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Megan Hoots

ARE6933

COVID 19 Era Case Study:


The Advantages of The Louvre Museum’s Virtual Technologies

April 4, 2020

Introduction

In 2019 alone, 1.5 billion tourists traveled internationally, which, according

to the United Nations World Trade Organization website (www.unwto.org), is a

4% increase of the previous year which is also forecast for 2020. This influx in

global tourism has placed a strain on the world’s most famous cultural

institutions. Fueled by the popularity of social media, selfie culture and

smartphones, art museums have recorded a sharp “rise in global attendance,

from approximately 20 million visitors in 1970s to more than 100 million at the

turn of the century” (Coblence & Sabatier, 2014, p. 10).

The Louvre in particular has struggled to manage record-breaking crowds.

In 2018 the museum had a “banner year for attendance” (Torres, 2019, p. 78)

with more than 10 million visitors in a single year. The “runaway success of the

largest museum in the world [has] unintentionally [fed] an over-the-top media

frenzy” (Torres, 2019, p.76), with throngs of tourists congesting the most popular

galleries while visitors jockey to take pictures of the famous works with their

smartphones.

This watershed moment, for the world’s most popular museum, requires

innovative solutions. The advent of the Louvre’s virtual gallery tours and virtual
reality experience has the potential to alleviate overcrowding and provide access

to its collection to a wider range of people. Is an online tour an adequate

substitute for the in-person experience? What does online tour provide viewers

and in what way(s) is it deficient?

The Louvre Palace

The Louvre we know today was originally erected as a heavily fortified

fortress. The garrison was constructed along the perimeter of medieval Paris by

Phillipe Aguste in 1190 to protect and watch over the city at the onset of the

Crusades (Louvre, para. 1). The burgeoning city swiftly grew up around the

fortress, defeating its primary, defensive intent.

After his return from captivity in Spain the King of France, François I

sought to reestablish his rule from the nation’s capital. Through an official

declaration, François moved the royal residency to the medieval structure,

nestled in the heart of Paris. François, an avid art collector, implemented major

updates to the edifice in 1528 (Louvre, para. 3). Years later, the chateau was

entirely rebuilt during the reign of Henry II (1547-1559) (Louvre, para. 3). The

palace was made more grandiose by each subsequent monarchy; both Louis XII

and Louis XIV patronized major additions to the monument. When Louis XIV

moved the royal court to Versailles in 1682, the palace ceased to serve as the

royal residence (History, 2010, para. 2).

The zeitgeist of the Enlightenment pressured the monarchy to exhibit the

royal collections for public consumption. French philosopher Denis Diderot was
among the first to propose a national art museum for the citizens of France

(History, 2010, para. 3). The monarchy largely ignored the growing demand for

the public display of the royal collections, instead, it was the outbreak of the

French Revolution in 1789 which eventually spurred the establishment of a

national museum. In August of 1793, the revolutionary government opened

Musée Central des Arts in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre Palace, beginning

an unprecedented legacy of art and culture installed in the capital of France.

(History, 2010, para. 3)

Musée du Louvre Formation

During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars the national collection grew

rapidly. Throughout the years of conflict, art and archeological objects were

seized from territories and nations conquered by France. These works,

requisitioned by Napoleon during his pan-European conquests, contribute greatly

to the Musée du Louvre’s contemporary collection.

Valuable works of art were plundered from occupied territories in Germany

and the Netherlands; notably famous paintings by masters Rubens and Van

Dyck (Selin, 2019, para. 2). In 1796 Napoleon was charged with concurring Italy

and as his troops swept across the peninsula they looted invaluable works of art,

including pieces by Italian masters Raphael, Luini, Giorgione, da Vinci, Titian,

Correggio, Veronese, and others (Selin, 2019, para. 5).

Two years later, in 1798, Napoleon and his army embarked for Egypt

along with artists and scholars who were directed to identify valuable art and
artifacts to send back to Paris. Although many artifacts removed from Egypt

reside in the Musée du Louvre today, a number of the objects looted by

Napoleon’s troops, including the Rosetta Stone, were handed over to British

forces after King George III defeated France and are in a part of the National

Gallery’s collection today (Selin, 2019, para. 10). Lastly, the army moved

through Spain, amassing more than 1,000 paintings during France’s occupation,

many of which were shipped to the Musée du Louvre (Selin, 2019, para. 15).

