The Consulate General of France Visits Town and Talks Science,
Art, and Politics

by Charles Donelan

PhotoPHL.jpgSitting in the terraced garden of Fred
Sidon’s gracious Hope Ranch home, Philippe Larrieu looked and acted
every inch the career French diplomat, from the correctness of his
attire to the charm and intelligence of his conversation. He was in
Santa Barbara to speak at the University Club and to visit with
Sidon and the other members of the Reseau Français de Santa
Barbara, or French Network. What can he say about the future of
France’s relationship with the United States, and in particular,
its impact on California? Quite a lot — and much of it new and
interesting. Perhaps most intriguing was the hint that some
activities in the near future could lead to a West Coast
collaboration with the Louvre Museum, a Paris landmark and the
world’s foremost collection of art.

Based in Los Angeles, but covering also Arizona, Colorado, and
New Mexico, the office of the Consulate General exists to promote
the broadest possible range of interactions between people in
France and America, and Larrieu takes great pleasure in describing
mutual successes in technology and science. He told me that the new
president of Caltech is French, and that there are approximately 70
French scientists now at Caltech, and 70 more at the Salk Institute
in La Jolla. The way French scientists are trained has made them
popular worldwide, according to Larrieu. He said of those working
here in California, “We hope of course someday they will want to go
back to work in France, but you know, JPL [the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena] is nice.”

But all this talk of science only sharpened my appetite for
French culture and high art, and before I could quite help it, I
asked the consul for something — something big. “Consul,” I said,
“can we have a Louvre?” And, shockingly, he said, “Yes, you can
have a Louvre.”

I had to ask, “Are you kidding?” before he told me, “We are now
organizing an American Friends of the Louvre group for the West
Coast. Next year in May, I will host the American Friends of the
Louvre in my home in Los Angeles for a gala dinner, which will be
our first meeting, and we expect the president of the Louvre, Henri
Loyrette, to attend.”

Now we were talking. Ever since the announcement of a six-year
collaboration between Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and the Louvre,
curators and museum directors around the country have been buzzing.
Where will they go next? The Denver Art Museum has signed on for an
exhibit in 2007, but the big commitment in Atlanta — where a
special new Renzo Piano-designed structure will be referred to as
the Louvre Atlanta until 2009 — has been a smash hit, making the
idea of a West Coast reprise a very hot topic in museum

Ever the diplomat, Larrieu artfully changed the subject, telling
me, “It’s a new approach. Our curators used to be very shy, and
they didn’t want to open the doors even to the movies. Remember The
Da Vinci Code? They were not sure it could really be made back when
the Louvre was not available to them. But then this decision to
open the museum came, and The Da Vinci Code was the first. They now
plan to open the door to many more movies.” Hmmm. Had I just heard
someone imply Hollywood?

I asked what the purpose of the gala in May will be, and Larrieu
answered, “First, it is to raise funds. We will need money to
promote this.” Our host, Fred Sidon, caught hints of our chat and
asked directly, “Will this be with LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum
of Art]?”

Larrieu again skated casually around the issue, saying, “Not
necessarily LACMA, and the Louvre won’t be the first museum to do
this here. We also have American friends of the Centre Pompidou,
and in spring 2006, for three months 60 California painters were
shown in Paris at the Centre Pompidou.”

By this point, he was really warmed to this new subject, and
although it is clear that my request for a Louvre Santa Barbara has
been duly registered, no commitments on location were made that
day. Larrieu went on about the idea of bringing California art to
France, saying, “We [France] must reciprocate, because every month
there is a show of French art somewhere in the western U.S., and
there should be an equal representation of American culture in
France, and Californian culture. Not just the Beach Boys, but also
the culture of the great Californian writers. People in France are
passionate about these things.” So, there you have it. See you at
the Louvre — in Paris if necessary, but perhaps somewhere much
closer in the near future.


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