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Selling the Louvre

January 15, 2007

In an article in The New York Times, Alan Riding reports that the French government has confirmed a deal to rent the name, art treasures and expertise of The Louvre to a new museum to be built in Abu Dhabi. A lot of people in France are getting very upset about this plan. They think the country is selling out.It’s true that the deal is worth millions of dollars to the French government (Riding’s article devotes quite a bit of space to the financial terms of the deal.) But with only 5% of France’s art holdings on display in its museums at any given time, I think this branching out makes a lot of sense. Why not share? It’s not like the government is planning on selling off any of the treasures -- just lending them out.

I suppose the fact that one of the richest nations in the world -- the United Arab Emirates -- is at the other end of the deal does make the plan seem more mercenary than it might if another less affluent nation were involved. It does seem as if France is auctioning off its heritage to the highest bidder. Interestingly, the piece recalled another of Riding’s recent articles about the French author Frederic Martel, whose new book Culture in America compares French attitudes to cultural imperialism with those in the US. One of the conclusions that Martel draws, according to Riding, is: “Americans defend cultural diversity at home but deny it abroad, while France defends cultural diversity around the world but refuses it at home.” This move on the part of the French government contradicts what Martel says here. There’s not much promotion of cultural diversity abroad going on when a country isn’t willing to share its hoard.

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