The ambiguous exhibitions at the city’s museums in Paris

At the time of the Bréguet exhibition at the Louvre, we had denounced it as more of a business operation than a cultural event, a tribute to the company but with little artistic foundation (see article in French). At least the (unofficial) reason for this bending of professional ethics had been the effort to obtain the patronage of Swatch, the owner of the brand.

Last spring and summer, the Yves Saint-Laurent retrospective occupied a large section of the Petit Palais for six months, an unusual length of time for an exhibition. Although its legitimacy was undebatable since Yves Saint-Laurent was a veritable artist, we did not really understand why the show was welcomed by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris when there is in fact a municipal museum for fashion – the Palais Galliéra – and a Musée municipal d’Art Moderne, two institutions which were more appropriate for presenting a 20th century fashion designer, rather than a museum of traditional art with collections which end with the early 20th century. We had inquired about this choice at the Museum’s communications office. The immediate response was “Because Pierre Bergé wanted it”. We did not know that Pierre Bergé was in any way authorized to program exhibitions for Parisian museums. Pierre Bergé wanted it and asked his friend Bertrand Delanoé ! How very natural !

This blending of genres, this patronizing to friends and this use of museums is not an isolated case in Paris. At the moment, the Musée Carnavalet is offering an exhibition highlighting Louis Vuitton. The cultural pretext is rather slim, the connection to Paris very tenuous. There is not even the prospect of obtaining money for the museum as LVMH, owner of Louis Vuitton, only paid for the organizational expenses.
So then, why did the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Paris participate in this communications operation ? We thought that the answer would be found at City Hall where the assistant to the Mayor in charge of Culture is no other than Christophe Girard, also Director for Strategy at the LVMH fashion department. Jean-Marc Léri, the director at Carnavalet, with whom we spoke, told us with great conviction that this was not the case and that the project originated during a discussion with Raphaël Gérard, the curator of the Vuitton collections. Apparently, he thought of the project before knowing, he told us, Christophe Girard’s ties to Louis Vuitton. So be it.

The fact remains that the exhibition nevertheless raises many questions both in its content as well as in the accompanying marketing campaign. Bernard Hasquenoh, on his site Louvre pour tous, after a thorough investigation, wrote a remarkable article which is well worth reading and which reveals some controversial practices.
Using a municipal museum for the exclusive promotion of a business company now seems to have become an acquired practice in Parisian museums : until last 17 October, the Petit Palais offered an “exhibition” entitled Révélations of its flat screens showing enlargements of famous paintings in a continuous presentation [1]. The exhibition did not reveal any major discovery, no real works were on display, everything was virtual, except for the very real presence of the brand. There were even paintings in digitized relief visible through 3D glasses. There was nothing instructive about the works themselves, visitors did not learn anything about the art but were in fact exposed to advertising for Samsung flat screen television sets.

Indeed, the event took place in the large gallery to the right of the main entrance hall which we have already said remains scandalously empty and should be used to present art works but it is reserved for rental to private companies. This Salon High Tech, a private event, was organized in just this way but claiming it as a scholarly exhibition showcased by the museum.

Didier Rykner, mardi 26 octobre 2010


[1] See also the articlewhich Rue 89 published about this exhibition.

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