Louvre Gets Most Ambitious Facelift in 30 Years

New director Jean-Luc Martinez has radical plans for the museum.

Louvre Museum.
Photo via Flickr/KennyTeo

These days, success for museums often means expansion—whether it is with new buildings or international satellites. The Louvre’s new director, Jean-Luc Martinez, has another idea. Having taken over the museum in April 2013, he wants to refocus on the core of the institution: its collections and permanent displays. And to do so, he’s ready to launch a behemoth refurbishing initiative, which in his own admission could “take decades.”

After 12 years characterized by the aggressive development policy of Martinez’ predecessor Henri Loyrette—who oversaw the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s €1 billion deal—the new director’s position feels particularly radical. “The Louvre must continue to evolve,” he said in an extensive interview published in the September issue of the Art Newspaper, “but I would like it to be done differently…The perpetual movement we have witnessed over the past three decades has reached its limits and has created new challenges that must be addressed, such as improving the conditions for visitors, addressing the mounting pressures on staff or the obsolescence of the presentation.”

This September, work is due to start on the space below the iconic pyramid entrance, designed by I. M. Pei, which will be completely refurbished. As Martinez points out in the interview, when the pyramid was inaugurated as the flagship of the “Grand Louvre” project in 1993, the institution welcomed three million visitors a year. Ten million of them now flock to the museum every year, and the number could rise to 12 million by 2025 (“Louvre Expects 12 Million Visitors Per Year by 2025“).

“Museums are caught between the rush to create the next big event and the need to show their permanent collection,” Martinez continued. “Unfortunately, the temporary show has taken precedence over the permanent collection.” To redress the balance, the director plans to rehang all of the painting galleries, starting in 2015 with the French painting galleries, before moving on to the Dutch and Flemish galleries. All of the 38,000 labels of the museums are to be updated and a new exhibition space dedicated to the Louvre’s history is in the pipeline.

Major changes are also afoot for the curatorial side of the operation. Martinez intends to set up an “exhibition board” and enhance the museum’s links with institutions outside the French capital.

The project as a whole is more ambitious than any other works undertaken at the Louvre since the “Grand Louvre.” But Martinez seems undaunted, and cultivates a self-proclaimed image of “quiet strength.” “I want to initiate a silent revolution of the palace,” he said.

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