Louvre-Lens: the universal museum?

Spotlight

In 2003, the French Department of Culture sent a call out to find a location for a new satellite outpost of the Louvrethe most visited museum in the world, with just short of 10 million visitors a year. Only the Pas-de-Calais region, in North-East France, responded to the call and proposed a number of cities; thus a brand new museum, designed by Japanese architects SANAA, opened in Lens in December 2012.

Louvre Lens, ad campaign in Paris metro by Giâm (CC)

Louvre Lens, ad campaign in Paris metro by Giâm (CC)

The Musée du Louvre-Lens – tagline: “Le Louvre autrement” – does not have its own collection but instead displays selected artifacts from the Louvre, in a series of temporary exhibitions – currently Time in Art, “A reflection on the perception of time”, and The Etruscans and the Mediterranean, “A new portrait of the city of Cerveteri”, with explorations of the sacred and of war planned for 2014.

Its main feature is the 120-metre long Galerie du Temps, where visitors can discover a semi-permanent display, drawing from “all civilisations and working techniques (…), from the birth of writing around 3500 BC until the middle of the 19th century, taking in the entire chronological and geographical scope of the collections of the Louvre museum.”

Louvre Lens, Galerie du Temps by Giâm (CC)

Louvre Lens, Galerie du Temps by Giâm (CC)

Louvre Lens, Galerie du temps by Giâm (CC)

Louvre Lens, Galerie du Temps by Giâm (CC)

Lens, at the heart of northern France’s depressed old mining country, was listed as 9th poorest French city in 2010. For a glimpse of what it was like in its heyday, you can read or watch Germinal by Emile Zola, inspired by the miners’ strikes of 1869 and 1884 (the film version features Russian actor Gerard Depardieu).

Louvre Lens by vincent desjardins (CC)

Louvre Lens by vincent desjardins (CC)

Louvre Lens by jpmm (CC)

Louvre Lens by jpmm (CC)

The location of the new shiny museum is brimming with symbols: on a former coal mine, transformed in a landscaped 20-hectare park, between a slag heap and the local football stadium.

Louvre Lens slag heap by y.caradec CC

Lens, slag heap by y.caradec (CC)

Lens, old mine by y.caradec (CC)

Lens, old mine by y.caradec (CC)

Is Lens the new Bilbao? Actually, Lens might be something of a new model for regeneration-through-museums policies, according to Atlantic Cities: with more modest costs and targets (500,000 yearly visitors), the return on investment might be both quicker to be felt and less riddled with undesired side-effects. The article refers to a 2005 book, The Globalized City: Economic Restructuring and Social Polarization in European Cities, where authors Frank Moulaert, Arantxa Rodriguez, and Erik Swyngedouw write:

“… the project transformed the city in unforeseen ways, some of them unwelcome. Economic stratification and social exclusion emerged. The transgressions of the new economic elite went beyond the normal complaints about gentrification, according to the authors; the shock of growth has had unfortunate side-effects for urban governance and democratic participation.”

Louvre-Lens is one of the projects that form The Global Louvre, which comprises exhibitions, excavations, partnerships and long-term loans around the world, as well as the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, self-titled “The First Universal Museum in the Arab World”, thrice delayed but planned to open in 2015. There’s quite a lot more than cultural tourism at stake here, as explained by the Louvre’s outgoing Director Henri Loyrette in this interview with The Art Newspaper: namely, cultural diplomacy, new revenue streams, audience development and the desire ”to revive (the Louvre’s) founding mission of being a universal museum”. 

Despite the early signs of success for the first two French attempts at delocalising Parisian cultural powerhouses to drive regeneration – Centre Pompidou-Metz is already the most visited exhibition space outside Paris in just 3 years, and Louvre-Lens is following closely – the French government has announced that it won’t pursue new projects of this type in France in the near future, preferring to wait for these two experiments to come to maturity before assessing their impact.

However, the latest French museum to open its door outside Paris, Marseille’s MuCEM, seems already set for a similar, if not even greater success, with a record 1 million visitors in its first 3 months. Designed by Rudy Ricciotti, the ‘Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée’, one of the key projects of Marseille’s year of European Capital of Culture, is garnering critical praise for its bold design and elegant dialogue between the past and the future, but opinions are divided on its exhibition policy.

Centre Pompidou-Metz: Audiences first!

