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Iconic French Museum Opening Branch in Middle East


Some art historians have accused the French government of selling the nation's cultural heritage in return for money, trade and diplomatic influence. Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Under the 30-year agreement signed Monday, Abu Dhabi will pay $525 million, and that's just for the Louvre brand name. The Abu Dhabi Louvre will pay more for art loans, special exhibitions and management advice. French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres was barely off the plane from the Middle East when he was forced to defend the deal at a press conference.


RENAUD DONNEDIEU DE VABRES: (Through translator) This deal is a strong symbol and we should be proud. French savoir- faire in restoration, conservation and science will be used to help spread French and European culture in the world. The operation will also benefit museums in France because we'll be able to undertake significant investments. If a foreign country wants to benefit from French expertise, why shouldn't they? Let's be generous.

BEARDSLEY: But critics say the Louvre's generosity is nothing more than crass commercialism. And 4,800 people, including dozens of museum directors, curators and art historians, have signed a petition in protest. Didier Rykner, editor of a French art magazine, spearheaded the effort. He says the Abu Dhabi project is shameful and that French masterpieces should be loaned, not rented.

DIDIER RYKNER: The Louvre is the palace of the king of France. The Louvre is in Paris. The Louvre is the museum that tourists are happy to come to see. And the Louvre is not a trademark, you know, and they want to sell it like a (unintelligible). And I think you cannot go at Abu Dhabi to visit the Louvre. It's nonsense.

BEARDSLEY: Outside the Louvre, tourists with cameras swarm around I.M. Pei's glass pyramid. Parisian Natalise Chukow(ph), who is taking her daughter to visit the museum, says she doesn't think the agreement between the Louvre and Abu Dhabi is necessarily a bad thing.

NATALISE CHUKOW: (Speaking Foreign Language)


BEARDSLEY: For NPR News. I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.