Napoleon’s reign ended in 1815 with his defeat at Waterloo and his final

abdication of the throne. With his defeat and the loss of conquered territories,

many who lost valuable objects during Napoleon’s conquests demanded

restitution. It is estimated that over 5,000 works of art and artifacts were returned

to their countries of origin (Selin, 2019, para. 22). Despite the relinquishing of

many items, “the Louvre’s current Egyptian antiquities collections and other

departments owe much to Napoleon’s conquests” (History, 2010, para 4) and is

an integral component of the museum’s current collection.

The Louvre Today

Today the Louvre’s permanent collection is one of the richest, and most

comprehensive, in the world, “cover[ing] several millennia of art history, from

4000 B.C.E. to the nineteenth century, and a large geographic area from the

America’s to China” (Coblence & Sabatier, 2014, p. 11). The exhibition of the

museum’s “permanent collection is at the heart of the Louvre’s activity and the

basis of its reputation” (Coblence & Sabatier, 2014, p. 16); its painting collection
represents all periods of European paintings up until the mid-nineteenth century,

while its French painting collection is undeniably unparalleled.

The Louvre houses some of history’s most iconic works of art including;

Venus de Milo (100 BC), The Winged Victory of Samothrace (190 BC) and

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503). These blockbuster works attract 30,000

visitors a day, generating large and stifling crowds often condensed in relatively

small galleries. Louvre curator Pascal Torres (2019) recognizes that “at the heart

of this process of mass migration [is] for the purpose of viewing and

contemplating a masterpiece at a museum” (p. 82). Yet overcrowding has made

viewing these works nearly impossible. Recently, one visitor reported that guests

in the gallery where the Mona Lisa is displayed were “herded like cattle [and]

pushed out the way by the rude security staff if you dare take more than five

seconds to look at [the painting]” (Harris, 2019, p. 1), exhibiting the imperative

need for an innovative crowd control strategy.

Torres (2019) poses the question; “doomed to the continued growth of

tourism’s exploitation, can we adapt the museum model- the precious object

destined for the enjoyment of a limited number of people- to mass tourism

consumption?” (p. 82). With global tourism projected to rise annually, the

development of online and virtual tours may be able to alleviate overcrowding at

the Louvre and other highly trafficked institutions.


The Louvre’s Virtual Technology Initiatives

Digital innovations play an important role in all aspects of modern life,

museums are no exception. The advent of virtual technology brings the

museums experience “to people who don’t visit museums in traditional meanings

but also give an extensive museum experience to traditional museum visitors”

(Salar, Özçınar, Çolak, & Kitis, 2013, p. 177) by digitally enhancing the collection.

Virtual museum content provides worldwide access to collections; anyone with

access to the internet can tap into the museum’s exhibitions. Additionally, this

platform can be an invaluable learning tool, for both distance and lifelong learning

(Salar et al., 2013, p. 178). Teachers can access virtual museum experiences

for Virtual Field Trips (VFTs) which allow all students, regardless of physical

location, or physical ability, to learn through virtual technologies (Asim, Ponners,

Bartlett, Parker, & Star, 2020, p. 25)

Currently, the Louvre offers two types of virtual programming; virtual tours

and a very unique virtual reality experience. There are virtual tours of the

Eqyptian Antiquities wing, the Louvre moat, Galerie d'Apollon, and the special

exhibition, Advent of the Artist. The tours are self-guided, the viewer is able to

move along the hallways at their own discretion. Each object is interactive and

clicking on the image provides more information about the piece; including title,

maker, date, and medium. Some of the more important works include additional

information on the history and provenance of the work. The biggest

disadvantage of this format is the absence of the artwork’s aura. The elements

that comprise a works aura such as “brush strokes, patterns, volume, and
dimensions details are important parameters when exploring a painting” (Salar et

al., 2013, p. 181) and difficult to convey to viewers through a virtual experience.

