Projected statutes for Versailles : another loss for art history

We had expressed our worries to Jean-Jacques Aillagon concerning his plans to change the statutes for the Etablissement public de Versailles who answered by saying : “it will not change the director’s prerogatives or his mission in any way” (see news item of 26/7/09). On 30 March 2010 we had requested to see the project which has currently been submitted for approval to the Conseil d’Etat. The president of the chateau de Versailles explained to us in an e-mail dated 1st April 2010 that he could not grant us such a request, at the same time confirming what he had said last July, that the “statute of Versailles reflects the agreement between the text and the reality of maintaining the Establishment since 1995.”

However, we were able to see a copy of the text [1], considered highly confidential, which Jean-Jacques Aillagon had refused to reveal. The contents are in total contradiction with his statement. Rather than approving an existing reality and not changing the power of the Director general who, let us remember, was a heritage curator, he has eliminated this position, transformed it into “Museum director” and taken away most of the power this position held within the Etablissement public. If this statute, validated by the Ministry of Culture, were to pass as it stands now, we would once again be witnessing a new stage in the loss of power of art historians over museums, to such an extent that there is no exaggeration in saying that this is in fact cause for scandal.

Readers can judge for themselves by comparing the present statute, already unfavorable to curators, and the upcoming one which relegates the “museum director” to a simple executive capacity, at the same level as the other directors (communications, public relations, human resources, etc.).

In the preamble, of the seven missions defined for Public Establishments [2], five are purely scholarly goals, one (the third) in a very large way and the sixth, which consists in organizing music, theatre or ballet events, is to be carried out in the most compatible manner possible with the conservation of the chateau and its vocation as a museum. The president (who in fact directs more than he presides) of a Public establishment with such specific missions should obviously be an art historian. This is not the case in the current statute, and will be even less so in the new one.

In the previous statute, the Directeur general appeared starting with article 2-2. Indeed, it was clear that “the composition and the functioning of the acquisitions commission, presided by the Directeur general of the Public establishment, are defined by order of the Minister in charge of Culture.”

The president was appointed for three years on a renewable basis. In the new statute (article 10), he will have a five-year term and can then be renewed for three year periods indefinitely. This is not a problem, as quite obviously three years is not long enough for a first term. However, it is particularly shocking to see that from now on the museum director (formerly Directeur general) – whose name appears only as of article 19 – is appointed for three years and that his term will only be renewable twice. Here we have the first cause for scandal : the president of Versailles, who is not a scholar, can see his position renewed indefinitely whereas the curator in charge of the collections will be obliged to leave the post after a maximum of nine years ! The “administrateur general”, whom we will discuss further on, can also be reappointed indefinitely [3].

This same article – number 10 – states that the president “presides over the board of directors and directs the establishment.” So, as in the case of the Louvre, this is indeed a president-director. Except that the statutes for the Louvre state – but for how long perhaps ? – that the president-director is “appointed on the basis of his scholarly abilities”.

The director general played a role in the board of directors. He could ask the president to convene the board of directors and “in case the president was absent or unable to do so, the director general could convene the board of directors.” None of these prerogatives remain available to the museum director, and only the “administrateur general” may “in case of a vacancy, an absence or impediment on the part of the president” convene the board of directors.

A list of the president’s prerogatives appears a bit further. In the previous version of the statutes, there were 11 points. In the new one, there are 14. The president presides, but above all, he directs, and he directs everything. In the former statute, article 19 described the responsibilities of the director general stating that he “assisted the president in his tasks.” It was clear that he “directs the scholarly conservation department mentioned in article 4 of the current decree. He is responsible for the conservation, protection, restoration, management, enhancement and presentation to the public of the collections listed in the inventories of the national museum of the chateaux of Versailles and the Trianon, their annexes, as well as the scholarly study of said collections and the architecture of the buildings and the gardens defined in article 7 of the present decree. He suggests an exhibitions and cultural events program for the museum.” The text stated further that he could “delegate his signature to the administrator general, to the persons in charge of establishment offices as well as to the establishment curators” thus confirming, in fact, that he was indeed the number two man in the museum hierarchy. The following article, describing the role of the administrator general – much more succinctly – stated that this person was “under the authority of the president and, for those matters concerning his field, the director general.” The latter was ambiguously stated since in the case of certain missions the administrator did not come under the director general, but the hierarchy was nonetheless quite clear.

In a very obvious manner, the new statutes also provide a very precise order : but here the hierarchy is totally reversed. The administrator general, whose responsibilities are described (article 18) before those of the museum director, is “under the authority of the president [and] he is in charge of the administration and the management of the domain.” Furthermore : “as delegated by the president, he sees to managing the establishment offices.”

