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January 8, 2007
The Louvre As Bordello?

Jacques Chirac, who recently began talking as though he might run again for a third term as president of France, may have effectively killed any small chance of viability for continuing in office with a scheme to rent out the masterpieces of the Louvre. French artistic circles accuse Chirac of prostituting the nation's cultural heritage, but Chirac has his eyes on a billion-dollar deal from the Arabs:

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 deal with the Americans has critics steamed already, but the proposal from the UAE really does seem quite strange, and more than a little self-serving. The UAE has offered one billion dollars for the use of the Louvre's name -- and the right to display 300,000 of the Louvre's pieces. To put this into a little perspective, the Louvre itself only displays around 35,000 pieces at any one time, which would make the Louvre of the Sands -- as some are calling it -- much more significant in terms of exhibition than its namesake.

Chirac points out that the Guggenheim does much the same with its name and artwork, and that globalization requires a more flexible outlook on the nature of museums. Museums have conducted global traveling tours for decades now; the King Tut exhibit comes immediately to mind. However, licensing the name of famous museums for other facilities and renting out its collections is a fairly new concept, and the French have to wonder why Chirac would want to dilute the importance of France's most significant museum.

One reason might be airplanes and defense work. UAE is one of France's better customers for its defence industry. They have spent $10 billion over the last ten years, and in a country with a struggling economy, that kind of manufacturing revenue is not small potatoes. It employs a lot of people, and for that matter, so does Airbus, which just got an order from the UAE for 43 jumbo civilian aircraft.

It may not be art after all, but Chirac knows what he likes -- and he likes the money. Given the economic problems facing the French, perhaps they should reconsider the market approach in more areas than just art exhibits.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 8, 2007 5:18 AM

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