@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Paris, France – Versailles and Musee de’ Cluny Day 3

    August 8th, 2011mardixonCulture, International

    Versailles and Musee de’ Cluny 

    We started off early as our first stop was to Versailles.  However we made a stop on the way at Javel, where we walked over the bridge to take pictures of the Statute of Liberty as we have a very fond attachment to the monument, even more-so now after yesterday’s discussion on the topic at Musse des et Metire.  I do feel that its unplanned stops along the way that really make a holiday personal.


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    When we arrived at the Versailles train station, we walked 5-minute walk to the prestige palace. My original thought was ‘How does anything so vast still exist?’ but then it went straight to ‘Amazing!’

    With our Museum Pass, we were able to head straight to the entrance line.  There was a bit of a queue but nothing you wouldn’t expect.  I later learned from Laurate Gaveau that sometimes the queues can be 2 ½ hours long!

    We walked around the palace taking in the grandeur of in every room.  Each room was a treasure trove of 18 century cultural heritage.  The Venus Drawing Room, which was used for light meals is a typical high-ceiling room with magnificent paintings on the ceilings and art work on the wall.  This room alone justified a visit – but there are hundreds of other rooms and reasons.

    Before my meeting with Laurate, I managed a quick walk to the Gardens.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of horticulture but you didn’t have to be in order to see that these acres were works are arts in their own right.

    I left Charlotte and Michael in the gardens and went to meet Laurate. I had arranged to discuss AskACurator.com and to re-confirm how easy it was to have a presence on the website.  However, my Cultural Critical Friend side could not be reigned in so for the first ½ hour, we discussed ways and means of this palatial palace to fill in missing gaps.  For example, there are a few things that Versailles does really good:

    Photographs are encouraged

    What a concept!  They recognize the benefits of allowing their audience to take pictures and share them with friends and families and on social networking sites.  Admittedly they only deal with 18th century items so not much worry with copy-rights, but still, the ethos is there.

    Engaging with their audience

    They run specific competitions to encourage people to take photographs.  Currently they are encouraging visitors to take photographs of fashion in the 18th century being displayed in modern times to coincide with the Fashion exhibition currently running. Although the competition has only recently been launched, there were already over hundreds of entries.

    Their last photo competition led to over 3000 submissions.  People want to take the photos, and more importantly *share* them.

    Brilliant ‘No touch’ design

    I only saw a few ‘Please do not touch/sit on/ lean on’ signs throughout the Palace. Is it because they trust their more than 10 million visitors a year?  Not really.  It’s because they have cleverly placed clear glass that protects items that might be damaged with wear and tear.  For example, going from one room to another, they might have a clear glass protecting the sides of the doors where people might rub up against as you allow others to pass first.  This was a very good idea for other museums to pick up on and one that was extremely kid friendly.

    Getting the Public to Sponsor

    With the large-scale magnificent garden comes great responsibility to maintain it’s high standard.  They have a very good sponsorship program in which people can Adopt-A-Bench or Adopt-A-Statute.  The fees very depending on the item but it is a very classy way for this grand palace to ensure funding while allowing the public to feel part of the venture.

    Bringing the 18th century into modern age with class

    They recognize the balance of keeping true to their 18th century values while ensuring they are modern.  How?  Several very well thought out ideas:

    • They are bringing WiFi to the Palace.  This will help with wait times as it will allow people to see the waiting time, etc.
    • There’s an App for that… Versailles Gardens  app but this fascinating app has integrated Augmented Reality for use in the gardens.  It works similar to an audio guide (which is used within the house) but the AR will help locate where you are and give appropriate detail in the gardens.
    • Working with WikiPedia to ensure they have an accurate presence on the popular website. They worked with a team to provide some information but are keen for the data not to be too ‘curated’.

    I did suggest that they could work with some of the National Trusts within England as one item that I picked up from Attingham Park NT  was to have sign posting asking the public how they should spend the money.  Another concept is to make the rooms more “liveable”.  The rooms themselves have a grand opulence that can not be matched; however, it’s a bit soulless. I was reassured they have recognized this and have recently started to  bring a bit of atmosphere in some of the room (Charlotte noticed this in the antechamber of the Grand Couvert where a dinner setting was placed on the table as if someone was coming to eat soon.

    The key for Versailles is to get the French people back to visit.  They are working hard on this and I’ve no doubt they will succeed in this quest, especially if they continue to embrace social media and remember to show the fun and fresh voice behind the huge and grand palace.

    Musee Cluny

    I was very excited when I received a tweet from Musee de Cluny  asking if I could pop over to do a @AskACurator film.  I arranged to come over after Versailles and was even more impressed when Claire Seguret, communication and social media, told me the director Elisabeth Taburet Delahayey was looking forward to getting involved too.

