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Collections & departments The Pavillon des Sessions
The Department of the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas is located on the ground floor of the former Pavillon des Sessions at the south-west end of the Louvre palace. Visitors can access the department directly through the Porte des Lions entrance, or use the pyramid entrance, then pass through the riverside Grande Galerie as far as the Spanish collection where a staircase leads down to the display of non-European art.
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The 108 sculptural masterpieces exhibited were selected by the Musée du Quai Branly, to which most of them now belong (having previously been in the care of the Laboratory of Ethnology at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, or of the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie). Other pieces were acquired specifically for the Pavillon des Sessions project, while still others — such as the terracotta pieces from the Federal Republic of Nigeria — are on loan from French or foreign museums. Some of the exhibits date back to several centuries BC; others were produced in the early 20th century.
An understated exhibition design
The exhibition space was designed by J. M. Wilmotte and inaugurated in April 2000, providing a satellite for the Musée du Quai Branly which did not open until June 2006; the masterpieces owned by the Musée du Quai Branly continue to play this ambassadorial role within the Louvre, representing non-Western art in one of the world’s greatest classical art museums.
The 1,200 square-meter exhibition area was designed to harmonize with the rest of the Louvre. The result is a streamlined space with simple volumes and minimal partitioning, bathed in light filtered through silver-plated bronze mesh screens. The works of art are displayed with maximum impact in a spacious layout that, as far as possible, allows visitors to admire them from every angle.
A selection by Jacques Kerchache
Art expert Jacques Kerchache was born in Rouen in 1942 and died in Mexico in 2001. Renowned for his impeccable eye, he was advisor to the greatest collectors and, above all, a great defender of non-European art.
Between 1959 and 1980, he made many study trips around the world in order to draw up a critical inventory of the great sculpture collections. In Paris, where he owned a gallery, he met Max-Pol Fouchet and André Breton, who influenced him considerably. He contributed as consultant or curator to many international exhibitions, and evaluated some important African art collections, including that of Picasso. He also wrote many articles on sculpture and, in collaboration with Jean-Louis Paudrat and Lucien Stéphan, produced a reference book entitled "L’art africain", published by Citadelles et Mazenod in 1988.
In 1990, he issued a manifesto entitled “For the masterpieces of the whole world to be born free and equal”— a plea for the opening of an eighth section of the Louvre, devoted to the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. In 1996, French president Jacques Chirac appointed him scientific advisor to the public establishment of the future Musée du Quai Branly.
It was Jacques Kerchache who chose the sculptures to be presented in the Pavillon des Sessions. Each work was chosen for its exemplarity rather than its history, country of origin, patina, age, monumentality, or the rarity of its material; priority went to the artist’s integrity, project, technique, and visual propositions. Each exhibit reflects the best that a culture can offer. Rather than an “ideal museum” or an overview of the cultural history of four continents, the Pavillon des Sessions is intended as a place where the art of long-underestimated, little known peoples who nonetheless represent four fifths of humanity is given legitimate recognition. Its arrival at the Louvre marks a turning point in Western attitudes to the arts and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.
Jacques Kerchache’s exhibition choices prefigured the principles behind the design of the Musée du Quai Branly. The four main geographic areas are represented, and visitors pass from one to another on a geographic tour around the world that begins in Africa, continues in Asia and Oceania, and ends in South, then North, America. The aesthetic value of the works is highlighted, and a range of tools is available to educate and inform visitors about them: large geographical maps are displayed at the entrance to each area, enabling visitors to locate the place of origin of the various artworks, each of which is the subject of a fact sheet that supplements the information provided on the wall labels; and finally, a multimedia display near the section devoted to Oceania provides further information about the history, context, usage, and society of origin of the exhibits. The overall approach is thus both aesthetic and ethnographic.
A return to the Louvre — or a long-awaited arrival
Non-Western art has not always been absent from the Louvre. In 1827, under the reign of Charles X, the Louvre housed a maritime and ethnographic museum called the Musée Dauphin, where visitors could admire “exotic” pieces brought back by great explorers such as Cook and Lapérouse—objects regarded as mere “ethnographic specimens”. After Jules Ferry’s decision to separate “the history of traditions and customs from the field of art,” a museum of ethnography was created at the Trocadéro in 1878, to house the collections of the Musée Dauphin, the Musée de Saint-Germain-en Laye, the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. At that time, aesthetic considerations were overlooked in favor of scientific value.
In 1905-1906, artists in the avant-garde (Fauves, Cubists, Expressionists, etc) encouraged a shift in attitudes to what they called “negro art” (including African and Oceanic art). In 1909, Apollinaire expressed his desire that the Louvre should present “certain exotic masterpieces that are no less moving than the finest specimens of Western statuary.” Similar declarations were made throughout the century; Claude Lévi-Strauss, for example, declared in 1943, “The day is surely not far away when collections from distant parts of the world will leave ethnographic museums to take up their rightful place in art museums,” and in 1969, in his work entitled “L’intemporel”, André Malraux foresaw the arrival of negro art in the Louvre, asserting that many people shared this desire.
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