The Louvre Abu Dhabi recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, and the Centre Pompidou has recently set up branches in Malaga, Shanghai and Brussels.
However, the action and influence of museums are not limited to these few emblematic examples.
Exchanges between French and international cultural counterparts are varied. Many forms of collaboration and transmission have been implemented by French museums to disseminate their know-how and collections abroad: loans of works, international cooperation, cultural engineering, touring of temporary exhibitions, etc.
France exports a wealth of expertise to bring the French cultural exception to the doors of every country, a tradition that is not without its technological and eco-responsibility challenges.
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The International Council of Museums (ICOM) defines the core business of museums as “the research, collection, conservation, interpretation and exhibition of tangible and intangible heritage”. All of these skills and expertise are specific to museum professionals and can be developed according to projects and opportunities for collaboration (in connection with the loan of works or in connection with cooperation projects) or in a more permanent or systematized way (support for the creation or transformation of places operated by the dedicated services of a cultural site).
Some museums provide occasional support to foreign cultural institutions that are close to the collections they exhibit. Following the opening of a museum devoted to contemporary artists from the Arab world, the Centre Pompidou, for example, signed a partnership agreement on March 12 with teams from the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) in Saudi Arabia. Beaubourg is providing these teams with “its scientific and technical expertise in staff training, particularly in conservation, collection management and mediation,” according to the press release.
Such expertise can also be the subject of intercultural exchanges between professionals. In 2022, the Musée des Confluences in Lyon took part in an international cooperation project in Vietnam.
This 6-day intervention allowed to train Vietnamese heritage professionals on how to welcome the public in situ and to accompany them in the transposition to Vietnam of a mediation device outside the walls currently deployed in the Lyon metropolis: the Cabanes à Histoires. This training was intended for the museums of Saigon, Danang and Hué thanks to the support of the Metropole Grand Lyon and a local partner, the French Embassy of Vietnam.
In connection with such a cultural cooperation project, other examples of scientific exchanges and sharing that are part of the cultural diplomacy of the French State can be mentioned. For example, in 2022, the Musée de l’Armée collaborated with more than 12 foreign cultural institutions, including the Deutsches Historisches Museum and the Rütskammer in Germany, the Royal Museum of the Army and Military History in Brussels, the Imperial War Museums in London, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Swedish Livrustkammaren (source).
For all of these projects, the role of the supervisory ministries, embassies and the network of French institutes is essential and must be particularly emphasized.
Museums are also involved in long-term engineering projects. This is the case of the Cité du Vin, which is promoting its expertise internationally in terms of mediation around wine-making processes.
Since 2019, Cité teams have been participating in the creation of the Universal Wine Museum in the Fangshan district of China, near Beijing. For Philippe Massol, director of the Cité, it was “important for the foundation to be involved in such a project since it is recognized as a public utility, and aims to make the culture of wine accessible to the greatest number of people.” This project, which is scheduled to open in 2024, will be replicated in other places dedicated to wine, notably in Chile and Italy (for more information, read this article).
Cultural institutions can also create a dedicated service to export and transmit their know-how.
Louvre Conseil is a good example. This department of the Musée du Louvre mobilizes museum professionals to promote their expertise and support international cultural institutions in their transformation projects through training, auditing, and consulting activities. Louvre Conseil has, for example, contributed to the rehabilitation of the Mosul Museum in Iraq, the Musée de la Boverie in Liège, and the National Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo. This is also the raison d’être of the France Muséums consulting and cultural engineering agency, which, with the support of a network of 17 partner cultural establishments (Musée d’Orsay, Musée du quai Branly, Musée Rodin, etc.), assists with projects for the creation or transformation of cultural venues abroad.
Renowned for their scientific expertise, French museums work with foreign partners through audits, training, consulting, inventory control, participation in research, and diplomatic cooperation… This unprecedented cultural presence allows France to rely on experts in conservation, scientific research, mediation, and visitor reception to disseminate French culture and know-how internationally. This is an effective soft power to spread French culture abroad, amplified by the touring of numerous temporary exhibitions.
