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Last Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Art row adds to French PM's woes
By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC Europe correspondent

Whatever he does at the moment, it seems French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin cannot get it right.

French PM Dominique de Villepin visits the Power of Art exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris
Mr de Villepin, in trouble politically, now has art to contend with
In March, after weeks of protests and mass strikes, he was forced to withdraw his labour reform proposals.

Now the French media and several opposition politicians are demanding he resign after his name became embroiled in the "Clearstream" scandal.

He has strongly denied allegations that he targeted his main rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, in an investigation into possible kickbacks from an arms deal with Taiwan.

But how could the poet prime minister go wrong with a little dabbling in some harmless art?

In October last year, Mr de Villepin dreamt up a grand project to be staged in the Grand Palais in Paris.

It was to be a great exhibition of Gallic contemporary art, designed to boost the French art market in the international sale rooms and show off France's leading painters and artists.


La force de l'art (The Power of Art) is France's answer to Tony Blair's 1990s Cool Britannia - except that it has had a cool reception.

Some artists have decided to boycott the event, angry that the government should interfere in the arts and that it is attempting to declare an "official" French style.

Painting by French artist Sylvie Fajfrowska at La Force de l'Art (Power of Art) exhibition
Some 350 works are on show, including this by Sylvie Fajfrowska
"Politically the show has very uncomfortable overtones," says Eric Meyer, the editor of Arts Magazine.

"It makes us think of times long ago when Louis XIV would select [court] painters and declare which artists were good enough to paint for the king.

"Art is about freedom and should not be mixed up with politics... Art is often about making political statements, about saying something which is perhaps not politically correct.

"I can understand why some artists do not want to be associated with a government show."


One of the exhibition's curators from the ministry of culture, Bernard Blistene, describes the six-week display as "a showcase for all that is best in modern France".

Despite the fact that some of the installations are uncomfortable - a video film of someone undergoing plastic surgery, super-sized skeletons towering over pretend wind farms, series of photographs of immigrant street protests - Mr Blistene denies the exhibition gives an impression of a country in pain and turmoil and refutes the idea that the show is a political comment on the state of France.

"This show is about reality and shows France as a diverse society. It's an exciting exhibition. Art is always about politics of course - you can never find art that isn't political."

Gerard Fromanger, an established painter, withdrew his work from the exhibition this month.

He declined to give an interview to the BBC about his decision.

But he has been quoted before in French newspapers saying that while he has admired Mr de Villepin in the past, especially when the minister stood up to the US over going to war in Iraq, he does not believe the show has been well thought-out or that enough artists were consulted.

Art critics have also complained the show is too rushed and that it is a crude attempt to try to recreate the famous Pompidou Expo of 1972.

Eric Meyer suggests perhaps the poet prime minister has got a little carried away by it all.

"We all have our hobbies, you know - and poetry - well, that's very nice. But I think the prime minister maybe has other concerns to deal with. At the moment in France we have many crises - I think Mr de Villepin has other priorities. "

Profile: Dominique de Villepin
11 Apr 06 |  Europe

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