $27 billion (£14 billion) district where a Guggenheim museum, concert hall, art galleries and hotels are also planned. The UAE is offering almost $1 billion to use the Louvre’s name and some of its 300,000 works, of which only 35,000 are on display in Paris.But the Louvre of the Sands, as it has been dubbed, has provoked a furious reaction among traditionalists.

“The museum is being asked to prostitute itself,” said Didier Rykner, who runs La Tribune de l’Art, a French internet site that is organising the petition. “You can’t just dig into its collection as though it was a reservoir to be used here and there.”

Detractors suspect President Chirac of exploiting the Louvre as part of his diplomacy. The UAE has signed defence contracts with France for about $10 billion over the past decade and placed an order for 43 Airbus A380 superjumbo aircraft.

Suspicions were fuelled when the French Government, which controls all the country’s best-known museums, entered talks to set up a branch of the Pompidou Centre of modern art in China, where President Chirac is also keen to reinforce Gallic influence.

Henri Loyrette, the Louvre’s director, has been kept away from negotiations over the Abu Dhabi project, but has been fiercely criticised for overseeing a financial tie-up with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

Under a three-year project, the Louvre is being paid $6.4 million to lend some of its most famous works, including Murillo’s The Young Beggar — to the Americans. The organisers of the petition say that by hiring out the paintings Mr Loyrette is following the “disastrous” example of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, “which boasts of being an entertainment business”.

Mr Rykner told The Times: “It is perfectly legitimate to lend works for free for scientific reasons but this is completely different. It is all about creating a media event.”

But Mr Loyrette said: “We cannot refuse to answer the questions posed by globalisation.

“All the world’s museums, from the British Museum to the Hermitage in St Petersburg are moving beyond national borders. Our ambition is to invent our own model.”

Picture perfect
# Built in the 12th century by King Philippe Auguste as a fortress to protect Paris
# Extensive remodelling by the kings Louis XIII, XIV and V created today’s Louvre
# In 1793 the Museum Central des Arts opened in the Grande Galerie and the Salon Carré, from where the collections gradually spread to take over the building
# The Musée du Louvre houses 35,000 works of art, displayed in more than 60,000 sq m (50,100 sq yards) of exhibition space

Source: Times archive

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