Art World Catfight: The Louvre vs. Parisian Upstart

What is a 650,000 square-foot, 217-year-old cultural institution doing beating up on a toddler? The toddler in question would be Pinacothèque, an art upstart that’s managed to steal Parisian attention and attendance in its two years as a commercial exhibition space, and the bane of the Louvre Museum’s current existence. Not that the Palais du Louvre has been branché for locals since Manet protested the academic Salon, but if there is one thing the biggest museum in Paris doesn’t like, it’s a stolen tourist population. So how in the world is Pinacothèque drawing 70,000 more monthly visitors than the granddaddy of French cultural institutions? Quelle horreur!

Director Marc Restellini organized the current blockbuster exhibition of works by Edvard Munch (pictured at right).

The Independent UK has a highly entertaining interview with Pinacothèque director Marc Restellini, who is either a martyr for the cause of art-for-all, or a paranoid egoist. Most likely both. What’s incontestable are the numbers: 700,000 people saw “The Dutch Golden Age” exhibition at Pinacothèque — a “disused building between two halves of upmarket food store” — at an average of 175,000 visitors a month, while a relatively low 410,000 people saw “Rivals in Renaissance Venice” at the Louvre, or an average 102,500 visitors a month.

It’s not the cold hard exhibition statistics that stick in the museum’s bonnet, either, because while visitors may not have visited the “Venice” exhibition, they probably did still flock to see the Mona Lisa or Cupid and Psyche or the massive Rubens room. The museum curators — a typically French brand of academics, to be sure — are pissed that someone like Restellini, an art historian who’s never taken the official French examination for museum curators, is commanding high-profile exhibitions from the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, the Chinese warriors of Xi’an, Jackson Pollock, and Utrillo, especially when “The Louvre, it is said, had been bidding for the Xi’an warriors for years.”

From the Xi’an warriors show at Pinacothèque.

A valid point, but one has to admire out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to the exhibition of art in a place so culturally-entrenched as Paris. If revolutionary lighting (the “individually illuminated” pictures were “Restellini’s controversial trademark at the Musée du Luxembourg”) or hanging art lower or displaying the work in a simpler setting or breaking down its chronological structure is what it takes to shake up the museum landscape, then so be it. Despite what one may think of Restellini personally (or his preference of blunt discussion over “discreetly poisonous intrigue”), his goal to make fine art more palatable to the public is a noble one. He explains that the existing information given in current Parisian exhibitions “is either too skimpy, assuming that the visitor knows everything, or too intellectualized and recherché.” Chin-chin to the newcomer, and may all your controversies be bright.

Check out zee Pinacothèque blog here for updates on future exhibitions.