Former Tate Boss Nick Serota Says the Louvre’s Renovation of a Gallery Featuring a Site-Specific Work by Cy Twombly Is an ‘Affront’

The artist's foundation is threatening to sue the museum for redecorating the space.

Cy Twombly in the Salle des Bronzes, one of the oldest sections of the Louvre museum, with his painting above. Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images.
Cy Twombly in the Salle des Bronzes, one of the oldest sections of the Louvre museum, with his painting above. Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images.

In 2010, one year before his death, Cy Twombly unveiled a 3,770-square-foot painting on the ceiling of the Louvre’s Salle des Bronzes in Paris. The famed artist’s installation was inspired by the 1,000-some works of ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art on view in the light-colored, airy gallery at the time. 

But after the museum recently renovated the space—replacing the marble floor with parquet, painting the walls a deep red, and adding a black dado around the perimeter—the Cy Twombly Foundation is threatening legal action. 

“Taking as his starting point the white stone walls that reflect natural light, [Twombly] conceived a ceiling that is a light floating canopy in subtle colors,” Nicola del Roscio, chairman of the foundation, said in a statement. “The deep red that has been introduced violates these harmonies and entirely destroys the balance of his sensitive and memorable installation.”

“We strongly believe that the changes constitute a breach of the artist’s moral rights as well as a breach of the contract from 2007,” David R. Baum, a lawyer representing the Twombly Foundation, told Artnet News in an email.

The design and tone of the painting was developed in response to the “character and light of the room as well as to the content,” Sir Nicholas Serota, the former director of the Tate and a current member of the Twombly Foundation board, explained to the Telegraph last week. “For Twombly,” he said, “the room was a whole.”

“If this is not an ‘affront’ to one of the great painters of the twentieth century, I don’t know what would be.” 

A picture taken on March 23, 2010 in Paris, shows a painted ceiling by American painter Cy Twombly at the Salle des Bronzes, one of the oldest sections of the Louvre museum. Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images.

A picture taken on March 23, 2010 in Paris, shows a painted ceiling by American painter Cy Twombly at the Salle des Bronzes, one of the oldest sections of the Louvre museum. Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images.

On February 1, Baum sent a letter to Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez demanding an “immediate correction” to the gallery, which is set to reopen to the public in May. Three days later, when the lawyer did not hear back from the museum, he sent a missive to French culture minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin asking for her office to intervene. (Copies of both letters have been shared with Artnet News.)

“The museum is a living body,” Vincent Pomarède, the deputy managing director at the Louvre, told the Art Newspaper in response to the foundation’s allegations, noting that the Salle des Bronzes hasn’t seen an update since the 1930s.

The museum “made this explicit to Cy Twombly, as we do with every artist working with us. In the preamble of the contract it was made clear that the museography could change. How could it be otherwise?”

Baum, for his part, called this assertion “completely false” and says that the “museum has been misleading and evasive in its responses.”

He added: “We will pursue every right and remedy to defend the work.”

The Louvre did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s request for comment.  

A series of planet-like orbs float against a deep blue backdrop inspired by the Aegean Sea in Twombly’s painting, aptly titled The Ceiling. The names of Hellenic sculptors, a major interest for the artist, are inscribed throughout.

It’s one of just a few artworks on permanent display at the museum, and one of comparatively few works by 20th-century artists in the collection. Ceiling paintings by Eugène Delacroix and Georges Braque also live at the Louvre.


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