Focusing my Lens on the Louvre

Ok, with a title like that I should really be writing up the Louvre’s satellite branch in Lens (which, by the way, can you believe that Delacroix’s Liberty Guiding the People painting was defaced with the “ae9/11” graffiti (in Lens)? Whether you like that painting or not – it is an inherent image of France, having been on the 100-Franc note before they switched to the Euro. Here’s the scoop from the Guardian, but apparently the painting’s not permanently damaged).

Copyrighted Louvre photo 1 - metalwork

But parenthetical tangents aside, this “Focusing my Lens of the Louvre” title is a continuation of this weekend’s post when I  touched on the imminent THATLou website. Whoopla is certainly in order, but not till it’s launched in early March. Till then I’ve been posting photos that may or may not be used in the final www.thatlou.com site.

from the Campana Galerie (where the Greek Vases are)

from the Campana Galerie (where the Greek Vases are)

Besides the pleasure of working with Jenny Beaumont, web-designer extraordinaire, the most rewarding part of the site has been to put time aside to actually look at the Louvre for the Louvre itself. Not visiting for the art, not visiting to create a treasure hunt (all of which are of course sublime visits unto themselves). But visiting exclusively to ponder the building itself is a pleasure I have not had since I first moved to Paris and used to go many times a week (I lived in the Marais and worked in St Germain des Pres so the 65,000 sq meters were where I made my pit stops).

copyrighted - spiral stairs vertical

It breathes history whilst integrating a sharp-edged, geometric modernity. IM Pei becomes more and more startlingly brilliant with each photographic visit that I’ve made. So without more blather, I’ll leave you with the images, this last one by El Argentino being my fave with its intentionally retro feel. The Parisian light is palpable. But I said I was going to zip the lip, right?

H's tourist shot of Louvre, retro

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Museum Musings at the Louvre

So after this bout of considering the Near Eastern Antiquities (from the oldest piece at the Louvre, to huge gentle Lamassus, fearsome Persian griffins and big bulls), what’s more logical than to turn my attention to the Louvre’s imminent Islamic Art wing in the Visconti Wing? It’s been in the making for quite some time. Back when Chirac and his adorable nose were leading France, the NY Times ran a piece on one of the major donors to construct the new wing. Apparently Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal’s donation of $20 million was the largest gift ever made to a museum. Though Prince Walid owns 17% of the not so successful Eurodisney, he also has several luxury hotels in Paris (among them the George V). More interesting to finance people, he’s also Citigroup’s largest single shareholder, so I suppose a $20 million gift is a drop in the bucket. At the 2005 unveiling of the plans for the wing, the French gov’t pledged $31 million, and Total, the French oil company, coughed up a measly $4.8 million. Anyway, pennies aside here’s the photo the Times ran:

For more than 25 years the Louvre has kept most of its 17,500 pieces of Islamic art, ranging from the 7th to the 19th Centuries, in storage. It has one the world’s most important collections of carpets, as well as Ottoman empire art.

de Villepin addressing the UN in 2003

So in 2003, when Chirac was pitting France against its Anglo allies (god bless him – and let’s not forget de Villepin for his delivery to the UN. Have just thrown in a snap of this silver fox for good measure. I hear pretty faces sell) in the debate over the war in Iraq, he ordered the opening of an Islamic Art Department.

Taken from Mario Bellini Architectes

Taken from Mario Bellini Architectes

Architects Mario Bellini (Italian) and Rudy Ricciotti (French) won the competition to create the 3,500 meter squared space in Denon’s Visconti Courtyard. The glass and steel structure is the most dramatic change to the Louvre’s neoclassical architecture since IM Pei’s pyramid entrance and inverted pyramid were unveiled in 1989 and 1993, respectively.

Taken from Waagner-Biro.at

Taken from Waagner-Biro.at

The Guardian quoted Mario Bellini in 2008 as saying “the roof is only supported by eight very narrow tubes which are leaning and dancing together and which support the weight of the veil to the bottom of the foundations”, two levels below. Ricciotti has described the 150-ton structure as a “golden cloud”, a more diplomatic description than Bellini’s “headscarf blown in by the wind”, which he said when Sarkozy laid the first stone in July 2008. One does have to wonder if Bellini was taking a small stab at the French for outlawing Muslim headscarves in public schools with such a visceral description.

Published in L'Express.fr on 4 Jan 2012

Published in L’Express.fr on 4 Jan 2012

The Louvre recently announced in a press release that the €98 million wing would open this summer, but Le Figaro reported that the Louvre still needs to raise €10 million. Previously the Visconti Cour was slated to open in 2009, 2010 and now this, so we’ll see. Whenever it does open, getting a glimpse of the nearly 18,000 pieces will be a treat.

Does this look like it'll be completed in 5 or 6 months? Published in batiacu.com

Does this look like it’ll be completed in 5 or 6 months? Published in batiacu.com

In the coming days I might linger on new Islamic wings in other museums, such as the Met’s November 2011 unveiling of their 12,000 Islamic works or London’s V&A, which opened the Jameel Gallery recently. I’m straying a bit from THATLou in these posts, and my training is based exclusively on Western Art (Baroque Roman architecture to be specific), but who knows perhaps one day I’ll send people on a THATVA at the Victoria and Albert, and this December we already had a wonderful THATMet in my hometown. If you’re going to a major city and would like to be sent on a museum treasure hunt, contact me at daisydeplume@gmail.com and perhaps I can cook something up!