afghanistanToday I journeyed with a mini-bus load of art lovers to the Louvre Gallery’s new extension, built amid abandoned slagheaps in the post-industrial landscape of Lens in northern France. The building itself is low and clad in shimmering glass and polished steel that reflects the low, grey skies so typical of this region. This minimalistic exterior has its critics but there can be few of the interior. The main exhibition hall in particular is a generously-proportioned (120 metres long!), well-lit space, with a gentle incline that has enabled the exhibitors to trace out a time line on one of those buffed steel walls, starting with ancient antiquity and accelerating through to the nineteenth century. My eye and imagination were caught in particular by a stylised statuette from Afghanistan, dated between 2300 and 1700 B.C., of a lady wearing a woolen robe (picture) that could have been made in the 1920s. I only have the space for one illustration, but another figure that caught my eye was a small bronze winged Mesopotamian statue of Pazuzu, King of the wind demons and evil demons, dating from 800-700 B.C. The space finishes with Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, which is quite a show stopper in its own right. The other main exhibition space sported a temporary exhibition about the Renaissance. Slightly more traditional in its presentation, Renaissance nevertheless provided some exquisite and intensely moving exhibits. These included a terrifying recumbent statue of Catherine de Medici, rough-hewn in marble by Girolamo della Robbia in 1565-6, and reportedly abandoned because the subject could not bear to see della Robbia’s imagined version of what she might look like when old, emaciated and dead. Two smaller exhibition spaces, a dining area and a library finish off the ground floor and a spiral staircase takes the visitor down to a mezzanine floor overlooking a storage and restoration department. The museum is a good twenty-minute walk from the centre of town and it is difficult to see how it will help regenerate its surroundings (in the way the Pompidou at Metz is, for example), but as a museum and exhibition space it is beautiful and well worth the trek.