The Louvre’s director Jean-Luc Martinez reveals revolutionary changes ahead

Work begins this month on improving the Pyramid entrance

In choosing Jean-Luc Martinez to succeed Henri Loyrette as the head of the Musée du Louvre in April 2013, president François Hollande opted for a consensus choice as well as a break with tradition. Martinez could be considered the antithesis of his imperious predecessor, who reigned over the Louvre for 12 years and whose ambition led to a period of frenetic expansion in France and elsewhere. Loyrette decided not to seek a new term for the job when he understood that this period was about to end, and government subsidies would be cut by around 11%.


Martinez, who had the support of the museum’s staff, was born into a modest suburban family on the outskirts of Paris in 1964. He worked as an archaeologist on digs in Greece before a spell of teaching in Paris. He joined the Louvre as a curator of Greek sculptures collection in 1997, and became head of the Greek and Roman Antiquities department ten years later.


The billion-euro contract to build the Louvre in Abu Dhabi threw the extravagance and contradictions of the Louvre’s development into high relief. The contract for the project was signed in 2007. Five years later construction work had still not started, and the Emirates sent an angry letter of protest to Loyrette. Upon his nomination, Martinez changed the team in charge of the project and put it back on track. Here he explains the new direction he would like to give the Louvre, which includes a “silent revolution” of the great museum.

アブダビにルーヴル美術館を建造する10億ユーロの契約が、ルーヴルの展開事業の豪奢と矛盾を際立たせた。このプロジェクトは2007年に契約したが、その後5年経っても建築工事は始まらず、エミレーツは抗議の書簡をロワレット館長に送った。マルティネ館長は、就任してすぐにプロジェクト担当者の人事異動を行い軌道に乗せた。今回のインタビューで、館長はルーヴル美術館に期待する新しい方向性、この偉大な美術館の「Silent Revolution」について語った。

The Art Newspaper: You are putting an end to an era of expansion.

Jean-Luc Martinez: The Louvre must continue to evolve, but I would like it to be done differently. Right now the challenge is to consolidate its very foundations. When I was appointed to this job, I asked myself: what state is the museum in after 30 years of enormous growth and reshaping? Given my experience in the museum since 1997, the answer was not too difficult: there is no need to rush from one project to another. The perpetual movement we have witnessed over the past three decades has reached its limits and has created new challenges that must be addressed, such as improving the conditions for visitors, addressing the mounting pressures on staff or the obsolescence of the presentation.


What will this mean practically?

In September, we are starting major works to improve the way visitors are received. When the “Grand Louvre” opened, we had three million visitors annually. We now have ten million. Entering a museum should be a pleasure; the visitor must feel welcome. To this end, the main entrance under the pyramid will be completely redone. I also intend to develop the 1,500 sq. m Napoleon Hall as the main exhibition space and to establish an Exhibitions Board, which will help us to improve our preparation for the shows.


One of the biggest challenges that faces museums today is to interest visitors in the permanent collection, not only in the next big show.

The “Pyramid Project” will bring the Louvre into the 21st century: it will kick off a vast new cycle of improvements and give us the opportunity to rethink the way our collections are presented. I have the benefit of a younger, restructured team, after the departure of staff whose expertise was acquired in the 1950s and applied to the development of the Grand Louvre in the 1980s, and then to an increasingly event-driven environment.


The consequences of the last few decades are complex; museums are caught between the rush to create the next big event and the need to show their permanent collections. Unfortunately, the temporary show has taken precedence over the permanent collection. No-one has the time or the desire to get interested in its obsolete displays. Our Etruscan or Italian rooms reflect a style of presentation inherited from the 19th century. With this in mind, and following the completion of the Islamic Art galleries and the new ones devoted to 18th-century decorative arts and furniture, we are turning our attention to all the rooms where works have been hung since 1981 with a complete rehanging of the paintings galleries, starting, from 2015 to 2017, with 17th-century French painting, followed by Dutch and Flemish. I would like the wall labels to be reviewed, all of the public information materials and signage revised, the transition between galleries reorganised, the lights redone and the floors restored. It’s an ambitious undertaking: there are 38,000 labels alone. I also envisage dedicating space to the history of the museum—its creation as a palace for the Kings of France, but also the story of how its collections were constituted. It’s vital to improve the understanding of this very special place where the history of France encounters all other civilisations. We have to give new coherence to the museum, find a balance and a link between exhibitions and permanent collections, and to develop a concept of the ensemble based on team spirit.


The despotism of certain presidents of the biggest museums has often drawn comment. It would appear that you wish to break away from this tradition.

My goal is to define and implement a project in which all the different players will contribute while upholding certain values. My role is a bit like that of an artistic director of a fashion house. It’s up to me to provide the drive that inspires others to get the job done.


That could be a difficult exercise in an establishment that is structurally divided into so many departments, each of which jealously defends its own prerogatives.

It’s not easy to find coherence in such vast and varied collections. Roman glass can be found in three of four departments, for example. It’s only recently that a common administrative structure was imposed on the museum to deal with major issues such as the inventory of the collections or the management of the reserves. But I have confidence in my colleagues.


French curators have the reputation of living in a sort of splendid isolation.

I don’t think this is true. It was certainly not in my case. I sincerely hope that curators are capable of building strong relationships with French partners and others. We need to look and learn from experience elsewhere. It’s absolutely indispensable to ask ourselves about the forces shaping our identity, and to compare ourselves with others who are experiencing spectacular changes in the way culture is being consumed and in the contemporary art boom.


I am determined to reinforce the links with museums from other provinces in France, by supporting exhibitions or scientific research. At the Louvre itself, we need to work in a much more integrated way, to bring together scientists, curators, technicians—because the management of a museum is becoming increasingly technical. The different groups involved must not work in isolation. For example, guards must be consulted on the museum’s signage and security. In the same way, building architects need to work with curators. Reviewing how a painting is hung implies a scientific discussion that involves all interested parties.


We need to breathe new life into the museum to make its fabulous collection come alive: the museum is real—not virtual; it’s not an internet database, nor a collection of technical documents. A seminar we held in June was a start in this direction. The aim is to develop a coherent and shared renovation plan, which will take account of the aspirations and numerous constraints, of all involved. I want to initiate a silent revolution of the palace, so that everyone has their place here. I want to give the museum a complete makeover. It’s likely to take decades.

私たちは、この素晴らしい収蔵品を生き生きとよみがえらせるために、美術館に新しい命を吹き込む必要があります。美術館はバーチャルではなくリアルなのです。インターネットのDBでも、専門書のコレクションでもありません。6月に開催したセミナーは、この方向へ向けた第一歩です。目的は、全関係者の一貫性のある共通のリノベーションプランを構築することで、そこでは野心や様々な制約を考慮に入れていきます。私は、全員が自分の居所を持つことができるように、この宮殿にSilent Revolutionを仕掛けたいと考えています。私は美術館を大改造します。それには数十年かかるでしょう。

Interview by Vincent Noce