Mu­seum strug­gles for more space

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE | CULTURE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Paris

It is one of the great­est and most vis­ited art mu­se­ums in the world, and the only one in an old rail­way sta­tion.

Thirty years af­ter the Musee d’Or­say opened its doors for the first time, it has be­come as much a Paris land­mark as its big sis­ter the Lou­vre just across the River Seine.

But the very suc­cess of the mu­seum best known for its un­ri­valled col­lec­tion of im­pres­sion­ist paint­ings is now caus­ing it prob­lems.

An av­er­age of 3.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year pour through its spec­tac­u­lar vaulted nave, mak­ing it the “dens­est mu­seum in the world”, according to its di­rec­tor of col­lec­tions, Xavier Rey.

There is sim­ply not enough space, he says. Al­though the Musee d’Or­say is one of the top 10 most vis­ited gal­leries in the world, it is sev­eral times smaller than its ri­vals.

“It will prob­a­bly be dif­fi­cult to wel­come any more vis­i­tors,” says Guy Co­geval, who heads the mu­seum and its smaller off­shoot the Orangerie, which houses Claude Monet’s Wa­ter Lilies mu­rals.

Co­geval, who is step­ping down in March, says the “one of the great­est chal­lenges my suc­ces­sor faces is how to deal with this”.

That lack of space was se­verely tested on the week­end when it opened its doors for free to cel­e­brate its 30th birth­day.

But the real prob­lem isn’t so much the public as find­ing a place to show its stag­ger­ing col­lec­tion of late 19th­cen­tury and early-20 th cen­tury mas­ter­pieces which runs from Courbet’s no­to­ri­ous The Ori­gin of the World to Manet’s re­clin­ing nude Olympia and Van Gogh’s sear­ing self-portraits.

While the mu­seum is packed with some of De­gas’, Cezanne’s, Gau­guin’s and Toulouse-Lautrec’s best work, only around 4,400 pieces can be shown at any one time.

That leaves some 164,000

Guy Co­geval, head of Musee d’Or­say

paint­ings and sculp­tures in its stores, which is set to grow even fur­ther with the mas­sive do­na­tion by a Texan cou­ple of their 350 mil­lion euro ($372 mil­lion) art col­lec­tion to the French cap­i­tal.

Businessman Spencer Hays and his wife, Mar­lene, in Novem­ber signed off on the first in­stall­ment of 187 works for the Musee d’Or­say, in­clud­ing pieces by De­gas and Modigliani worth around 173 mil­lion euros.

Their gift, the big­gest from a for­eign bene­fac­tor to France since World War II, also in­cludes im­por­tant work by Bon­nard, Vuil­lard and Re­don.

Faced with such pressure, the mu­seum has bought a neigh­bor­ing 18th-cen­tury man­sion on the banks of the Seine to house its li­brary and re­search cen­ter on the postim­pres­sion­ists.

The idea of a fine art mu­seum at a rail­way sta­tion was rev­o­lu­tion­ary when the mu­seum opened in De­cem­ber 1986.

Built like the Eif­fel Tower and the Grand Palais for the Uni­ver­sal Ex­hi­bi­tion in Paris in 1900, it had the same ar­chi­tec­tural ex­u­ber­ance.

Hav­ing sur­vived de­mo­li­tion plans in the 1970s, it was con­verted into a mu­seum for mostly French art dat­ing from the rev­o­lu­tions of 1848 to the out­break of World War I as one of the late French pres­i­dent Fran­cois Mit­ter­rand’s grand projects to re­new the French cap­i­tal.

A run­away suc­cess from the start, with its ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­gance and head-turn­ing col­lec­tion equally praised, Rey says: “One can no longer imag­ine the mu­seum any­where but in this sta­tion.”

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