French Museum: Anthropology Makes Way for Art

PARIS–President Jacques Chirac announced on 7 October that a major new Museum of Civilization and Early Arts will be created here in the Chaillot Palace, across the river Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The decision ended a bitter “museum war” that had pitted two groups of scientists against each other.

The $154 million project, backed by French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and connoisseurs of primitive art, will unite ethnology collections from the internationally known Museum of Mankind with similar collections from Paris’s Museum of the Arts of Africa and Oceania. But there’s a problem: The new museum will supplant the Museum of Mankind, which now resides at Chaillot, forcing its anthropological and prehistoric collections to be housed in a separate museum, probably also at Chaillot.

The plan for the new museum was fought for months by Henry de Lumley, director of the National Museum of Natural History, who counts on his side such luminaries as French Nobel laureate and physician Jean Dausset. The key issue, de Lumley asserts, is “whether we are going to create a museum of ethnology and art or one devoted to mankind in all its complexity.” Apparently Chirac has settled that issue: The new museum is expected to be completed in 2002.

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