What’s in a Name? Louvre, just a brand?

You can buy anything these days, even the Louvre, according to Alan Riding’s story for the New York Times Art section (Wed, March 7).
Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates has just shelled out 520 million for the permission to use the Louvre’s name on its new museum which will be designed by Jean Nouvel – the same architect who has just finished Paris’s nifty Musee du Quai Branly.

You may think that this kind of culture exporting sounds outrageous – but it’s not new. Catherine the Great would have gladly arranged a similar deal. But Catherine the Great was less impressed with brand names that she was with the actual philosophers and artists. For example, she was so impressed with Voltaire that when he died, she wanted to bring his body to St. Petersburg, build a mausoleum, art gallery and library around his library – do you think the United Arab Emirates would do the same for any individual French luminary? By the way, Voltaire’s body never made it to Russia, but his entire library and collection of correspondence (including Catherines letters to him) was purchased from his niece. Catherine rewarded her with sable furs, gold and all sorts of goodies. What would Voltaire have thought, I wonder?