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At the Louvre with curator Fréderic Dassas.
In the Apollo Salon, Versailles.
Students (left to right): Zhang Zhonglin, Liz Neill, Roberta Gorin, Rebecca Sadtler, Aleena Malik, and Carlin Soos.

This is the first year the Bard Graduate Center has offered two destination choices for the May travel program. Nine first-year MA students chose the Paris option, where the BGC has partnered with the École du Louvre, an eminent center for the study of French art, archaeology, and museology. The group was accompanied by Professor François Louis and doctoral student Meredith Nelson-Berry. The École set up a rich program of lectures, gallery visits, and tours of conservation labs and storage rooms, designed to provide insight into French museum exhibition and conservation practice.

Located in the building complex of the Louvre, the École is adjacent to the Centre for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF) and opposite the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Museum of Decorative Arts. Our program took full advantage of this location. Mornings were spent with curators Caroline Thomas and Roberta Cortopassi, who introduced conservation issues of a particular medium and then took us through the respective conservation labs next door. There the conservators discussed their current projects, which included, among many others, an early eighteenth-century Boulle-style clock from a small provincial museum, a mid-nineteenth-century summer dress from Haiti, corroded electroplated silver sculpture from the nineteenth century, and an ancient Roman glass bowl now shattered in hundreds of pieces. Some students even had their jewelry tested for element composition on an XRF spectrometer. In the afternoons we visited museum galleries and storage facilities. The first day we ventured to the suburb of La Plaine Saint Denis to tour the vast storage site that the Arts Décoratifs shares with several other Parisian museums. Conservator Florence Bertin opened dozens of cases (filled with ceramics, toys, shoes, etc.), and curator Denis Bruna (whose exhibition Fashioning the Body is currently on view at BGC) presented a full range of eighteenth-century French costumes, ending with a drawer that contained the socks worn by Napoleon Bonaparte during his coronation as emperor.

Back at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, curator Anne Forray Carlier, armed with a massive ring of keys, gave us a tour through the history of French furniture; Florence Bertin explained the process of clothing conservation; and curator Audrey Gay Mazuel discussed her brand new nineteenth-century decorative arts galleries. In the Louvre, curator Fréderic Dassas explained the rationale behind the design of the museum’s new decorative arts galleries and period rooms, which opened in 2014 after ten years of remodeling. At the Musée du Quai Branly, students were given rare insights into how the city’s anthropological collections are organized and stored, as well as how the museum balances the demands of its exhibition designers with those of its conservators.

Finally, curator Alexandre Maral generously gave us a splendid tour through the state apartments of Versailles. As it was a holiday and the building was closed to the general public, our group had the magnificent palace mostly to ourselves.

—François Louis, Associate Professor