By Harold Hyman
PARIS, 29 April 2006—Flashes going off every 3 seconds are no longer considered
civilized at the Louvre Museum. The administration of this timeless
institution, born under the Bourbon Monarchy and reborn during the
Revolution, has had a change of heart. The 7 million visitors per year
(7.3 million at latest count for 2005) are no longer allowed to riddle the
with photo flashes 6 days a week.
Since 15 September 2005, there is a ban on not only flashes but all
photos in the area of the Museum which is the most visited, which is the
Galerie d’Apollon and all the painting galleries of the first floor of the
Denon wing (Italian, Spanish and French painting galleries).
The initial urge to ban photos was born of the
complaints of those visitors concerned enough to fill out the suggestions
sheets. To these sheets must be added e-mails (in France, e-mail is
perfectly widespread contrary to myth). The main complaint is the lengthy
lines in front of the toilets, the line to get in, the all-French signs,
the admissions fee, and in fifth place (as of summer 2005) the incessant
photos taken with or without flashes by the ever growing numbers of
visitors. The French visitors are more critical than the foreign ones, according to the
Louvre 2004 annual report. Let us suppose that these critical French
visitors are of the culturally elevated type, and can be seen
in the museum as they sometimes converse eruditely
in front of the works. They never take pictures.
A Little Recent Louvre History
These erudite people have always existed.
They managed to psychologically survive the construction of the Pyramid,
which was a cultural shock to them, perpetrated by President François
Mitterrand. When the Louvre reopened under the pyramid of I.M. Pei in
1989, the extension of the Louvre was far from finished. Gradually all of
the premises are being rearranged, collections moved and regrouped, and
special wings created. Walls are built, woodworks renovated to perfection,
and in the case of the
Mona Lisa, a standing wall built out of
to display nothing but that one painting.
Sociologically, mass tourism continues to grow, and museums have become
major attractions, where the Chinese and Russians have now replaced the
Japanese as the mindless photosnapping group tourists of the age. The
numbers of tourists in museums have doubled in the past 15 years. People
all have the ability to snap photos today, with their mobile phones and of
course with digitals which have huge capacities. Therefore, museums are
not what they used to be. There is no more the feeling of privacy and
quiet that once existed. Nowhere is this more visible than in the major
museums, and nowhere more so than in the world’s biggest, the Louvre. If
something significant were to happen, it would necessarily be here.
The Board of the Louvre took the bold step,
without advertising it. The Louvre told Culturekiosque (CK) that the whole
idea was not to advertise this change. The public relations pitch, I was
told by Louvre communications director Ms. Aggy Lerolle, was to answer
questions but not to go out seeking to be noticed on this photo
restriction. No public debate, a two-line mention in Le Monde
buried in a five-part series on the Museum, and a small article in
Paris Obs, the very up-to-date weekly supplement of the
center-left weekly of reference.
"We chose to introduce these changes gradually," said Lerolle, "and not
to slam down a complete ban overnight."
Six months later, such an approach seems to have
worked—the ban is holding fast, without hardly a grumble from anyone.
Museum history has been made, and in a land of controversy, with a
deafening lack thereof. The French government has not been involved, and
no intellectual or neo-free-market thinker has got his or her hand on this
event. Banning photos of La Joconde
! One would
have expected a reaction, an approval, a noise… but nothing.
Yet the ban is real: the new Floor Plan leaflets of the Louvre
announce, in a postage-stamp sized message, the prohibition. The leaflets
come in a dozen languages. Who can pretend not to know?
From an administrative standpoint, all this
was simple. The Louvre museum was made into a semi-autonomous
"public establishment" a dozen years ago (1993). Its governing board
(Conseil d’Administration) takes all its own decisions, since the mid-90s. Before that,
the Louvre Museum, as the flagship of the National Museums,
was under the oversight of the Ministry of Culture’s administration, which
even then tended to let the Louvre’s
management handle most things. Nowadays, admissions fees, opening hours, redecoration, exhibitions calendars,
concessions to foodstands and other shops, all this is in the
hands of the President of the public establishment, Henri Loyrette. The
Museum even owns and operates the Galerie du Carousel – a purely commercial underground mall. The
Ministry of Culture gives no orders to the Louvre on how to run this museum business (the
concesssions, stands, rentals for special events, and salons and fairs)
as long as the operations retain some link to culture (a
perfume shop is OK, but a hardware store is not).
In late spring of 2005, a board meeting
was held, and the issue of photos brought up… better
said: the communications department reported to the Board the complaints. Surprisingly,
the board decided to simply ban photos on 25 June 2005.
How was this done? In one session, the decision was
taken. The Board was most impressed by the complaints list. An Italian
professor sits on the Board, the only foreigner, though the issue of
nationality is of no import according to the Louvre. It is he who
mentioned the restrictions in effect on photographing in the major Italian
museums. This fact was a powerful argument, as it was a precedent. The
Board seemed also to believe that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had banned photos
—in point of fact, a ban only applies to flashes.
As for the ban on photographing special exhibitions, it works perfectly
well all over the world, as the Board well knows.
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