Row as Pompidou plans Shanghai branch

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The Independent Online

The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris is to open a "branch" museum in Shanghai, deepening a row in the French art world about the alleged commercialisation of national art treasures.

More than 3,000 people, including senior museum curators, have signed a petition protesting against advanced plans to open a branch of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. There are also deep concerns about plans to send Louvre masterpieces on loan to a "Louvre-West" in Atlanta, Georgia.

The protesters argue that these developments represent a dangerous shift in policy towards a "hiring out" of works of art and "cashing in" on the celebrity of a gallery like the Louvre.

The French government and museums servicehave rejected the criticisms as overblown. There is little difference, they say, between the idea of "branch museums" abroad and touring exhibitions or long-term loans. Bruno Racine, president of the Centre Georges Pompidou, which includes the French national museum of modern art, said that the protests were based on a "fantasy" that masterpieces like the Mona Lisa would go abroad.

The Centre Pompidou in Shanghai will open in 2010, just after a "regional Pompidou" in Metz, eastern France. M. Racine said that it would have a "rolling" exhibition of 100 to 150 art works from Paris. Most of these would be taken from the 57,000 "stored" works owned by the modern art museum in Paris. The French government and the Louvre have also agreed in principle to help the government of Abu Dhabi to build a €1bn (£660m) art museum in the Gulf state, using the Louvre name. The museum would pay €350m over 10 years for long-term loans from the Louvre and for four temporary exhibitions of Louvre works.

The French culture ministry said the money will be ploughed straight back into the Louvre and other national museums, to refurbish buildings or buy new works.