LIEVIN, France – The Louvre Museum is gearing up for a mammoth task which will involve transferring over 250,000 works – which are threatened by the floods of the river Seine – to a new conservation center in northern France.
The new home for the artworks, currently stored in the basement of the museum, is located in the former mining basin of Lievin, just over an hour by train from the capital.
The operation to move these priceless artworks from storage has been triggered by the constant threat of floods that could ruin this collection from the world’s most visited museum.
The Police Prefecture issued the first flood warning in 2002, but it was the June 2016 floods that forced the Louvre to close for four days to evacuate a part of its collection, confirming the urgency to find a new storage space.
“This new center is setting the Louvre apart as an example in terms of conservation,” Jean-Luc Martinez told EFE.
“Works that were vulnerable due to the risk of flooding, as seen in 1910 and 2016, will be better kept for study.
“It is fair that we transmit this heritage to future generations,” he added at the inauguration of the center on October 9.
The building, which has been designed by architects Rogers Stirk Harbor & Partners, is designed around a large gallery with six huge rooms.
From a five-meter high canvas to small archeological objects, each artwork and object has its special nook in the Lievin.
The space is austere with concrete floors, walls and ceilings which are key in maintaining the best temperature for the artworks, despite its high vaults which are up to six meters high.
The rooms are replete with moving gridded panels capable of storing up to 300 canvases.
Architect Graham Stirk told EFE that his vision for the building was to create something that did not compete with the emblematic gallery but instead had its own purpose dedicated to preservation.
For the most part, it will host archaeological works, in addition to some paintings and large tapestries that until now were stored rolled up due to lack of space, something that won’t be a problem in Lievin.
The transfer will start at the end of this month and the truck traffic will be constant until 2024 and will begin with the largest pieces.
Culture Minister Frank Riester, the president of the Hauts-de-France region Xavier Bertrand, and the mayors of Lens Sylvain Robert and Lievin Laurent Duporge all attended the opening of the center on October 8.
Everyone is confident that the center will put the old mining valley, which has been hit by several economic and industrial crises since the 1970s, back on the map as a benchmark of national culture.
The launch of the Louvre-Lens in 2012, a museum that displays objects from the Louvre collection, has already pulled in some 3.5 million visitors since its opening.
However, the striking landscape of the lens region which has an overtly industrial aesthetic shaped by hundreds of years of mining, and has been listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO, is still suffering from abandon.
The decline of the area has been reflected by the cutting down of high-speed train services between Paris and Lens which have halved over a decade.
The conservation project has cost around $65 million – a little over $35 million came from the Louvre thanks to a lucrative deal with the Louvre of Abu Dhabi to use the museum’s name for $525 million.
The rest of the funding came from the culture ministry, the region and regional development funds of the European Union.
Of its 18,000 square meters, more than 9,000 will house works and there is the possibility of expanding its land by 5%.
The center will also serve to temporarily host collections from other museums in the region and countries in conflict.
The old mining town of Lievin is already proud of its new building, as mayor Duporge said, who did not hesitate to utter what many at the opening said under their breath:
“Merci, la Seine!”