PARIS – Amid a pandemic of empty galleries, closed doors and declining revenue, the Louvre is facing new turmoil: a legal battle over the color of its walls.
Stucco cream? Or warm terracotta?
These are the colors of the palace intrigues at the famous French museum awaiting President Emmanuel Macron’s imminent decision to appoint a new leader or extend a third term for his current president, Jean-Luc Martinez.
Some freshly painted walls in the museum are currently at the center of a transatlantic legal dispute between the Louvre and the Cy Twombly Foundation in New York over extensive renovations in the Salle des Bronzes. This gallery, now devoid of its Greek antiquities, features a monumental blue ceiling painting designed in 2010 by Twombly, the abstract American painter who died in 2011, a year after the work was completed.
In the last few weeks there has been a debate in the French press about the suitability of the new wall paint – precisely “Marron Côte d’Azur”, a reddish and black shade. On Friday, Twombly Foundation lawyers filed a lawsuit in a Paris court calling for the Louvre – part of a renovation project in former royal chambers – to be reversed and for the Salle des Bronzes to be restored to its neutral walls. The foundation claims a violation of the French concept of “droit morality” or the moral right to protect the integrity of a work of art.
Twombly’s mural, the color of the Greek Aegean, once dominated the room with its pale stucco walls and limestone floors. The new look consists of parquet floors and terracotta walls, which are in the style of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. Similar to who created the gallery for Etruscan antiquities in the mid-19th century.
In early February, a secret photo of the revamped gallery, taken by someone in the closed museum, ended up in a text message to Nicola Del Roscio, president of the Cy Twombly Foundation. A story soon appeared in a French art magazine, followed by other stories in the French press, including the daily Le Monde.
“It’s offensive,” said David Baum, a New York attorney for the foundation. “Why don’t you at least tell us? This is done via SMS with a picture showing everything is done. We landed on the roof. “
The group’s lawyers immediately sent a series of letters to French officials and the Louvre President demanding that the gallery be restored to its original state. They denounced the “deep red” color as an “aberration” and criticized “rough work” and “unsightly materials”. ”
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To back up their legal arguments, the American foundation allied itself with two high-profile former Louvre officials and submitted a statement from Henri Loyrette (68), the ex-president of the museum, who had blown up the “disfiguring” new paint and parquet flooring .
Marie-Laure Bernadac, 71, a former Louvre curator who wrote a book about the Twombly ceiling, also came out with disdain in a statement on the foundation’s lawsuit: “This sudden and inappropriate change would have deeply affected the artist,” said they. (The Louvre declined to discuss Loyrette and Bernadac’s statements on Friday.)
Both former employees were instrumental in recruiting Twombly – back in the 1980s – to use assistants to design and create the mural. They covered about 3800 square meters of the ceiling with deep blue, indicated by circles and the names in Greek letters of ancient sculptors.
The critical moment of the dispute and its disclosure to the French press aroused the suspicion in the Louvre that there was a story behind this story. Jean-Luc Martinez ended his last term in April after eight years as President of the Museum. He is being considered for a third term of three years. An announcement is expected in the coming weeks.
“The way it was handled was a form of intimidation. This is not a normal practice, ”Martinez said in an interview before the foundation filed the lawsuit, noting that the Louvre had no contact with the foundation before or after the completion of Twombly’s ceiling mural more than 10 years ago.
“Imagine someone comes to your house and tells you I have moral rights and you can’t modify the artwork behind you and you can’t touch it or move your mirror,” he said. “For the Louvre, the work of art is the ceiling and not the room.”
The research for the renovation was carried out for over a decade by Michel Goutal, the chief architect for historic monuments in France, a position independent from the Louvre. He applied to a French historical commission for approval of the restoration plans and matched the colors to a 19th-century painting in the gallery.
Critics of the French press like Didier Rykner, editor of the art journal La Tribune de l’Art, asked why anything had to be changed in the Salle des Bronzes, a little more than ten years after the ceiling.
In an interview, he compared the new look to a “pizzeria”. However, some Le Monde readers were less impressed with Twombly’s art. In letters about the dispute, one reader remarked, “Twombly is not Michaelangelo” and then suggested swapping the ceiling mural at an American museum for a Renoir.
The Louvre has other significant contemporary works, including those by Anselm Kiefer and Georges Braque, who painted amorphous birds on the ceiling of the Salle Henri II in 1953, which is located near Twombly’s mural.
Louvre President Mr Martinez said the foundation’s lawsuit would discourage centuries-old museums from partnering with contemporary artists in the future, which would create fears of legal issues. “Certain colleagues in historical monuments will never work with contemporary art again,” he said. “What signal,” he added, “is the Cy Twombly Foundation sending?”