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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Dismay as Paris loses gallery bid
Hugh Schofield
By Hugh Schofield
in Paris

Proposed site for gallery in Paris
Small town mentality? Pinault was put off by Paris's attitude
The French art world is reeling after this week's announcement by the billionaire businessman Francois Pinault that he is pulling the plug on what was to be a major new gallery of contemporary art in Paris.

The 69-year-old tycoon, who is a close friend of President Jacques Chirac, was planning to put on display his 2,500-strong collection of late 20th century works in a futuristic museum to be built on an island in the river Seine.

But on Monday Pinault said that he was so fed up with planning delays and other bureaucratic obstacles that he had decided to stop the whole project.

Instead, his collection - including pieces by Miro, Jackson Pollock and Jeff Koons as well as British artists Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin - will be housed in the magnificent 18th century Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal in Venice, which Pinault bought last month.


It is a devastating blow for the Paris arts scene, which was banking on the Fondation Pinault to put the city back on the international map.

While the French capital can boast two major modern art galleries in the Pompidou Centre and the Palais de Tokyo, it has long since been overtaken as a centre for the creative avant-garde by cities like London and New York.

Once again we miss the boat. This was a great project
Catherine Millet
Editor - Artpress

For many critics the story illustrates France's failure to grasp the importance of private philanthropy in the modern arts world, and its dogged addiction to state subsidy.

"Pinault was so discouraged by the attitude of the public authorities here," said Catherine Millet, editor of Artpress magazine and author of the international best-seller The Sexual Life of Catherine M.

"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. It is a terrible message.

"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," she said.

Time delay

Gallery-owner Emmanuel Perrotin said that "once again it holds up to ridicule the sluggishness of the whole French system".

"Here was someone who wanted to build a museum as big as the Pompidou centre... Seen from abroad, Paris keeps its image as a small town in the provinces."

Francois Pinault
Francois Pinault has been buying modern art for more than 30 years
Even the left-leaning Le Monde newspaper agreed: "The fiasco has sent a clear message, discouraging anyone tempted by a similar adventure.

"It underlines the supreme difficulty of launching an initiative in the field of the arts outside the path of public aid. This situation is untenable. The state cannot do everything."

Pinault - who owns Gucci, Christie's auction house and the FNAC media chain - began buying modern art more than 30 years ago.

Today he owns one of the five or six most important private collections in the world.

Five years ago he first expressed the desire to make the collection available to the public.


He chose a disused Renault factory on the Ile Seguin three miles downstream from the Eiffel Tower and commissioned the Japanese architect Tadao Ando to design a 102m (150 million euro) gallery in the form of a ship's prow.

But in an article this week entitled "I give up" in Le Monde newspaper, Pinault said the authorities in the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt had failed to respond with the necessary enthusiasm.

Art by Jackson Pollock
Work by the artist Jackson Pollock will feature in the collection
The gallery was to be part of a much larger urban development scheme, but none of the surrounding residential and commercial areas has yet been approved for construction and the completion date - originally set for this year - was slipping into the next decade.

"The timeframe of an entrepreneur is his own existence, his age, his impatience to realise his dream," Pinault wrote.

"The timeframe of a bureaucracy is procedure, endless patience with inertia and delay, resignation in the face of red tape."

Later this year Pinault plans to open his first exhibition in the Palazzo Grassi, which was till recently the cultural showcase of the Fiat car firm.

In Venice they can hardly believe their luck.

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