In preparation for the highly anticipated Leonardo da Vinci exhibition,

which opened in October of 2019, the Louvre created the museum’s first-ever

virtual reality experience. On average, viewers have about thirty seconds to view

the Mona Lisa at a distance of 10 feet. Curators foresaw unprecedented crowds

during this blockbuster exhibit and wanted to provide gallery-goers with a more

intimate viewing of the work. Through a partnership with HTC technologies, a

virtual reality developer, Mona Lisa Beyond the Glass was created. Eleven

headsets were installed in a separate gallery and a 3D video brings viewers face-

to-face with the most famous painting, narrated by da Vinci scholars (Carajal,

2019, p. 1). This immersive experience allows the viewer to be inside the

universe of the painting, exploring details unavailable to the naked eye. This

intimate, holistic view of the artwork better conveys the aura of the work in a way

that the 2-dimensional virtual tours cannot achieve. The program will be available

for download, and on online platforms for audiences, classrooms and community

centers around the globe, democratizing the Mona Lisa’s legendary mystery.

Recently, France’s minister of culture has announced plans to develop

thousands of “digital pop-up museums over the next three years in rural and

suburban locations, including movie theaters, libraries, social centers, and even

hair salons” (Carajal, 2019, p.1) to further democratize access to the Mona Lisa

for French citizens.


Reflection

At first, the google street view of a virtual gallery corridor is alarming and

moving down the hallway is far from graceful. But, after releasing any

expectations, it is clear the platform accomplishes its assigned job. The view can

contextualize the work in space and learn more about each object easily. It would

be very easy for a teacher to lead a classroom through the digital space and

reflect on the art as a group. Asim et al. (2020) suggest educators “create pre-

and post-field trip activities based upon content and curricular goals” (p. 25) of

the classroom. In addition, Asim et al. (2020) recommend assigning a pre-

assessment to students, “assessing their knowledge of an artist’s life, time, era

and work” (p. 25) before embarking on a VFT. These tools can create a very

accessible and successful lesson plan for art educators using a VFT format.

I do not have access to a virtual reality (VR) headset, so I was unable to

experience the immerse exhibit firsthand, but reviews are promising.

Unfortunately, VR headsets are still uncommon and quite expensive. But, as the

technology becomes more commonplace in the very near future, VR headsets

will be as pedestrian as smartphones. The 3D technology creating these

programs is advanced and leveraging these advancements to enhance museum

collections is impressive. This innovation will be a remarkable step forward for art

education once VR is customary in classrooms across the globe, and educators

can apply existing VFT curricula for VR experiences.


Conclusion

The technological innovations leveraged by the Louvre museums have

many benefits. Remote access to the collection helps to curb unprecedented

overcrowding and provides viewers with alternative means of viewership. In

addition, virtual innovations administer the museum’s collection to all striations of

humanity and provide more democratic educational opportunities. And, in a time

of COVID, a global pandemic, accessing the art and culture of the Louvre in a

time of quarantine is especially important.


References

Asim, S., Ponners, P. J., Bartlett, C., Parker, M. A., & Star, R. (2020).

Differentiating instruction: for middle school students in virtual learning

environments. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 86(3),19-31.

Carvajal, D. (2019, October 16). Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?- The

New York Times, pp 1.

Coblence, E., Sabatier, V. (2015). Articulating growth and cultural innovation in

art museums. Int. Studies of Mgt. & Org, 44(4), 9-25. doi:

10.273/IMO0020-8825440401

Harris, G. (2019). Art by appointment only. The Art Newspaper, 316, 23.

History. (2010, February 9). The Louvre museum opens. Retrieved from A&E

Television Networks https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/louvre-

museum-opens

Louvre. History of the Louvre. Retrieved from

https://www.louvre.fr/en/histoirelouvres/history-louvre#tabs

Salar, H. C., Özçınar H., Çolak, C., & Kitis, A., C. (2013). Online (Virtual)

Exhibitions Applications in Education. Journal of Library & Information

Technology. 33(3), 176-182.

Selin, S. (2019, April). Napoleon’s Looted Art [Blog post]. Retrieved from

https://shannonselin.com/2019/04/napoleon-looted-art/
Torres, P. (2019). The Louvre versus mass culture. Blouin Art + Auction,

42(5).76-83.