A spellbinding Parisian Museum

August 26, 2020

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Can you imagine? It took 20 incredible years to create this great cultural institution. This bold statement on the very first page of a fascinating eight-page article caught my eye at once. It appeared in Vogue magazine of April 2020 and was superbly written by Leslie Camhi, a Francophile, memoirist, mother and cat lover. How’s that for a modern, well-rounded writer?

THE BUILDING CALLED THE “BOURSE DE COMMERCE” that’s located in the heart of Paris, will display a series of rotating exhibitions drawn primarily from the art collection (5,000 works) of François Pinault. As everyone knows, he is the French billionaire who is the founder of Kering and maker of luxury goods who started seriously buying art in the late sixties.

ART OF THE PRESENT – FINANCED BY ONE PERSON is a risky business. France, with its centuries-long tradition of government support for the arts, tends to view private endeavors with suspicion. Pinault’s collection includes works by Mondrian and Rothko alongside contemporary art stars such as Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman – as well as paintings and sculptures by younger emerging artists.

BUT FRANÇOIS PINAULT SEEMS TO SAVOR THE RISK and takes the long view. Twenty years ago he announced his intention to create a museum for his growing collection that began over 53 years ago. First, he looked into an abandoned car factory on an island in the Seine. Five years later this idea was scrapped. “For years we were looking,” says a company executive. Finally word got out that the BOURSE DE COMMERCE might be available. Bingo! In 2016, Pinault leased this structure from the city for the next 50 years.

HE TOOK FULL FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR the renovation and, in 2017 the work on the site began. Camhi wore a hard hat and reports that, “All around us, workers are putting the finishing touches on the monumental building’s restoration (more than 73,000 sq. ft.). The vast exhibition space (95 ft. in diameter) is bathed in morning light from the glass-domed cupola above us. A winding staircase leads up to the suite of galleries on the second floor. It also descends to a 284-seat theater and a black box gallery for film and video. Another staircase leads up to the third-floor restaurant, La Halle aux Grains.”

THE SHOWSTOPPER IS THE 360-DEGREE PANORAMIC MURAL that was painted by five different artists for the Bourse’s reopening in 1889. (I’d like to visit Paris just to see this spectacular work of art.) Visible from the staircase and the ground-floor rotunda, this mural depicts the triumph of trade across the continents: from snowy Russia to an emerging New World and the markets of the East.

A 19th-century mural depicts trade across the continents. “Our ethic was to accept all the building’s history,” says architect and scholar Pierre-Antoine Gatier

All photos are courtesy of Vogue, April 2020

CAMBI MEETS WITH THIS MOVER-AND-SHAKER in his office and observes, “At 83, Pinault radiates surprising energy. He grew up in Brittany, left school at 16 and first set foot in Paris a short time later.” Over espresso served in 18th-century Sèvres porcelain cups (Good heavens! I’d be terrified to drink it.) Pinault explains his view of architecture and art of the past. ‘It’s not backward looking; on the contrary – it can lead you toward the future, in surprising directions.’”

The interview ends with this insightful comment. “In business, one must be pragmatic, but in art collecting, when I see a work that I consider very beautiful, a masterwork, I often say to the artist that I am caught. The vulnerability that can be perceived as weakness in business is a strength in the world of art.”

That’s a wonderful way to look at all this.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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Rick Nelson
Rick Nelson

September 07, 2020


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