The Director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs talks about forging links with industry and hi-tech which will allow visitors to “wear” the jewellery and costumes

“We are not just a temple to gold and glass but should turn our attention to daily life”



It is at present impossible to make chronological sense of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs: even the most determined visitors eventually lose the thread and are forced to retrace their steps. The restructuring of this wing of the Louvre, which holds some 180,000 items is therefore more than welcome. The project involves a complete re-think of the museum’s identity. Luciana Mottola Colban discussed the plans with Danièle Giraudy, one of the minds behind the Pompidou Centre, where she worked in an educational role for eight years, before becoming director of the Musée Picasso at Antibes, and then moving on to the Musée des Arts Decoratifs as Director in 1991.

Danièle Giraudy. In restructuring the museum, we have concentrated on three areas, which also correspond to stages in the museum’s historical development. For the specialist visitor, we shall be reconstituting the so-called “study collections”, which formed the original nucleus of the museum. These are alphabetically arranged sample collections of small items such as padlocks or door handles, exemplifying craftsmanship in a wide range of materials. They will now be exhibited in a series of large display cases arranged around the seven circular balconies on the fourth floor. Second, for the non-professional art lover, we shall be keeping the “period rooms”, originally gifts from generous donors, while attempting to order them in a coherent sequence spanning the period from the fifteenth to the twentieth century. To do justice to the nineteenth century, we intend to open eleven new rooms, hung with wallpaper from our own collections, and to feature our little-known panoramas. The third floor will be devoted to tapestries and a series of particularly famous larger exhibits, such as Napoleon’s throne. In the rooms currently occupied by the Musée des Arts de la Mode (which will be transferring to the Richelieu wing of the Louvre), we shall be presenting an overview of the twentieth century, while the Gallery of Creators on the ground floor, will feature occasional displays of contemporary subjects.

The idea of a “period room” has recently been called into question. The so-called “Louis XIV” room at the Metropolitan was the subject of heated debate...

At the Metropolitan, disparate objects were brought together to create a period setting. But in most cases we possess complete sets of furnishings and fittings. The room itself is an object, with all its elements, carpets and hangings included, constituting an authentic whole, through which we can give a lesson in the development of style and taste. The only thing to guard against is their rather repetitive effect, so we intend to introduce interesting lighting effects and to incorporate small video displays.

What will you be doing to make the museum more user-friendly?

In consultation with out architects, we are trying to improve movement between floors, so that we can suggest five one-hour itineraries, each catering to different interests. We are also preparing a complete guide book in four languages and are considering using state-of-the-art innovations such as virtual image technology. How exciting to look at the costumes and have the impression that one is wearing them, or see one’s own face adorned with the ear-rings on display.

And what is the museum’s new policy on exhibitions?

We intend to work in conjunction with the Musée des Arts de la Mode. The two museums have some real hidden treasures, including 3,300 items of jewellery from all periods. One of the joint ventures we envisage is “Autour du noir”, an exhibition on the theme of black, from the Middle Ages to the present day.

How do you respond to those who deplore the fact that brand promotion and advertising have found their way into a museum which frequently displays industrial products side by side with one-offs?

We should be quite clear on this. Every year, the State pays us a subsidy to cover the daily running costs of the museum, while it is the museum’s responsibility to find funds for staging exhibitions. Clearly, the easy way to raise the money would be to become yet another cultural garage. But that is definitely not our intention. Where fashion is concerned, on the other hand, we are on more slippery ground. For this reason, the agreement concluded between the museum, the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs and the Union Française des Arts du Costume, expresses the desire of all parties to concentrate on thematic exhibitions, in order to avoid pressures from manufacturers and designers.

Do you, nevertheless, believe that the Musée des Arts Décoratifs should play a role in the industrial life of the country?

In my view, one of the tasks of this museum is to establish links between the world of industry and the world of art. Next year, in collaboration with the Monoprix department store chain, we shall be organising a competition for artists (rather than specialist designers). Their brief will be to design everyday objects of the kind normally overlooked or treated as necessary evils: plastic bags, scouring pads, floor cloths, lavatory brushes, and so on. The winning objects will be sold at reasonable prices in 300 department stores, from the date our exhibition begins. We are not just a temple to gold and glass, but should turn our attention to daily life in all its many aspects.

“We are not just a temple to gold and glass but should turn our attention to daily life”