The Gift of Glory

New museum boost Paris' claim to be a mod­ern art cap­i­tal


One of the world’s big­gest art col­lec­tors un­veiled last month his plans for a spec­tac­u­lar new museum in Paris, ce­ment­ing the city’s claim to be a mod­ern art cap­i­tal.

French bil­lion­aire François Pin­ault will show his $1.4 bil­lion (€1.25 bil­lion) col­lec­tion of mod­ern masters in the domed Bourse de Com­merce, within a stone’s throw of the Lou­vre, long the world’s most vis­ited museum. The new gallery, which he said would open in early 2019, is also within sight of the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre, which houses Europe’s largest mod­ern art col­lec­tion.

Paris Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo called the museum “an im­mense gift” to the French cap­i­tal and told re­porters that it would help put the city back at the top of the mod­ern art tree.

Pin­ault, 80, holds an enor­mous trove of ab­stract and con­tem­po­rary mas­ter­pieces in a 3,500-piece col­lec­tion that goes from Mark Rothko to Damien Hirst. He owns the auc­tion house Christie’s, built a fash­ion em­pire that con­tains la­bels like Gucci, Saint Lau­rent, and Ba­len­ci­aga, and al­ready has his own pri­vate museum in Venice. But he has been try­ing for decades to find a home for his col­lec­tion in Paris. That de­sire sharp­ened when his great busi­ness ri­val Bernard Ar­nault, who con­trols the LVMH lux­ury goods con­glom­er­ate, opened the Frank Gehry-de­signed Louis Vuit­ton Foun­da­tion for his art col­lec­tion in 2014.

Pin­ault has com­mis­sioned an­other Pritzker-win­ning ar­chi­tect, the Ja­panese mas­ter Tadao Ando, to con­vert the mag­nif­i­cent 19th-cen­tury Bourse de Com­merce, which sits on the edge of Paris’ former cen­tral mar­ket district.

“Epi­cen­ter” of world cul­ture

Ando com­pared the cir­cu­lar build­ing to the an­cient Pan­theon in Rome. He said the con­crete cylin­der he plans for the in­side of the build­ing would be “the cul­tural epi­cen­ter of Paris which, in turn, is the epi­cen­ter of cul­ture in the world.” He said he would create three floors of gal­leries un­der the build­ing’s dome, whose spec­tac­u­lar fres­cos rep­re­sent­ing trade with the five con­ti­nents are also be­ing re­stored.

The former corn ex­change is a part of a one-bil­lion-euro ur­ban re­newal project to give what Hi­dalgo calls a “new beat­ing heart” to the city’s Les Halles district. Paris’ beau­ti­ful cen­tral mar­ket was bull­dozed in the ’70s to make way for an air­less un­der­ground shop­ping com­plex and trans­port hub, which many Parisians loathe. But a vast new steel-and-glass canopy un­veiled last year to put a lid on the prob­lem has also been de­rided, with one critic brand­ing it a “cus­tard-col­ored flop.”

Asked ear­lier if he was go­ing to ex­pand his col­lec­tion to fill the new space, Pin­ault said, “When you see a new work, you have to know when to jump on it. The big pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions can­not do that.

“We are a museum in move­ment and (will be) very com­ple­men­tary to the ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions,” he added.

In 2001, Pin­ault handed the reins of his em­pire to his son François-Henri, who is mar­ried to Hol­ly­wood star Salma Hayek. Since then, the man once de­scribed as “the most pow­er­ful in the art world” has mostly ded­i­cated him­self to his art col­lec­tion, in­stalling it in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and two other his­toric build­ings there.

The Venice venues will work in tan­dem with the new Paris gallery, sources close to the col­lec­tor said. •

From top: French busi­ness­man Fran­cois Pin­ault; a model of the project of the fu­ture museum; the former stock ex­change build­ing dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion of the project.

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