May 2021, the last confinement ends. Cultural institutions are finally seeing the end of the tunnel. Exit constrained closures and ultra-limited gauges. Four months later, Laurence Des Cars takes the reins of the most visited museum in the world: the Louvre. The challenge was daunting. It was necessary to adapt the life of the museum to a new health reality and to breathe new life into a dormant artistic mastodon. Above all, it was necessary to make visitors want to stroll through the salons and endless galleries of the Louvre. The president and director of the premises gave us a few minutes in her overbooked agenda. Time to draw lessons from the past year and target museum priorities for 2023.
Which exhibition stood out in your eyes this year?
At the end of May, I was in New York and discovered an exhibition devoted tored workshop of Matisse [une toile représentant une scène d’atelier, peinte en 1911] at the Museum of Modern Art. The painting is in itself an absolute masterpiece. The exhibition offered a mental and sensitive portrait of this workshop, in a perfect way. All of Matisse’s landscape was subtly dissected. It was a fair exhibition: a few well-chosen works and a perfect mediator’s speech. From less is more for pure happiness. In such moments, I say to myself: “Yes, the exhibitions serve a purpose”.
In France, has there been a global post-Covid momentum in museums?
Through the return of the public, unquestionably. There was nothing obvious at the start of the year. The return was confirmed in the spring and is undeniable this autumn; I see him at the Louvre. It is an extremely happy and welcome reunion. There is no museum without an audience.
Did the public feel the lack of museums during the pandemic?
Of course because beyond the works, it is a question of rediscovering the space of the museum. A place of contemplation, of wonder. A time for oneself but also a moment of sharing, including between several generations. This is why we must make this reunion a pleasant moment and make life as easy as possible for visitors to our establishments.
Have you planned any special devices on the scale of the Louvre?
We have reassessed the importance of certain practices, which are now essential. The reintroduction of night openings, extended hours, control of the number of visitors per day… Always keeping two objectives in mind: to make each visit to the museum an exceptional moment and a moment accessible to all.
Is the diversity of programming the key to reconciling these two criteria in museums?
Museums must reach out to all generations. We exist to welcome all audiences and for that, programming is essential. Today, I notice that the usual tourist frequentation has returned, in particular for the discovery of the great masterpieces. Our closer and more regular visitors are in demand for unique exhibitions such as Things, currently. They also benefit from a diverse program, with live shows and tours commented by artists that attract a fairly young audience. There are teenagers in the halls of the Louvre at night. We must never forget that museums are echo chambers for society. Including for contradictory voices, moreover.
What debate in particular do you have in mind, compared to the past year?
The issue of climate change, for example. It is also our responsibility. Above all, we must not oppose the protection of nature and that of culture; these are two common issues. Memory is cultivated in museums and it is more important than ever in a world that shifts towards immediacy. It gives meaning to the present. However, I am not one of the directors who think that the climate emergency does not concern them. I hear what’s behind the gestures [d’actions militantes dans des musées, ndlr]. These are cries for help. The museum is a place of debate.
Is there a personality who, in your opinion, embodies the dialogue of the arts and listening to society?
I want to tip my hat to Annabelle Ténèze, the director of the Abattoirs de Toulouse. A brilliant curator and director. She helped us a lot as curator of the Louvre exhibition on the sidelines of the fair Paris+ by ArtBasel. She knew how to create a dialogue between contemporary works and the heritage of the Tuileries with great intelligence. Previously, she had done it with accuracy for an exhibition around The Lady with the Unicorn. I am sensitive to the figures of our profession who are aware of the necessary continuity between the art of the past and the today’s creation.
Can we say that the year 2022 was placed under the sign of interdisciplinarity?
Museums have understood that they are made to host a dialogue. At the Louvre, we are working on the question of polyphony, to use the terms of Michel Laclotte [ancien président-directeur du Louvre, décédé en 2021, ndlr]. We need an extra soul for a museum that hosts such a diversity of departments. The Louvre is the home of artists. We have to think of major events in art history, but also in music, dance, theatre, cinema… I strongly believe in the crossroads of audiences, which make museums meeting places.
Is a trend emerging in the programming of French museums for the coming months?
All those who run cultural institutions, even beyond museums, are now developing a reflection on their holdings and their collections. A meditation that focuses on the representativeness and legitimacy of the works. There is a lot to ponder about the gaps in our museums, their blind spots. I think of the exhibition the black model from Gericault to Matisse presented at the Musée d’Orsay in 2019. We were then talking about something unseen in the history of art. More recently, the eighteen exhibitions around the islamic arts, in eighteen cities, allowed us to renew our view of our collections. It was essential to talk about the arts of Islam in a peaceful way and to include them in the French heritage. And this, with a multiplied territorial policy. It is a model of project, of action, which I find extremely interesting to develop.
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The year 2022 seen by… Laurence Des Cars, president and director of the Louvre: “A happy reunion with the public”
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