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(1) Portrait Yannick Lintz.JPG

Interview with Yannick Lintz, president of the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts

Yannick Lintz, doctorate in History and Heritage Curator, has been head of the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts since 1 November, after having headed the Louvre's Department of Islamic Art since 2013. In particular, she successfully spearheaded the "Arts de l'Islam: un passé pour un présent" operation, representing 18 simultaneous exhibitions of Islamic art in France. Recently closed, the exhibition "Splendours of the Oases of Uzbekistan" - in collaboration with the archaeologist Rocco Rante, scientific curator - was a huge success with a public curious to discover a civilisation little known in France.

Thibaut Chapotot / musée national des arts asiatiques - Guimet

Yannick Lintz agreed to be interviewed for Printemps Asiatique. This is an opportunity to find out more about her career, her artistic tastes and her plans for the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts. Her policy for the museum is ambitious: to cultivate the institution's excellence and worldwide renown in its field, while working to make its permanent collections and cultural programme more immersive in order to appeal to the whole of society.

As part of a round table organised by Printemps Asiatique, Yannick Lintz will be speaking alongside professionals and specialists from the world of culture to analyse the new challenges facing museums of non-Western art in the 21st century.

Since November 1, 2022, you are the president of the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts. Could you present in a few words your ambition with this new position?

The Musée Guimet is the largest museum of Asian art in Europe, so it needs to be able to respond to international and youth issues by going beyond its sole function of presenting art collections. It is also my ambition to make this museum a cultural and educational tool for building bridges between European and Asian civilisations. In order to achieve this objective, we will need to develop lively, popular programmes that increase the museum's appeal on both a national and international scale.

Could you describe your background? How did this vocation for art and oriental civilizations come about?

My background is atypical. I began by studying Classics, and it was from Greece that I began to cast my eye towards the Orient, travelling to the Near East several times during my studies (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon...). My doctoral thesis, under the supervision of Pierre Briant, focused on the Achaemenid Persian collections held in Turkish museums, and included a catalogue raisonné of 1,700 works held in over thirty museums in Anatolia. I then worked at the Louvre for twenty years as Head of the Department of Ancient Deposits before becoming Director of the Department of Islamic Art at the Louvre between 2013 and 2022. Because I always enjoy sharing my knowledge with students, I also taught art history at the Sorbonne in Paris I. 

I used to say to my students that I'd never studied art history and yet; I went on to become a museum curator and now President of a French national museum. Beyond the training, whether classical or more atypical, I believe that a career path is often the result of chance encounters, role models we want to emulate, teachers who leave their mark on us... I find it particularly stimulating and gratifying to know that it wasn't written for me that I would become president of the Musée Guimet.

What do you think makes the Musée Guimet so special?

First of all, the theme around which the collections have been built. Like the Musée Cernuschi, the museums of Asian arts in Nice and Toulon, the Musée Asiatica in Biarritz, or the Musée des arts de l'Asie et de l'Egypte Georges Labit in Toulouse, the Musée Guimet specialises entirely in Asia, with the largest national collection in France. This is particularly stimulating today given the importance of Asia to the younger generation.

Secondly, compared with the Louvre, Guimet is a museum on a human scale. It's vital that it can retain this value, because in my opinion the 'cultural consumption' model followed by many museums over the last thirty years is running out of steam. In my view, we need to reinvent a more human, more intimate, model: we should no longer be talking about the exhibition we've seen, but rather about the exhibition we've experienced. "Asian Medecine", which opened on 17 May, is an example to follow in the years to come: an exhibition that takes into account the visitor's sensory, visual, tactile and auditory experience. In other words, visitors come to immerse themselves in the heart of Asian cultures, awakening all their senses.

© Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet, Paris / photo Vincent Leroux 2021

What is the Musée Guimet’s main challenge ?

Like all museums, we want to attract a broad public. It's a shame that Guimet is still too much the domain of Asian art enthusiasts. We need to open it up to young people, to those who never come to museums, for example to people of Asian origin living in France who have never set foot in the halls of Guimet. Not forgetting, of course, the Asian tourists who come to Paris, who don't necessarily know that they will find a bit of home here, or a port of entry to Europe. This is what remains to be done: to get the doors of Guimet wide open to society.

