News Articles Library Event Photos Contact Search


Friday, December 15, 2017

‘Cultural Revolt’ Over Sarkozy’s Museum Plans

President Nicolas Sarkozy arriving in Le Puy-en-Velay, in central France, on Thursday, where he gave a speech in praise of France’s Christian heritage. President Nicolas Sarkozy arriving in Le Puy-en-Velay, in central France, on Thursday, where he gave a speech in praise of France’s Christian heritage. Pool photo by Thierry Zoccolan/Reuters

Georges Pompidou’s dream was a modern arts center. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing signed off on the popular Musée d’Orsay.

Every French president since de Gaulle has imagined some Pharaonic cultural monument or other to honor La Grande Nation, as the mocking German media occasionally call their Gallic neighbor, and to enshrine himself, of course. François Mitterrand became a virtual Ramesses II, opening the Bastille Opera, a new National Library, the Arab World Institute and the Louvre pyramid.

By contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy long seemed to flaunt his impatience with high culture. President Bling-Bling is what Le Canard Enchaîné, the satirical paper, took to dubbing this politician with his mirrored aviator sunglasses and expensive wristwatches, who hung out with showbiz pals, kept a photograph of himself with Lionel Richie in his office and married an Italian model-turned-singer, Carla Bruni. Otherwise, his biggest cultural initiative had been to back French chefs who campaigned to add French cuisine to the Unesco World Heritage List.

But Mr. Sarkozy has now decided that he wants a cultural legacy after all. He has cooked up the Maison de l’Histoire de France, the country’s first national museum of French history, to open in 2015, in a wing of the rambling palace in the Marais district of Paris currently occupied by the National Archives. The idea is to distill centuries of Gallic gloire into a chronological display, supplemented by lectures, seminars and temporary shows borrowing materials from the country’s already plentiful local and regional history museums.

That’s the plan, anyway. For months, protesters have taken to the barricades, appalled by the notion of the museum. The biggest “cultural revolt” of the president’s tenure is what one British newspaper gloatingly called the latest French contretemps.

The problem? It boils down to a few issues: What does it mean to be French in the 21st century? And whose “history” should be celebrated? In an increasingly fractious and multicultural nation, the questions have no simple answers.

Additional Info

Events