Shaking the Parisian arts scene

October 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

It was a small revolution on the Parisian art scene at the time: in 2007, a new museum was opening. Moreover, it was privately run and wholly unsubsidized. Museums openings in the City of Light are uncommon in a market seen as saturated with colossuses such as the Grand Palais, the Louvre, Orsay, and so on. La Pinacothèque de Paris, located in the area of the Madeleine, also makes waves on a well-structured landscape where major museums all get their own slice of the pie and barely run any competition between themselves. However, this is probably the sign for an emerging trend in France, which paradoxically goes along with the astonishing figure that public expenses towards the 37 national museums have increased of 70% in the last 10 years.

To say the least, this is an original initiative in the cultural bureaucracy where public subventions cover about 70% of the expenses of public museums – and also where money and museum do not go along so well. Contrariwise, private institutions feel the need to run only profitable projects, which leads them to explore new funding sources and a new allocation of the expenses. To make it simple: less insurance, more communication. By putting the accent on corporate events, restaurants and shops revenues, they also inspired public museums. But their own existence raises embarrassing questions – why do other galleries need these substantial public subsidies and private sponsors when La Pinacothèque managed to get profit from all but the first of its shows?

Well, obviously obeying to the rules of for-profit, each temporary exhibition is prepared on a budget. As a consequence, such galleries avoid borrowing the most expensive works of art. However, La Pinacothèque still specializes in high-profile exhibitions – Roy Lichtenstein or the Chinese warriors of Xi’an being an example. Indeed, the gallery relies on loans from private collectors, i.e philanthropists who prefer to see their works exhibited here rather than stored in other galleries’ reserve. As such, I find it priceless that we get to admire some works that had never left the private circle beforehand – as it leads you to consider the collector’s approach, falling in love with a piece.

But if only the space was new, we may just pass our way. As such, it is impossible to talk about La Pinacothèque without evoking its founder and director, troublemaker Marc Restellini. Accusing the major institutions of being “cemeteries” stuck in immobility and certainties and submitted to financial and governmental pressures, he proposes a revolutionary concept to apprehend art in general. At La Pinacothèque, works of art are hung lower to allow visitors to feel closer. Well, that was an easy one. Moreover, the permanent collection is not presented through the usual historical/ period classification but by theme – still life, portrait, landscape. M. Restellini expresses his desire to create an “imaginary museum” and create cross-thinking in art. To the elitists, such unconventional confrontations might sting the eyes. To me, such a vision can only be applauded as the threshold of wide possibilities in both education and marketing towards visual arts. This “too cool for school” approach kind of sounds like Jeff Koons in Versailles. But in the facts, shall we not be afraid of such a straight and provocative popularization? Aren’t Parisians too posh to appreciate what has been proudly designed as an “amateur gallery”? Oh well, this may be a new Manet’s protest at the Academic Salon – and maybe this revamp is the dawn for a whole new stare.

Anyway, this local venue – owned by a Dutch holding and fed by a bunch of collectors worldwide – has proven its commercial tour de force in only 2 years by outdoing all other Parisian exhibition places in number of visitors in 2010. With a new space of 3000 square meters opened in January 2011 and various expansion projects in major European cities financed by satisfied shareholders – maybe a new museum “chain” has just been born?

– Anne-Claire


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