France's Louvre draws fire for overseas plans

8th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 8, 2007 (AFP) - The head of the Paris Louvre was forced on Monday to fight off accusations that France's most prestigious museum is "selling its soul" by agreeing to loan out its prized collections overseas.

PARIS, Jan 8, 2007 (AFP) - The head of the Paris Louvre was forced on Monday to fight off accusations that France's most prestigious museum is "selling its soul" by agreeing to loan out its prized collections overseas.

At the core of the row is a project to create a satellite of the Louvre in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi, to be built by 2012 on Saadiyat

Island, the future site of a multi-billion dollar tourist resort.

For the right to use the Louvre's brand name, expertise and artwork, Abu Dhabi is reportedly poised to sign a 500-million-euro ($650-million) contract with the French government in the coming weeks.

For some in France, alarmed to see their treasured heritage leaving the country following a string of overseas tie-ups by major French museums, the glitzy Abu Dhabi project was the last straw.

Under the title, "Museums are not for sale", three art world heavyweights including Francoise Cachin, head of France's national museum council, set the ball rolling with a fiery article in Le Monde newspaper last month.

By Monday, some 1,400 people including dozens of museum directors, curators and art historians had signed an online petition supporting the text, according to the French website La Tribune de L'Art (

"Works belonging to our heritage are not consumer goods," the article read, dismissing the Abu Dhabi project as a gimmick for rich property developers that would deprive the Louvre's 7.3 million annual visitors in Paris.

The article also slammed the decision to loan out works, including by the 17th-century French painter Nicolas Poussin and the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, as part of a three-year partnership between the Louvre and the US city of Atlanta -- "the rich city of Coca-Cola".

But the real bone of contention is the Abu Dhabi Louvre, one of five museums to be built on Saadiyat island, a vast complex of 29 luxury hotels, two golf courses, three marinas and thousands of private villas, set for completion in 2018.

One museum will be a branch of New York's Guggenheim, which already operates five annexes, from Venice to Las Vegas, while the others will be a national museum, and a maritime and Islamic arts museums.

The French government -- which manages all of France's national museums -- has reportedly agreed to supply a series of complete exhibitions, drawn from the Louvre and other French museums, until the UAE has established its own collection, on which it plans to spend 1.5 billion dollars.

"Our political leaders went to offer up this royal and diplomatic gift, -- in exchange for close to one billion euros. Does that not amount to 'selling one's soul'?" the article asked.

The petitioners, who suspect the government of merely seeking to further French trade interests with Abu Dhabi, urged it to "stop treating French museums, and the Louvre in particular, as a reservoir of works that can be used for political, financial or financial ends."

But the Louvre's director Henri Loyrette defended the museum's overseas strategy on Monday, saying it could not afford to be left behind as other museums become increasingly global in outlook.

In addition to the Guggenheim, both the British Museum and London's

Victoria and Albert Museum have created tie-ups with museums in China, and more and more French museums are following suit.

Paris's Pompidou centre contemporary art museum is to open an annex in Shanghai in the next few years, and the Rodin Museum is reported to be planning a branch in the Brazilian city of Salvador.

"I can't see what all the fuss is about," Loyrette said. "Money is important, but that is not what drives our actions."

He also insisted the Louvre did not take fees for lending out individual works -- despite the costs of doing so -- and only accepted money in certain cases when it is supplying a complete exhibition to an outside museum.

In the case of the Louvre Atlanta project, he said the loan fees of 5.5 million euros would be used to renovate the Louvre's decorative arts galleries.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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