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Missions & Projects The Louvre: An Age-Old Institution Looks to the Future
Heir to the century of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the Louvre was quickly accepted as the "museum among museums;" and since then it has remained a model and a recognized authority.
- September 2009
Founded in 1793 as a museum for all, it celebrates humanity's long journey with the remarkable scope of a collection that spans thousands of years, reaches from America to the borders of India and China, and is highlighted by such iconic, universally admired works as the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo and the Victory of Samothrace. Now read on…
The Louvre: the "museum among museums"
On a scale unrivaled anywhere in the world, these accumulated riches make the Louvre a focal point for permanent dialogue between past and present, and a place of learning, delight, and discovery for millions of visitors of all backgrounds. Once a home to kings, the Louvre has enduring, intimate links with French history, drawing on the spirit of the Revolution and its notion of perpetual evolution, innovation, influence, and alertness to the new; it has always been, as Emile Zola put it, "at ease with its time." This endlessly renewed heritage has been maintained by the long succession of those who have sought art out down the ages, defended it, and passed its message on: that community of men and women who have made the Louvre a unique focal point for a host of skills. Vibrantly open to its city and the world, the Louvre continues to fire the imaginations of those who visit and those who work creatively there; its goal is to remain, as Cézanne put it, "the book in which we learn to read" and through which "we can come to understand and love everything."
The Louvre: a museum for all
A museum for all by virtue of the sheer variety of its collection, the Louvre further highlights its universal reach via the diversity of its 8.5 million annual visitors and an ongoing determination to make contact with the widest possible French and international audience. This necessitates, of course, not only optimal facilities, but also a level of cultural accessibility that maximizes each visitor's knowledge, understanding, and closeness to the works. This is why we see it as important to provide information in other languages, expand the educational side, and make the Louvre more receptive to the disadvantaged and the disabled.
The Louvre: national outreach
The Louvre and its associated institutions—the Musée Eugène Delacroix and the Tuileries Gardens—are doing all they can to offer French and foreign visitors the warmest possible welcome. But the museum's horizons are not limited to Paris: in the interests of injecting new life into the universal calling that has been its responsibility since the beginning, it is working to broaden its audience.
In France this notably takes the form of an active deposits policy and the organization of exhibitions in other venues, in the context of close cooperation with regional museums. One of the key projects here is the creation of Louvre-Lens, in association with the Pas-de-Calais Region. Scheduled to open in Lens in 2012, the new museum—designed by the Sanaa team from Japan—will offer innovative presentations of the national collection via its own semi-permanent collection and an ambitious exhibitions program.
The Louvre: international outreach
This determination to expand its ambit does not stop at France's borders, for the Louvre is increasingly a major player on the cultural diplomacy front. The marvelous thing about art is its transcendence of political contingencies and tensions, and its ability, down the centuries, to contribute to dialogue between cultures and civilizations in a spirit of universality.
Naturally this international outreach finds expression in exhibitions: in Europe, but also in the United States, Japan, Saudi Arabia, China, Korea, Australia, Singapore, Oman, and Canada. In 2008–09 alone the Louvre organized exhibitions in 16 countries, attracting an estimated 6.5 million visitors.
There is, too, a dynamic policy of close partnerships with countries and institutions with an interest in our collection. In some cases the task is to renew or reinforce partnerships with the countries from which works originally came: Syria, Egypt, and Iran, for example. In other cases there is a need for receptivity to the new: to geographical zones currently absent from our collection, or under-represented. This is particularly true of the Americas, the Slavic countries, Sudan, and Central Asia. For some years now the Louvre has been working at filling these gaps, via its acquisitions and exhibitions policies and agreements on cultural and research cooperation.
The Louvre: where art-related skills live on
A new phenomenon: the Louvre is also a stronghold of art-related skills and expertise, and as such is being more and more called upon around the world.
For all these reasons, then, we have a duty to enhance our international activities and come up with new forms of cooperation. Here one basic principle stands out: we are not on our home ground in other countries, and so must think rigorously in terms of partnerships rather than of setting up branch offices. This is why everything we do abroad is done in close conjunction with local cultural institutions.
Within this framework, the Louvre offers real diversity of support: assistance with museum renovations, provision of expert counseling (as in Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Ecuador, and elsewhere), research cooperation, intake of foreign researchers (from Yemen and Libya, for instance), and archeological digs in countries including Sudan, Iran, Egypt, and Syria.
Totally new forms of cooperation have already been successfully undertaken, among them the 2006–09 partnership with the High Museum in Atlanta and the MuseumLab project launched in Japan in late 2006. The latter is an experimental initiative aimed at harnessing state of the art technology in the interests of a better understanding of art.
Among these international partnerships I should also mention one that is quite remarkable in both its character and its extent: the Louvre Abu Dhabi project. Brought into being by an intergovernmental contract signed by France and the United Arab Emirates in March 2007, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will involve construction of a new and highly distinctive museum combining the centuries-old experience and savoir-faire of the Louvre and France's national museums with the dynamism of the Emirates. Designed by Jean Nouvel as a majestic review of Arabic architecture, the building will open late in 2013.
The Louvre: a museum embedded in the 21st century
While its collection halts at the watershed date of 1848, the Louvre is by no means a backward-looking institution. Since the Grand Louvre project brought a doubling of its exhibition space in 1989, the museum has steadily moved with the times.
Its innovative, sophisticated Internet site, for example, is nothing less than a virtual museum that complements the real-world one.
Also notable is an uncompromising engagement with contemporary art, in temporary exhibitions and, in the Palais du Louvre, on a more lasting basis. This represents an active contribution to maintaining that necessary dialogue between the greats of the past and the artists of today.
When 2009 saw the twentieth anniversary of the Pyramid and the Grand Louvre, the museum highlighted its commitment to architectural, museographic, and educational modernity with the creation of new spaces and renovation of others. The new home for the splendid Department of Islamic Arts collection on Cour Visconti is one of the Louvre's most impressive projects. Made possible by the generous patronage of Prince Ali Walid and King Mohammed VI, the new exhibition halls are the work of architect Rudy Riciotti, with the opening scheduled for 2012. And thanks to the Louvre Atlanta project, there is also the ongoing renovation of the rooms devoted to what is one of the world's largest and handsomest 18th-century objets d'art collections. By 2012 the inspired work of interior designer Jacques Garcia will be offering visitors a completely revamped presentation.
Projects and ambitions on this kind of scale cost money, and the Louvre has radically modernized its management and funding approaches. In 2003 it became the first French museum to sign a performance contract with the state, thus obtaining greater independence, a three-year agreement on the state's contribution, and definition of the goals to be met over that period. At the same time the Louvre has been building up its own resources with an active patronage policy—both individual and corporate—that has facilitated many projects including exhibitions, acquisition of national treasures, and museographic improvements. Several patronage groups have been set up both in France (Young Patrons Circle, the Louvre Corporate Circle, the Cressent Circle, and others) and abroad (American Friends of the Louvre, the International Circle, etc.) The most recent innovation is an endowment fund, based on the Anglo-Saxon model and designed to provide long-term backing for major development projects. These advances will mean the capacity to carry out our cultural and research missions in the fields of heritage preservation, cultural programming, expansion of the collection, development of research, and a new policy of service to the public.
It is this multifaceted museum, at once immense and intimate, that I invite you to discover.
Jean-Luc MARTINEZ, Director of the Musée du Louvre
The Louvre is open every day (except Tuesday) from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.