Is there an exhibition or a theme that you would like to highlight at the Musée Guimet?

The upcoming exhibitions should act as a link between the past and the present. There is a real craze for Asian cultures among a broad public, and particularly among the younger generations when it comes to Asian pop culture (mangas, manhwas….), the world of TV series or video games...You just need to know the scenario and the historical accounts to make the link with Asian arts. Here are just a few examples: manga has its roots in Japanese prints from the 18th and especially 19th centuries while the penultimate Zelda on Switch was inspired by the Jomon period to build its storyline. And millions of people have played it without realising that they were immersing themselves in an ancient period of Japan.

It is at the Musée Guimet that we can put into perspective these constant links between the arts of the past and living culture; to show that it is possible to trace the links between heroes, fashion and the images that serve as inspiration for contemporary creations. It is from this unconscious artistic heritage that current ideas are born.

What's more, understanding the present by discovering the past, and vice versa, is a strong value that seems to me to be at the heart of today's concerns. At the Musée Guimet, we will find a heritage shared by many peoples, enabling us to trace the formation of our fundamentally hybrid contemporary culture back to its origins. I think it's crucial, if not essential, to emphasise that art is ultimately a dialogue between two cultures. Which brings me to another key point: culture has a duty to bring people together, to transcend the military and political confrontations between the West and the East. Art bears witness to the constant exchanges, influences and inspirations between our civilisations. How many times has Europe been fascinated by Chinese art and wanted to imitate bleu-et-blanc porcelain? The arrival of perspective in Japanese prints is the result of Japanese artists finding new inspiration in European painting. There are countless examples of this, taking us far, far back in time.

Do you have a favourite work at the Musée Guimet?

I have several! In the Chinese archaeology department, I have a soft spot for the bronze elephant (the Camondo elephant), a huge drinking vessel from the Shang dynasty (2nd half of the second millennium BC). 

I am more fond of the Indian sculptures on the first floor or the Angkorian portraits, than in the decorative arts. But these are matters of affinity. It goes without saying that my own tastes have no influence on our museum policy.

 Zun Camondo Elephant © RMN-Grand Palais (MNAAG, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier

The Musée Guimet is interested in civilizations that are sometimes little known to the general public. How do you create a link between the works and the public?

By the word "mediation", which has been used in France for 30 years. It's a term that sums up, but doesn't adequately suggest, the essential role of the museum as a place for experiences, encounters, emotions, learning and fulfilment. Everything we all need more than ever in today's world. There are different ways of creating these relationships with the general public. Take the example of a teacher who always bets on a group of students who may remember your lecture years later (not all of them, of course) and say: "I've never forgotten this moment".

These are great lessons in modesty, because you have to do everything you can to create these unforgettable moments, and that's what you get when you work in a museum.

You have to know how to find the right tools in terms of staging, human support, atmosphere and discourse to create an unforgettable moment for those who enter the Musée Guimet . We're trying to trigger emotions in visitors of all ages (from the very young to the very old), so that they come away from the museum having grown from their visit and their experience. As cultural professionals, we try to create that magical moment. We're lucky to be able to do that!

What is your latest artistic favorite?

I had one recently at the Opéra-comique in Paris by going to see the new creation by Joël Pommerat, of whom I am an absolute fan. The show is called L'inondation. My dream was to become a stage director for theater or opera, two arts that I am particularly fond of.

Any current projects?

When you're in charge, you have to give momentum, you have to make decisions, but it's the teams around you who have to take over your vision and then make proposals. My main aim is to develop a lively policy of events and exhibitions with the museum team. We are defining the programme of exhibitions for the coming years and we are building the programme of events in the auditorium to create authentic and memorable cultural seasons (cinemas, concerts, shows, etc.). We clearly need to rejuvenate the image of this museum, which is too often known as a museum for insiders.

My role is also to find the funding to make this strategy a reality in the years to come. We also need to support a number of projects to add masterpieces to the collection. That's the diversity of what a museum can produce, and it's up to me to be the conductor by finding the patrons and philanthropists who will enable us to do it.

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