BY Tom Jeffreys in Opinion | 16 AUG 17
Featured in
Issue 189

City Lights

The boom in Paris's private art foundations

BY Tom Jeffreys in Opinion | 16 AUG 17

Behind the construction hoardings, Paris’s art scene is changing. If you stand on the narrow rue du Plâtre in the Marais, one of the city’s oldest quarters, and look up, you can just glimpse the scrubbed-clean facade of a handsome 19th-century former warehouse. The building, currently undergoing extensive internal alterations courtesy of architect Rem Koolhaas, will, from early 2018, play host to Lafayette Anticipations, an arts centre committed to both the exhibition and production of new works of art.

Its focus on production makes Lafayette Anticipations unique in Paris. Funded entirely by Groupe Galeries Lafayette, the body behind the leading French department store, the foundation has already trailed the new building with a diverse programme of events since 2013. Once open, Koolhaas’s complex, flexible design will contain not only exhibition spaces capable of 49 different configurations (plus a restaurant and shop) but also a basement suite of well-equipped workshops and facilities for artists, designers and other creative professionals. It is being billed as ‘the first multidisciplinary centre of its kind in France’.

Lafayette Anticipations is not the only private foundation coming soon to Paris. This autumn, the Musées Yves Saint Laurent will open in Paris and Marrakech. Further down the line, François Pinault has announced that the former Bourse de commerce is to become the new home for his collection. It is scheduled to open in 2019, following a radical interior refit by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who will insert a concrete cylinder inside the existing circular, domed structure – one of the grandest buildings in Paris. Already up and running is Le fonds de dotation agnès b, created in 2009 to synthesize the numerous cultural initiatives of the French designer. In 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton opened its huge, Frank Gehry-designed museum in the Bois de Boulogne to the west of Paris. Its recent exhibition of modern art from the Shchukin Collection drew 1.2 million visitors.

Digital rendering of Tadeo Ando’s design for the new Pinault Collection space at the former Bourse de commerce, Paris, 2017. © Artefactory Lab, Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, NeM / Niney & Marca Architects, and Agence Pierre-Antoine Gatier. Courtesy: Collection Pinault-Paris

Many have attributed this burgeoning of private-sector investment to a piece of legislation introduced in 2003 under President Jacques Chirac. Nicknamed the ‘Loi Aillagon’ after the then culture minister, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the law introduced generous tax incentives for corporations and individuals in line with similar initiatives in Germany and the UK. Within a decade, donations in France from businesses and individuals tripled from €1 billion in 2004 to €3 billion in 2012.

But the ‘Loi Aillagon’ is not the only explanation. One of Paris’s most innovative foundations, Kadist, is not registered in France, so this legislation does not apply. Founded in 2006 by venture capitalist Vincent Worms – and now with a gallery in San Francisco as well as project space, residency and office space in Paris – Kadist, like Lafayette,  places an emphasis on experimentation and the production of new work. Support from Kadist involves not only introductions to the foundation’s international network of influential arts professionals but also significant financing, via acquisitions for its collection or production support. One recent example is Pierre Bal-Blanc’s perfomance Collective Exhibition for a Single Body (2017), which the foundation coproduced for documenta 14 in Athens. The approach of both foundation and artists is often experimental: in 2013, Nicolás Paris turned Kadist’s street-facing gallery into a school and, in 2016, Shooshie Sulaiman transformed it into a garden. A 2013–14 project, ‘Collection in Residency’, saw Kadist loan parts of its collection to Beirut Art Center in Cairo. ‘Sending works to Cairo at that time was very complicated,’ says curator Léna Monnier, ‘but that was part of the point. It was an experimental project that a museum could not have done.’

High costs make life in Paris tough for artists; this new wave of private foundations provides a vital lifeline.

Meanwhile, several private foundations pre-date the legislation. The Cartier Foundation, for example, was founded in 1984 and now hosts exhibitions and events in a large glass building designed by Jean Nouvel in 1994. Then, in 1999, came the launch of the Prix Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, France’s first major contemporary art prize, courtesy of the Pernod Ricard Group drinks conglomerate. Ricard now also has a gallery in the centre of Paris and finances a diverse array of other activities, too: the foundation, which does not have its own collection, supports acquisitions for Centre Pompidou, for example, publishes poetry and artists’ books, and funds an artist fellowship programme in Paris. Launching later this year is TextWork, for which the foundation is commissioning experienced writers to produce monographic articles about artists based in France. The project will launch with five texts, collated online, on artists including Eva Barto and Neïl Beloufa.

Such diversity demonstrates one of the strengths of private foundations, which are unbound by the requirements that (quite rightly) accompany public funding or the demands of a historic collection. This is especially pronounced at Galerie Azzedine Alaïa, where the great designer himself is at the heart of all programming decisions and sees everyone involved as part of an extended family.

It is true, too, of the gloriously eccentric Musée de la Chasse et la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature), part of the Fondation François Sommer, which was founded in 1967 by the eponymous industrialist and avid hunter. Following a seachange in attitudes towards hunting and species loss, the museum was radically reconfigured ten years ago and now has artistic thinking around human relationships with the natural world at its heart. The museum today is a rich melange of historic objects, taxidermy, tapestry and contemporary art. The museum’s director, Claude d’Anthenaise, credits the foundation for providing ‘financial autonomy and […] flexibility [in] the decision-making procedures’. ‘It helped to conceive something more personal,’ he told me.

Nonetheless, praise for such private initiatives should not come at the expense of Paris’s great tradition of public funding for cultural institutions. Rather, these different ways of operating should be complementary, and, indeed, many of the city’s private foundations work closely with museums in France and internationally. Both public and private initiatives are now necessary, along with a diverse mix of commercial galleries, artist-run spaces, universities and art fairs, in order to ensure a thriving arts ecosystem. Like any city, Paris has its problems: high costs make life in the capital tough for artists, while French cultural funding remains weighted too much towards historic institutions rather than individual artists. But this new wave of private foundations provides artists with a vital lifeline. And for the lover of contemporary art, Paris is now more diverse than ever. 

Main image: Pierre Guyotat, ‘La matière de nos oeuvres’ (The Stuff of our Works), 2016, exhibition view at Galerie Azzedine Alaïa, Paris. Courtesy: Galerie Azzedine Alaïa, Paris

Tom Jeffreys is a writer based in Edinburgh. He is the author of two books: The White Birch: A Russian Reflection (Little, Brown, 2021) and Signal Failure: London to Birmingham, HS2 on foot (Influx Press, 2017).