The chairman and director of the world's largest museum takes us behind the scenes of an "online only" auction designed to finance "projects to support the Louvre".
Jean-Luc Martinez, Chairman and Director of the Louvre
© 2019 Musée du Louvre - Stephan Gladieu
This sale is a highly original initiative for the Louvre. How did it come about?
There are two goals here. For some time now, I have been concerned that the Louvre has no record of its many collaborations with artists. For instance, the Chalcothèque (bronze department) commissioned engraved plates from creators like JR and Jean-Michel Othoniel for a series of limited edition prints. I felt that the museum should work with them on finding a way to preserve a trace of their work. Another example: nothing remains to us of Claude Lévêque's ephemeral presence beneath the Pyramid from 2014. There are also artists who create comic strips for our publications, but we have no original plates in our collection. Worse still, with permanent installations—like François Morellet's stained glass windows in the Richelieu wing staircase—there is no record of the creative process. So I wanted the museum to ask these artists to sell or give us a testimony of their work, and to include this provision in commission contracts so that we can somehow perpetuate their contribution to the Louvre. Candida Höfer is kindly giving us a series of prints of her shots of the museum on days when it is closed, which the Louvre presented in 2006. Our desire to create cultural heritage is also a way to build relationships with living artists, and give meaning to this collaboration. We often hear the accusation that contemporary art has no place in the Louvre, but we really need to ensure that opening up in this way makes sense.
What about this new space within the museum?
This approach is reflected in a specific project, in fact. We have a room of 1,200 m2, which used to be part of the Islamic Art Gallery. I want it to accommodate a workshop open to adults and children, which then provides direct access to the permanent galleries. It will be positioned opposite the Petite Galerie, a space for discovering the museum since 2015, and this will give it real meaning.
But all museums have workshops...
When museums were revamped in the 1980s and opened up more to the public, they all needed an auditorium and a workshop. But these essentially offered creative activities without necessarily seeking a relationship with the collections. I want to combine the two; for example, there could be an introduction to the art of ceramics that ends with a tour of the porcelain pieces in the Decorative Arts rooms. We are already experimenting with this at the Louvre-Lens, where we propose an activity, "Le noir du bout des doigts" (Black at Your Fingertips), linked with the current "Soleils noirs" (Black Suns) exhibition. The workshop, with its view of the park, has direct contact with the Gallery of Time and is open every day with no need to book. I would like a similarly welcoming set-up in Paris. Workshops in museums are also somewhat hampered by booking and contribution systems, meaning that access is difficult for the most underprivileged. My dream is that access should be free and unrestricted.
This sale is also designed to help other "societal" projects... Can we see this as a sign of not only renewed awareness of the social importance of museums, given the dramatic fall in attendance during the Covid-19 crisis, but also the failure of cultural democratization in France?
The epidemic makes it even more pressing to reach out to vulnerable sectors of society. Museums are places that should create a link through wonder, and through people meeting each other. They ought to be open to everyone, and these educational projects are central to our action. We have already rolled out several in housing projects, shopping malls, prisons and so on, while intensifying our action in schools. But to come back to the new workshop: to invest while ensuring free access, we needed to find a budget. The meeting of these two approaches—opening out to those who don't find it easy to enter a museum, and the relationship created with living art—is what lies behind this charity sale, which we hope will provide the required financing. This room, named the "Studio", should be opening in a year's time. We have approached artists who have recently collaborated with the Louvre to ask them to kindly donate works for this event.
What was their reaction?
I was very surprised to find out that everyone was happy to play along. Pierre Soulages, who was apparently delighted with the hang we dedicated to him a year ago for his 100th birthday, has been very generous, giving us a painting from 1962. Xavier Veilhan, whom we had invited to present a musical show in the garden of the Musée Delacroix in 2014, donated a mobile. Eva Jospin, whose panorama was shown for the first time in the Cour Carrée in 2016, and Jean-Michel Othoniel, who created La Rose du Louvre, likewise contributed. We also called on our patrons, including Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior. Their generosity and the interaction between the museum, the public and collectors through this sale help give meaning to the relationship fostered by the Louvre with the entire field of contemporary creation.
The Louvre from Every Angle
The 26 lots up for sale include not only works of art donated by contemporary artists with close ties to the museum, but also immersive experiences within the walls of the palace, like a night-time flashlight tour, a discovery of hidden gems in the Drawing Department and a private concert in the Caryatids Room. Some are world firsts, like attending the annual examination of the Mona Lisa outside its protective showcase with Jean-Luc Martinez, or following street artist JR onto the rooftops of the building. Lots contributed by the museum's patrons and partners also include a "within the walls" section, like an exclusive tour of the collections, followed in one case by dinner at the Michelin-star restaurant Le Meurice and an overnight stay in the luxury hotel. The Ritz is also offering an overnight stay, this time preceded by a pastry-making course at the Ritz Escoffier school.