New department of Islamic Art at Louvre
France officially opens a new wing exhibiting Islamic art, 632 to 1800 AD…
After eight years of hard work a whole new department at Louvre will be officially declared open in few days.
Originally the plan was to build a whole new museum elsewhere in Paris. However, ten years ago, President Chirac decided, that the exhibition of Islamic art should be located at the Louvre itself. In 2004 the architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti won the competition with their project. Their plan was to cover up part of the courtyard in the cour Visconti, starting out by excavating more than 12 meters down. According to the architects and entrepreneurs this presented them with a recurrent nightmare of the Seine façade crumbling overnight. However, nothing happened and an exhibition space in two stories was raised covered by a veil of “glittering silk” – according to the architects a reference to the Islamic headscarf. Curiously this headscarf is banned in accordance with the principle of French Laicité in French schools. At Louvre today it may be seen as a building; probably meant as a powerful political statement, it nevertheless reduces a poignant religious symbol to a cultural artifact. Odd this has so far not garnered the attention of the “chattering French classes”!
The “scarf” has been constructed out of 2000 rectangles, assembled and covered with two layers of aluminum and glass, 1400 tons resting on only eight columns and looks like shimmering silk, filtering the sun into the exhibition space and giving it a sheer, floating feeling.
The 3500 m2 is the largest project of the Louvre since the Glass pyramid sitting in the main courtyard of the Louvre was built 20 years ago. At that time voices were raised claiming architectural sacrilege. However, the new building has not been met with the same uproar. One reason is possibly that the Louvre has a grand collection of more than 18.000 pieces of Islamic art, which, for the last 25 years have been neglected, hidden away in odd corners and warehouse. Now at least
3000 of these magnificent pieces are suddenly surfacing from the gloom of the cellars. What a treat of tiles, carpets, vases, swords, sculptures, boxes, doors and textiles. The exhibition covers 12000 years and three continents from Spain to India. Another reason might be that we during the last 20 years have become reconciled with many such projects of post-modern architectural add-ons to the cultural heritage of the old and venerable.
The new wing has cost €98 mill or $126 and has been paid for by the French State as well as a series of patrons , amongst those the Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, the king of Morocco; the emir of Kuwait, the sultan of Oman, and the Republic of Azerbaijan.