On the other hand, the position of museum director is reduced to the part we quoted in italics in the first statute. Clearly, he is now only one of many directors, accountable both to the president and to the administrator general. Though he may still preside, as in the previous statute, the establishment’s scholarly commission, its composition is so altered that its role is totally different, to the detriment once again of the scholars. Indeed, this commission which was formerly made up of “curators of the museum and of the domain as well as chief architects for historical monuments and architects of Batiments de France specialized in the chateau and the domain” is now made up of only “three museum curators and the director of the research center for the chateau de Versailles” and “of the director in charge of cultural and educational activities, the director of the research center for the chateau de Versailles and three qualified figures appointed by the Minister in charge of Culture, following suggestions put forth by directors heading French museums and heritage”. This includes five acknowledged scholars and, potentially, five members who may not be particularly competent in art history. Altogether, this would comprise a very curious “scholarly board”. Moreover, this “scholarly board” would only meet twice a year whereas the frequency of the meetings was not strictly defined before. In short, the scholarly board will not intervene as much as before (should it ever feel the urge to do so) in the president’s decision making.

1. Present organizational chart of the Public
establishment of Versailles as found on its website.

2. Future organizational chart of the Public
establishment of Versailles based on the new statutes project.

Although Jean-Jacques Aillagon has, as we wrote recently (see article in French), emphasized curator activity more than his predecessor, this has in no way kept him from concocting, while claiming the exact opposite, this absolutely scandalous text for a Public establishment headed by a person who is no longer a scholar. Aillagon is not a graduate of the ENA but he acts as if he were. If this code of statutes were to be applied tomorrow, we would not find ourselves with one ENA graduate running Versailles as is the case already for other museums, but two [4]. A comparison between the current organizational chart (ill. 1) and the one based on the new statutes project (ill. 2) is very enlightening as concerns the role of conservation.

The worst is not inevitable. The Conseil d’Etat still has to validate the text and it will then have to be approved by the Council of Ministers. The fact that the Minister of Culture has allowed such a project to be presented is very surprising. Perhaps he has not read it thoroughly [5]. In any case, he would be wise to oppose it staunchly. The moral of the story, if there is one, might be the following : if this new statute is finally applied, as Jean-Jacques Aillagon wishes, it will probably benefit only his successor, whoever that may be. Meaning that life sometimes resembles one of La Fontaine’s fables.

Didier Rykner, lundi 3 mai 2010


[1] And which had been available to the Sud worker’s union since at least last November.

[2] Article 2 : As concerns its scholarly and cultural project, the Etablissement public du chateau et du domaine national de Versailles has the following missions : 1. Conserve, protect, restore on behalf of the nation and manage, enhance and present to the public the historical domains of Versailles and Marly, the chateaux of Versailles and Trianon, the collections defined in ‘article 1 for which it is responsible as well as the domain made up of the assets belonging to the nation which the latter has put at its disposal. 2. Contribute to enriching national collections by acquiring cultural goods, on behalf of the state, whether through expenditures or for free. 3. Welcome the largest public possible inside the chateaux, museums and domains for which it is responsible, and by any appropriate means, developing attendance, increasing knowledge of these and of the collections, creating and implementing pedagogical activity so as to ensure equal access to culture for all. 4. Guarantee the scholarly study of its collections, the architecture of its buildings and gardens. 5. Contribute to education, training and research in the field of history, art history, museography, music, musicology and other stage arts. 6. Organize events, notably music, theater or ballet in the chateaux, museum and domains. 7. Conserve, protect, restore, enrich on behalf of the nation, the library collections and archives of the Musee national des chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon and its annexes, for which it is responsible. We point out that number 7 is new, that it went without saying but that there is no harm in stating it clearly.

[3] Not to mention the chief architects who seem to be appointed for life.

[4] The Louvre statute comes close to the one suggested for Versailles, with the fundamental exception, mentioned already above, that the president “is appointed based on his scholarly abilities”. In fact, there is no “museum director” as the president himself is the museum director. The same applies at the Musee d’Orsay, the Musee Guimet…As the situation stands now, neither Jean-Jacques Aillagon, Xavier Darcos, Alain Seban, nor Stephane Martin could become president of the Louvre, Orsay or Guimet. Let us hope this continues to be the case : if not, these museums could also very well be directed by two ENA graduates.

[5] We would also like to point out that the previous statutes stated clearly (article 11) that the works belonging to the Public establishment are part of the nation’s public domain and, on this basis, are inalienable. This constituted further protection of the works. The new statute no longer provides this definition, a far from innocent fact, since Jean-Jacques Aillagon has stated several times that he is not favorable to the inalienability of public collections.

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