4 August 2011

Review: Le CERCO, Museon Arlatan at Arles, France

By Alison Petch

Members of MEG may remember the paper given at the 2008 conference by Dominique Serena-Allier and Véronique Dassié. Dominique is the Directeur et Conservateur en Chef du Patrimoine of the Museon Arlatan. She recently invited me to visit while in the region, when my friends and I were kindly guided round the newly completed museum stores by Sophie Peignen, one of the conservators. I thought readers of the blog might like to see some images I took during the visit of the pristine, and for now largely empty, new storage areas.

The Museon is based in the centre of Arles, in the Bouches-du-Rhone department, and includes displays of many of the day to day artefacts from the area surrounding Arles. The museum was founded by the poet Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914) who wanted to collect and display objects that explained the life and material culture of the “Provence rhodanienne”. The museum’s collections number more than 30,000 objects, including furniture, tools, clothing, textiles and archival and library materials.

The museum first opened in 1899 and Dominique was recently successful in attracting many millions of euros funding to develop the main museum site and to create a new storage, conservation and research centre a little outside the Arles town centre - Le CERCO (Le Centre d’Étude, de Restauration et de Conservation des Oeuvres). The main museum closed for renovation in 2009 and should reopen in 2014. The displays, as well as the fabric of the ancient building ( an eighteenth century Jesuit college) will be greatly changed.

Le CERCO was completed recently and work has begun on transferring collections to the new facilities. I was most impressed at the level of investment by the Conseil Général des Bouches-du-Rhône — it is a pity that the British state does not invest so deeply and wisely.

Le CERCO is based in an area with other local government facilities but has its own discrete area with 24-hour security and monitoring. Most circulation areas and all storage and treatment areas have full environmental control and air-conditioning. In addition all circulation areas (but not storage areas) have motion sensitive lighting. One of the few areas that is not air-conditioned is the staff rest room, where a respite from the ravages of air-conditioning on the human frame is more than welcome.

We were shown where new objects are frozen in a large conservation standard freezer, as well as treatment areas where objects can be treated to remove infestation. We also visited the conservation labs and storage areas. The storage areas for large objects (such as large items of furniture) include a fork-lift truck system to make retrieval much easier. We were also shown an area for visiting researchers.

I should like to thank Dominique and Sophie for enabling our visit to the centre and giving us such an excellent tour, and also thank Dominique for her permission to publish this account. Please note that the first image on this page was taken from flickr and the second and third images were taken from the Museon’s online information  about the development.

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