Early next year, after a nearly $170 million redevelopment, Paris’s 130-year-old Bourse de Commerce will reopen as a contemporary art museum. Unlike the world-famous state-funded museums nearby against which it hopes to measure up — namely, the Louvre and the Pompidou Center — this one will be financed by one man: the French billionaire François Pinault, whose collection consists of about 5,000 works by artists such as Jeff Koons, Cy Twombly, and Cindy Sherman.
Pinault, 82, is the founder of the company that eventually became the Kering luxury-goods group. His family holding company also controls the auction house Christie’s, among several other assets. He already has two exhibition venues in Venice. Now he’s transforming the Bourse — a circular exchange building where wheat, sugar and other commodities were once traded — into the latest and most conspicuous vitrine for his collection.
It will be Paris’s second billionaire-funded art space after the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which was inaugurated in 2014 by Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive of the rival luxury-goods group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
In a country where museums are basically offshoots of central government and where private sponsorship of culture was long considered self-interested and suspect, the opening of the two art spaces signals a cultural shift. As France’s museums face austerity-driven cutbacks and struggle to satisfy a public thirst for contemporary art, private money is becoming increasingly important.
In a recent interview after he toured the Bourse construction site, Pinault boldly positioned his future space among Paris’s leading cultural landmarks. “Near here, there’s a great museum, the Louvre, which I’m not going to try to imitate: That would be pretentious,” he said. “And not far away, there’s the Pompidou Center, a great museum of the 20th century.”
“What I would like is for the Bourse de Commerce to be a place to show the art of today,” he added.
Pinault said that the Bourse “could be an interesting complement to existing institutions”, because French museums had slow decision-making processes that made it hard for them to buy contemporary art: Prices can quickly inflate while curators and administrators debate acquisitions. “Only a madman like me can decide to buy them fast,” he said.
From afar, the iron-domed Bourse — set in the onetime market quarter of Les Halles — looks like just another 19th-century Paris edifice. But inside, the listed building (inaugurated in 1889, the same year as the Eiffel Tower) is unexpectedly monumental, with a vast rotunda and a high cupola that recall the Pantheon in Rome.
The Pritzker Prize-winning architect hired to lead the transformation, Tadao Ando of Japan, said in an interview that he wished to preserve that Pantheon-like feel because he was a longstanding admirer of the nearly 2,000-year-old Roman monument, with its high dome and central opening that let in the sun and the rain and made the visitor feel one with nature.
Rather than carve up the rotunda into multiple spaces, Ando has placed a 30-foot-high concrete cylinder inside it to be the Bourse’s main exhibition gallery. Immediately above the cylinder will be a promenade from which visitors will be able to gaze at the dome and at the 19th-century wraparound wall painting beneath, produced by five artists and representing trade between the continents.
The museum’s half-dozen other galleries will be located next to the rotunda and on the first and second floors of the Bourse building. A basement auditorium is also being installed.
© 2019 The New York Times