Concept of the landscape in contemporary France during the controversy over the pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre Museum

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Abstract

This paper was written to illustrate how the landscape of Paris is shaped not solely by political forces, but also by the awareness and acceptance of the citizens of Paris. The case of the glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum is used to illustrate this process. When the pyramid was planned, the citizens themselves participated in a heated discussion on its construction. Now, more than a decade later, the pyramid is considered an emblem of the museum. By analysis of the controversy over the pyramid, we can consider how contemporary French society initially interpreted and eventually accepted a new artifact in the landscape of Paris. During the initial controversy, and also after construction, some critics called the project a mark of the despotism of the man who initiated the Louvre remodeling project, President François Mitterrand. However, it does not clarify the important questions about this controversy: which concept of the landscape of Paris conflicted with the glass pyramid, and how was the new building accepted nevertheless? To answer these questions, this paper analyzes the arguments about the symbolism and the harmony of the new landscape that were raised in the controversy. The arguments about the symbolism concerned the urban space of Paris and the shape of the pyramid. The spatial centrality of the Louvre in Paris was seriously considered. Under that condition, the interpretation of the "Egyptian" shape of the pyramid was always negative. It reflected a prejudiced, exclusionary frame of mind advocating a heterogeneous culture. The arguments about the harmony of the landscape concerned the Louvre and the material of the pyramid. The Louvre was interpreted as a "palace." It paradoxically suggested that the Louvre has played important roles in the history of modern France. The interpretation of the material of the pyramid emphasized its "transparence." It led to discrétion, meaning an absolute respect for the history that the Louvre had witnessed. This analysis allows us to consider the origin of the controversy. The Louvre was regarded as a symbol of the Republic, because of its history in the liberation during the Revolution. The Louvre Museum itself has functioned as a representation of French culture, in terms of collecting worldwide art works, interpreting them, and exhibiting them in the order which is required in French society. The glass pyramid was planned not only in the historical place, but also in the mythic place of the establishment of France. Accordingly, the origin of the dispute appears to be whether the new building intruded on "French culture." How was the new landscape accepted after that? To deny the interpretation of "something foreign," the people who consented to the construction cited historical facts that justified the pyramid. The opponents of the project countered by quoting historical facts in their own arguments. As a consequence, the glass pyramid was linked to many reference points in French culture. In the background of the acceptance of a new landscape in Paris, there was an acquisition of cultural legitimacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-449
Number of pages15
JournalGeographical Review of Japan
Volume76
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003

Keywords

  • Acceptance of a landscape
  • Controversy over the Louvre pyramid
  • References to French culture
  • Symbolism and harmony of landscape

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