Pinault set to shelve plans for Paris art gallery

20th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 20 (AFP) - Fears were growing in the French art world Wednesday that billionaire businessman Francois Pinault is to drop plans for a new gallery in Paris to house his major collection of modern works, acquiring instead an 18th century palace in Venice.

PARIS, April 20 (AFP) - Fears were growing in the French art world Wednesday that billionaire businessman Francois Pinault is to drop plans for a new gallery in Paris to house his major collection of modern works, acquiring instead an 18th century palace in Venice.

The 69-year-old tycoon - owner of Gucci, Christie's auction house and the FNAC chain of media stores - emerged as frontrunner this week to acquire the magnificent Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal which was used as a cultural showcase by Fiat before being bought by the city authorities in 2003.

But if the Venice sale is approved as expected next week, it could spell the end to a five-year-old project to build France's biggest privately-funded museum - and cast a discouraging shadow over future attempts at cultural philanthropy in the country.

In 2000 the businessman - a close friend of President Jacques Chirac - announced lavish plans to build a EUR 150 million (USD 195 million) Fondation Pinault on the site of a disused Renault car factory on an island in the river Seine five kilometres (three miles) downstream from the Eiffel Tower.

He hired Japanese architect Tadao Ando to produce an ambitious design shaped like an ocean liner, and hoped to have the building ready this year for his treasury of late 20th century art which includes works by Miro, Pollock and Jeff Koons as well as British artists Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

But members of Pinault's entourage this week blamed the municipal authorities in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt for adopting a lukewarm attitude to the proposed investment, and delaying construction through a succession of administrative obstacles.

Building has yet to get under way after a ceremony to mark the laying of the first stone last month was cancelled.

"I have the feeling that Francois Pinault is disappointed by the behaviour of the town of Boulogne-Billancourt which has not exactly been enthusiastic for his ideas," former culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon, who was till recently an adviser on the museum project, told Le Monde newspaper.

"The authorities appear to be totally uninterested in the museum. We weren't asking them to roll out the red carpet, but at least to push forward the development of the site. We were offering an exceptional collection ... and no-one followed," a member of Pinault's team said anonymously in Liberation newspaper.

The same paper reported that Pinault has made up his mind to locate his collection in the Palazzo Grassi, and will ask Ando to design an extra exhibition space on the site of a theatre which lies next to the palace.

Art world insiders in Paris reacted with dismay to the potential loss of the collection, and deplored France's inability to grasp cultural opportunities such as that offered by Pinault.

"If Pinault decides he has to move the museum to Venice, it will be because he has been so discouraged by the attitude of the public authorities here," Catherine Millet, editor of Artpress magazine and author of the international best-seller "The Sexual life of Catherine M," told AFP.

"Once again we miss the boat. This was a great project - a foundation set up by a private citizen that could be an example to encourage others. If it fails, it will be a terrible message," she said.

Paris recently failed in a bid to house the archives of the German photographer Helmut Newton, despite his known love of the city. Unable to elicit the response he hoped for, the photographer - who died in January 2004 - chose Berlin instead.

"Despite all the rhetoric about promoting modern art, I don't think this country has changed its attitude. People still despise it. And they think a rich businessman like Pinault should put his money into good social causes rather than in what they see as a load of rubbish," said Millet.

The town hall of Boulogne-Billancourt, which is controlled by Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, refused to comment on the speculation that Pinault may be about to pull the plug on the gallery.

A spokeswoman told AFP that long procedures were inevitable as the Fondation Pinault forms only part of a much wider redevelopment covering the whole of the Ile Seguin as well as a section of river bank. Two objections filed by residents' groups were resolved last week, she said.

"As far as we are concerned, our teams continue to work with Pinault's teams. If the project collapses it will not be because of anything we have done," she said.

The Palazzo Grassi, which was built in 1730, and its theatre annex are considerably smaller than the plans for the Fondation Pinault, leading to speculation that the tycoon may disperse his 2,500 pieces among several European sites.

Aillagon has recently held discussions in the northern French city of Lille and in Berlin, French newspapers reported.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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