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Is the Louvre selling out?

Marketplace Staff Mar 8, 2007

Is the Louvre selling out?

Marketplace Staff Mar 8, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s often said a given work of art is priceless.But everything can be bought, as we learned earlier this week about one very famous French museum. The Louvre has licensed out its name — and some of its contents — to the United Arab Emirates.

Many French museum curators and art historians are calling the deal a sellout. John Laurenson reports from Paris it might be about selling something. It’s just not clear what.

JOHN LAURENSON: A security guard plunges into the crowd in front of the most famous painting in the world to enforce the no-photo rule. The Mona Lisa is not, of course, one of the artworks the Louvre’s about to bag-up and send to the Middle East.

But 300 other artworks will go on display in the Louvre Abou Dhabi when it opens in 2012, and a wing of the Paris Louvre will be named Sheikh Zayed after the founder of the United Arab Emirates. In return, Abou Dhabi will give France $1.3 billion.

DIDIER RYKNER: This morning I was ashamed to be French, the first time in my life.

The art historian Didier Rykner

has launched a web petition called “The Louvre is Not for Sale.” It’s now got 4,500 signatures.

RYKNER: The purpose of a museum is not to serve economic interests. You can argue with this. You know, you can say a museum is there to serve economic interests. A museum is there for this. It’s an opinion which can be respectful. But you must say this, you know, and you must discuss about it. They don’t say this. They say it’s a cultural, it’s the enlightenment of the French everywhere. They say it’s for the well-being of the works of art. It’s all false, you know? It’s only a diplomatic and financial project.

Monsier Rykner was already upset enough about the Louvre lending masterpieces to America’s High Museum in what his website described — with a shudder — as the Coca-Cola-rich city of Atlanta. But that was only a three-year deal. Louvre Abou Dhabi is for 30.

Rykner says Louvre Abou Dhabi’s really about selling airplanes. The U.A.E. is one of Airbus’s best customers, and has promised to buy 50 of the French-based consortium’s new super-jumbos. It’s a charge France’s Culture Minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, rejects outright.

RENAUD DONNEDIEU DE VABRES: I’m very shocked, you know, by the question, because it’s a cultural matter. It’s a goal of cultural diversity. In a period of violence or terrorism, it’s a good point to try, you know, to build good links between every country — Arabic countries, European countries, Western countries.

As for the Louvre’s president, Henri Loyrette, he’s come round to the idea because of what the setting up of a museum like the Louvre would represent in the Middle East.

HENRI LOYRETTE: Just the idea of wanting a museum which is broader, you know, and which is on the model of the Louvre, interested dealing with all kinds of works, all kinds of civilization is just something which is quite new.

But will they be? Questions are being asked about the sort of works that will be lent to Abou Dhabi. About nudes in a country that’s strict about modesty, and paintings of Christ in a part of the world where promoting Christianity is punishable by law. The Louvre could bring more openness to the Middle East, or the Middle East could bring less of it to the Louvre.

In Paris, I’m John Laurenson for Marketplace.

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