Sarkozy Asks Louvre to Turn France's Naval Headquarters Into a New National Museum

Sarkozy Asks Louvre to Turn France's Naval Headquarters Into a New National Museum
Hôtel de la Marine, Paris
(Courtesy patricemarieantoine via Flickr)

The Hôtel de la Marine was built by Louis XV on Paris’s Place de la Concorde in the 18th century and later became the headquarters of the French navy. Now that France’s naval offices plan to move to the still-under-construction “French Pentagon” in 2014, the building needs a new purpose. President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided that the historic structure will succeed its military career with a cultural one: the Louvre is turning the Hôtel de la Marine into a rotating exhibition space.

The new plan comes as a relief for those who opposed the for-profit privatization of such an important cultural landmark. There was a public outcry in late 2010 when news leaked that the government was considering turning the structure over to technology and real estate entrepreneur Alexandre Allard. Allard had proposed creating a cultural center called "La Royale," but critics denounced this as a "money-making circus.” Historians and members of the military signed a petition against the plan, reported Agence France-Presse. In response to the new Louvre arrangement, Allard has said that Sarkozy's decision shows that France is "rotten with conservatism,” according to Le Figaro.

Sarkozy appointed former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to lead a committee tasked with deciding the fate of the Hôtel de la Marine. Giscard d'Estaing — who was skeptical of Allard's grandiose plans — gave Sarkozy his report back in September, but the French president announced only earlier this week that he had accepted its conclusions. "The heritage zones of the Hôtel de la Marine will be open to the public under the management of the Louvre, which will present pieces of great historical and artistic value," Sarkozy announced during a speech on cultural issues in Marseilles on Tuesday. "The main courtyards will be turned into pedestrian streets, [and] the ground floor sites [will be] devoted to the practice of French art and civilization."

Private tenants and government offices including the Cour des Comptes (the governmental auditing office) will occupy office space left in the building. The added income from rental fees will go toward supporting museum programming. The Louvre and the Caisse des Dépôts (a French financial body that holds civil servants' pension funds and retirement accounts) will work together to establish a new entity that will develop more specific curatorial plans for the Hôtel de la Marine. The project is estimated to cost €50-80 million ($66-105 million).

"The idea isn't to make it a department of the Louvre," Louvre president Henri Loyrette said, "but to have collections from several institutions pass through, including the Mobilier National (the institution that furnishes French government buildings since the time of the monarchy), the Manufacture de Sèvres (the renowned porcelain factory), and the Decorative Arts Museum." The possibility of French chef Alain Ducasse opening a restaurant in the building is also under discussion.

The Hôtel de la Marine is expected to open to the public in 2015. Art and political space have been colliding quite a bit in France over the past few weeks with Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli’s short-lived “24 h Museum” project. The pop-up institution took over Paris’s Museum of Public Works on January 24 in a glitzy celebrity-studded extravaganza. The Louvre-directed Hôtel de la Marine space will likely be a tamer affair.