    Charlotte and Michael soon went off to explore and I was led by Claire through a brilliant door which led us to the Director Elisabeth’s office.  I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was immediately greeted with a wide smile and a relaxed atmosphere.  Elisabeth is clearly a director that loves her job.  She is very passionate about the museum and more importantly, it’s future.

    Our conversation started with me, again, slipping into Cultural Critical Friend mode.  I immediately started asking questions to find out what they were doing on issues they, and I, felt were of importance.

    First topic for me: photographs.  Sadly, the museum does not allow free-reign of photographs and no flash photography.  However, when I explained photographs were free advertising as most people share on social media which then promotes their museum in a positive light, and then could lead to another ticket sale, Elisabeth was in complete agreement.  She had tried to address this topic with the governors before but I then explained she didn’t have social media to take to the governors before.

    We then headed off to find a topic for AskACurator.com –it soon became apparent that we wouldn’t have a problem finding A topic, but instead narrowing the topics down to one or two.  The museum is most famous for it’s Lady with the Unicorn tapestry which are wonderful examples of the millefleus style of the 15th & 16th century.  Along the way to see the tapestry, Elisabeth explained how the collection came into their possession.  I could not help but feel enthusiasm for these tapestries from Elisabeth’s word.

    Sadly, it was too dark in the room to film so it was decided to move to the Gallery of the Kings room.  At this point, Claire received a phone call which actually turned out to be fate.  Why?  Because as Elisabeth and I waited, she just happened to ask if I heard the ‘funny story’ behind the Gallery of the Kings.

    This astounding collection of stone heads of Kings of Judah which dates back to approximately 1220 were to be destroyed during the French Revolution.  Luckily, the person who was to destroy them was both a loyalist and someone who recognized the importance of their history.  So he buried them, face down in the earth.  Fast-forward to 1977 when a new extension on a property in Notre Dame led to the rediscovery of these very historical pieces.  When I asked why Notre Dame didn’t keep them for their own collection, Elisabeth explained that even then, Cluny had already established itself of THE Medieval museum for France.

    Filled with this fascinating story, I just knew we were going to have to film it for AskACurator and I was so thrilled when they agreed with me.

    For me, AskACurator is about finding the trivia and fun elements behind being a curator, in addition to the normal questions such as training.

    After the filming, I interviewed Elizabeth both on Museum de Cluny’s challenges and future, and it’s vision for Kids in Museums.

    The Biggest Challenge

    Finding the balance of hosting exhibitions in an historical building.  Temperature, lighting and other issues which most museums contend with are multiple in this 15th building that was built for the Roman Baths.  Not to mention dampness.

    The Missing Holy Grail

    Again, the passion when Elisabeth spoke was immense.  Choosing just *one* item, or even collection, wasn’t possible. 

    Representation of Tapestry from the 13 and 14th century is missing from their vast collection.  Their oldest is from the 15th century. Their collection is known world-wide and they are aware of private collections that exist with these pieces.  

    Very good examples of goldsmith pieces with enamel of gold from the 14th and 15th century.

    Most important piece in their collection

    Lady with the Unicorn and their extensive collection of goldsmith pieces. 

    Any collaborations

    Yes – and more importantly, Musee de Cluny is proving to be such a forward thinking modern museum, they have helped established a network of specialist called Museums Medieval group. I asked for more information as this was the first I have ever heard of it and it was explained that it was very new and the first meeting will be in September, so if you are aware of any Medievil museums International, get in touch with them.

    Discussion then changed to Kids in Museums and what they were doing to ensure the young generations have plenty to keep them entertained and activity and wanting to come back.  It was explained that in French, they had a 6 month trail of free admission to all museums.  They found that the young generation benefited the most from this scheme so everyone under 26 has free admission still to help encourage their continual return.

    At Musee de Cluny, they are also very conscious of ensuring to create a Kid-friendly atmosphere while maintaining the respect and finesse required for the delicate artefacts.  There is still work to do but they h ave clearly have their finger on the pulse with the fun activity packs available to children, entertaining hands on activities and limited (although still shown) Do Not Touch signs.  They also have Museum at Night events which assistance on ensuring kids see the museum in a different theme.

    The Mussee de Cluny (Twitter @museecluny) is a museum that I can not recommend enough for the lovers of not just medieval history, but people who appreciate a museum that has found a wonderful balance between keeping true to it’s history, while appreciating the future.  Plus, it had a gorgeous gift shop.

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2 responses to “Paris, France – Versailles and Musee de’ Cluny Day 3” RSS icon

  • I visited Paris in January and absolutely loved Musee Cluny! It was my favourite museum in Paris. Thanks for blogging about your visit, it’s great to read.

  • This is one of my favourite Parisian museums.Thank you for sharing the interview, really interesting and explains why the museum is such a great experience. (I confess I sat and stared at the Lady and the Unicorn for ages).

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