Spotlight

“All our efforts will be aimed at provoking surprise, amazement and pleasure, and at stimulating and constantly renewing the public’s interest for contemporary art.”
Laurent Le Bon, director, Centre Pompidou-Metz

The Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, in Paris, also known as Beaubourg, is a multi-use cultural complex housing a public library, a music research centre (IRCAM) and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the second largest world collection of modern and contemporary art after MOMA. Opened in 1977 and designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, it is also an architectural statement, exposing its inner workings in Technicolor. The Centre Pompidou is a national institution, but a modern one; and that’s maybe why it was the first in France to open a decentralised outpost in a regional city.

In 2002, the Centre Pompidou considered a number of cities to host this new sister-institution, including Caen, Montpellier, Lyon, Nancy, Lille – and Metz, a 120,000-resident city just south of the border with Luxembourg, birthplace of poet Paul Verlaine, with a history dating back to Roman times and a claim to be the cradle of Gregorian chant.

Vue sur la ville depuis le Centre Pompidou Metz

Vue sur la ville depuis le Centre Pompidou Metz (CC) Dalbera

Le centre Pompidou Metz

Le centre Pompidou Metz (CC) Dalbera

Amongst other factors that guided the choice of the hosting city, Metz could offer the access to a large new potential audience (northern France, Belgium, Luxembourg and western Germany), an ongoing revitalisation project via a new “cultural quarter”, part of a wider political strategy to invest in the creative economy and, pragmatically, “the necessary financial capacity to invest in such a project”.

Construction started in November 2006 and the new museum was inaugurated in May 2010. Conceived by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, known for his innovative work with paper and cardboard tubes, the 20,000m2 building is topped by a wood-and-teflon roof inspired by a Chinese hat. The surrounding landscaped gardens are designed on sustainable principles.

Roof detail - (CC) airdecker via Flickr

Roof detail – (CC) airdecker

Footbridge through the gardens - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Footbridge through the gardens – (CC) Dalbera

3 years after its official opening, the Centre Pompidou-Metz is the most visited temporary exhibitions space in France outside Paris, with a record number of visit of 600,000 in its first year of operation (May-December 2010) and around 500,000 annually.

The 5-to-6 annual exhibitions are unique to the museum and not simply scaled down from previous Parisian incarnations. The “essence” of the programming choices is aligned with the original Centre Pompidou’s mandate to be “a leading centre of information, exhibitions, research and initiatives in numerous fields of contemporary creation” and is complemented by multidisciplinary events and performances that can take place in all indoor and outdoor spaces. Young audiences and families are also catered for, with workshops, special events and dedicated guided tours.

Right now, visitors can enjoy an in-situ installation by French artist Daniel Buren; a selection of works from Sol LeWitt’s personal collection; an exhibition on the history of aerial photography;  an visual and acoustic immersive experience to dive into the Beat Generation; and a retrospective of Hans Richter’s work.

Sol LeWitt - "Wall Drawings" - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Sol LeWitt, “Wall Drawings” – (CC) Dalbera

Daniel Buren, Echos d'échos, 2013 -  (CC) Mark Feldmann via Flickr

Daniel Buren, Echos d’échos, 2013 – (CC) Mark Feldmann

The wide appeal of the artistic programming goes hand in hand with a progressive pricing policy, with a sliding scale admission fee, from €7 to €12, depending on the number of galleries open on the day of purchase, just like in the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. An annual membership pass granting unlimited admission costs €33 the first year, €27 afterwards, and admission is free for everyone under-26, but also for teachers, artists, journalists, seniors, Centre Pompidou employees, job seekers, disabled people and their assistant. Performances – dance, music, theatre… – are priced between €5 and €20. Artists’ talks are free, screenings and other educational opportunities cost €5. Guided visits are offered in French, English, German and French Sign Language.

Just as Louvre-Lens was opening its doors in December 2012, just 300 km north-west of Metz, L’Express was announcing that the tourism economic impact of Centre Pompidou-Metz was valued at €70 million for its first year only, a full return on investment on the building cost; however, as the total public infrastructure investment is estimated at €250 million, the municipal authorities remain cautious about drawing hasty conclusions on the net worth of the project. So does the French government, which is not planning to build any further physical buildings in the near future, preferring to let these two projects develop and mature to assess their impact.

A detailed activity report is available on Centre Pompidou-Metz’s website (in French), with varied insights on, amongst others, its communication strategy, audience development policy, and even its HR and financial management.

Niki de Saint Phalle, Dragon, 1998, Metz train station - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Niki de Saint Phalle, Dragon, 1998, Metz train station – (CC) Dalbera

Centre Pompidou-Metz, lobby at sunset - (CC) Dalbera via Flickr

Centre Pompidou-Metz, lobby at sunset – (CC) Dalbera

This post is part of a series about new museums, inspired by a recent visit to the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum.

All images are licensed under Creative Commons and linked to their original location on Flickr.