For the first time in its 228-year history, the Louvre will be directed by a woman. Laurence des Cars, the current leader of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, has been picked by French president Emmanuel Macron as the next leader of the Louvre. Des Cars succeeds Jean-Luc Martinez, who has been the museum’s president since 2013, and she begins on September 1.
“She will create a dialogue between ancient art and the modern world one of her priorities, with the constant concern of reaching the greatest number [of people],” the French cultural ministry said in its release. “She will place [her] experience, particularly proven during the crisis, at the center of the politics of the establishment.”
The choice of des Cars, who has proved adept at mounting challenging and popular exhibitions, is pathbreaking but in one way represents a return to form for the Louvre, which—until the appointment of Martinez, an archaeologist from a working-class background, as leader in 2013—was typically helmed by blue-blooded art historians. Des Cars is descended from nobility and specializes in nineteenth-century painting. She got her start as a curator at the Musée d’Orsay in 1994 and in 2007 became head of Agence France-Muséums, the governmental organization then overseeing the launch of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The $12 billion project was beset by delays, and when Martinez took over as Louvre chief, he replaced her with curator and archaeologist Jean-François Charnier. The following year, des Cars was named director of the Musée de l’Orangerie; in 2017 she became head of the Musée d’Orsay, where she presented a widely lauded 2019 exhibition on Black female subjects in nineteenth-century Western painting.
Martinez’s campaign for a third term was hobbled by
accusations that he was cheapening the museum’s brand through merchandising
partnerships and by a lawsuit launched by the Cy Twombly estate over changes to
a gallery containing a site-specific work by the American artist. Under his
leadership, the institution’s youthful and international audience broadened
considerably, with about half of the museum’s visitors—which in 2018 totaled
more than ten million—being under the age of thirty and three-quarters of them
coming from outside France. Des Cars, who strongly emphasized the social role
of the Musée d’Orsay, has already announced that she will extend the Louvre’s
weeknight hours beyond the typical 5:30 p.m. close in order to attract younger
visitors, putting in place an initiative planned by Martinez.
Des Cars has called on institutions to offer women more leadership roles. In 2018, she told the New York Times, “It’s a consequence of official institutions not reaching out to women enough, or not giving them enough confidence. We’re talking about cultural habits that are deeply ingrained in our societies…. Women need to overcome their personal doubts, and to tell themselves: ‘I’m capable of this. It’s coming at the right time in my life and in my career. I’m ready for this.'”
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