The touring of exhibitions involves a variety of actors in all phases of their realization: production, design, distribution and exploitation. To achieve this, museums can rely on recognized French scientific expertise, develop collaborations with local partners, and even create services and offers dedicated to this type of distribution.
The various examples cited above illustrate the wealth of scientific expertise in French museums. Some public and private partners also participate in the dissemination of this scientific expertise, such as the technological research unit Archéovision.
This subsidiary of the University Bordeaux Montaigne recently participated in the creation of the immersive exhibition on the heritage of Lalibela. This exhibition is the result of a conservation study that allowed the digitization and 3D surveys of eleven rock churches classified as World Heritage by UNESCO in Ethiopia. This collaboration was implemented through an international partnership between the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the French Ministry of Culture and the French Embassy in Ethiopia (to learn more about this project, see the presentation made during the Duos de l’innovation at the last edition of Museum Connections).
To ensure dissemination in certain regions, setting up a joint exhibition project with a local cultural institution can facilitate contact with other partners.
For its “baby animals” exhibition, the Museum of Toulouse set up a co-production in 2014 with the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels.
This co-production then facilitated distribution to three Benelux museums (the Museon de La Haye in the Netherlands, the Brussels Museum or the Science Center Heilbronn in Germany).
Another particularly original example of distribution with the support of a locally-based partner is the traveling exhibition Notre-Dame de Paris: the augmented exhibition.
The Notre-Dame augmented exhibition distributed throughout the world thanks to the sponsorship of L’Oréal.
This exhibition, designed by the public institution in charge of the conservation and restoration of the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral (EPRNDP) with the company Histovery, has benefited from the sponsorship of L’Oréal. As such, the exhibition was supported by L’Oréal for a tour in 6 countries where the group is present (National Building Museum in Washington, Dubai World Expo, the Collège des Bernardins, the Grand Garden Palace in Dresden, the Historical Collection in New Orleans, the Bund 18 in Shanghai) and currently in the Maison de France in Berlin.
Cultural institutions can also mobilize their internal teams to produce and distribute their exhibitions around the world. The example of the Palace of Versailles in Asia is a good illustration of this mobilization and the valorization of these in-house skills.
Since 2018, the digital exhibition Virtually Versailles has been deployed free of charge in China to enhance long-standing relationships and raise the profile of the Versailles estate in Asia. Several immersive devices – such as connected bicycles, virtual reality headsets (broadcasting the VR works Versailles VR and Vivez Versailles), holograms or even 380° projection rooms – manage to recreate the castle remotely. To reach Singapore (2018 – 50,000 visitors in 5 weeks of operation), Shanghai (2021), Hong Kong (2023) and soon (subject to international news) Beijing, Shenzen, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Chengdu, Chongqinq and Xi’an, Versailles is piloting the distribution by relying on a local partner in each city, such as the Hong Kong Heritage Museum currently.
The internationalization of Versailles’ digital expertise contributes to the influence of this cultural institution. Beyond this technological expertise, new approaches related to the touring of more eco-responsible exhibitions can be a source of innovation. These approaches were the subject of a previous article on one of the themes discussed at the last Museum Connections event: How to make a cultural venue more sustainable and eco-responsible.
Like the movement of visitors, the international movement of works and exhibitions raises the question of their environmental impact. This aspect has already been addressed by many cultural institutions, such as the Toulouse Museum. To make the itinerary of its exhibition “Impact, Biodiversity in Question” more sustainable, the Toulouse institution has carried out various actions during :
In conclusion, the cultural institutions that are involved internationally have particularly varied approaches. Although these approaches are part of their scientific and dissemination missions, they can respond to a wide variety of issues of cultural
cooperation, communication or development of their own resources. Depending on these challenges, they are integrated differently within their organizations (mobilization of ad hoc teams or creation of dedicated services). They can also be the object of very diverse collaborations (diplomatic networks, research laboratories, local cultural institutions, companies, etc.). Finally, they are an essential field for experimentation, both in terms of technological innovation and in terms of eco-responsibility.
20th & 21th JAN. 2021
Paris, Porte de Versailles – Hall 2.1