Recently, I spotted a CNN story about the Louvre “inviting slam poets in to rap about paintings”. In what was surely conceived as a PR-double whammy (bring in a celebrity, create a programme that appeals to youth/urban hipsters), Toni Morrison has been invited to be a guest curator this month.

The American Nobel laureate has helped the Louvre conceive a series of lectures, readings, films, concerts, debates and slam poetry that will continue through November 29. All center around her theme “The Foreigner’s Home,” touching on national identity, exile and the idea of belonging.

Inviting Morrison to the museum was part of Louvre Director Henri Loyrette’s outreach to the United States. […] Loyrette, who took over at the 213-year-old institution in 2001, also has been trying to shake up France’s perceptions of the role of museums. “A museum for me is not just a place, it’s a place for education, a place with a social role,” he said.

I’ve heard the term “celebrity curator” tossed around quite a bit, and usually with derision. I found this move by the Louvre (rhyming intentional) to be fairly benign, however. It seems part of a larger attempt on the part of the Louvre to fill the social role that Loyrette refers to.

The larger notion of the “celebrity curator” is far more dangerous than the Louvre example I’m citing here. The rather serious role of cultural arbiter that the curator plays ensures that there is an inevitable aura of power and, subsequently, the potential for sexiness that is congruous with the idea of celebrity, but we have to be careful: that power should also not be misused. Hence, while the Louvre’s move as it stands is respectable on several levels, even though Morrison is not a formally-trained curator (she has other cultural credentials), I would cringe at handing over a similar role to most actresses or pop musicians. They have cultural credentials of a sort, too, and could expand the audience of a museum, but the danger here is a dilution of a museum’s mission to the point of incomprehensibility.

Morrisson’s work at the Louvre has also been reported on at the New York Times (much more in-depth article than the CNN story).

Categories: celebrity, museum, Musings, paris

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