A Self-Styled ‘Troublemaker’ Creates a Different Paris Museum

PARIS — François Pinault, the French billionaire, has by no means had a lot time for conference. “Avoid the paths already trodden,” has been his motto. Bored with buying Impressionist or Cubist works with surefire credentials, he stated to himself 4 a long time in the past: “It’s impossible that we have become so stupid today that there are no human beings alive capable of creating tomorrow’s masterpieces.”

The fruits of that conviction at the moment are on show in a modern artwork museum that opened in Paris on Saturday underneath the cupola of the Bourse de Commerce. With the Louvre to 1 aspect and the Pompidou Center to the opposite, this upstart within the cultural lifetime of Paris combines custom and modernity.

The redevelopment of the constructing price $170 million.Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times

Once a grain trade, the light-filled constructing has undergone a $170 million redevelopment conceived by the Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architect Tadao Ando, who beforehand labored with Pinault on the Palazzo Grassi in Venice. Ando put in a 108-foot-diameter concrete cylinder contained in the central rotunda, creating a core show space whereas retaining the framework of the unique.

“A palimpsest of French history,” as Martin Bethenod, the museum’s director, put it.

No layer of the palimpsest has been hid. Restored 19th-century frescoes beneath the dome illustrate the worldwide commerce of the time. Titled “Triumphal France,” they quantity to a primer within the demeaning stereotypes of a Eurocentric colonized world the place white merchants did enterprise with bare-chested African warriors.

The juxtaposition with the various works within the galleries beneath by Black American artists, together with David Hammons and Kerry James Marshall, is potent. Their items, pushed by reflection on the grotesqueness and lasting wounds of racism, appear charged by the setting.

Transience is a theme. Nothing lasts, but nothing is solely gone. At the middle of the museum’s preliminary exhibition stands a wax duplicate of the 16th-century Giambologna statue “The Abduction of the Sabine Women,” three writhing figures intertwined. Created by the Swiss artist Urs Fischer, it was set alight on the museum’s opening on Saturday and can burn for six months, leaving nothing behind.

The Swiss artist Urs Fischer created a wax duplicate of the 16th-century Giambologna statue “The Abduction of the Sabine Women.”Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York TimesFischer’s work was set alight on the museum’s opening on Saturday; the sculpture will soften away over the following six months.Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times

So a excessive mannerist masterpiece turns into an elaborate big candle: Sic transit gloria mundi. The Bourse de Commerce itself has been rented from Paris City Hall on a 50-year lease — a reminder that the museum’s life span will not be everlasting. Ando’s cylinder is designed in order that it may be eliminated as soon as the lease expires.

Pinault, 84, a self-styled “troublemaker,” has all the time been extra eager about disruption than permanence.

Born in rural Brittany, he went on to parlay a small timber enterprise into a $42 billion diversified luxury-goods conglomerate, together with manufacturers like Gucci and Saint Laurent. I requested him about time passing. “Well, I am like everyone: As you grow older, that issue gnaws at you a little, but I am not obsessed by the time that may be left to me,” he stated in an interview. “I hope it will be as long as possible.”

How, he requested, can anybody take himself for essential, confronted by the sweep of historical past? “Humility must be worked on with a pumice stone every day,” he stated. “The ego is something that grows if you don’t apply weed killer.”

Behind him in his workplace on the Bourse de Commerce hangs “SEPT.13, 2001,” a work in black and white by the Japanese artist On Kawara. It is a reminder that the unimaginable can occur — that as Victor Hugo put it, “Nothing is more imminent than the impossible.” Yet life continues nonetheless.

“The ego is something that grows if you don’t apply weed killer,” stated François Pinault, the luxurious items billionaire whose assortment is on present on the Bourse de Commerce.Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times

For Pinault, the venture represents a long-held ambition to deal with a few of his greater than 10,000 works by artists together with Cy Twombly, Cindy Sherman, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons and Marlene Dumas in a Paris museum. That effort started about 20 years in the past with plans, later aborted, to take over a disused Renault automobile manufacturing unit within the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt.

Although Sherman’s work is on outstanding show — together with a haunting of a platinum-blonde lady, again turned, standing on a abandoned American freeway together with her suitcase beside her in a shadowy half-light — the exhibition doesn’t dwell on the giants of the Pinault Collection, as if the primary intention have been to jolt Parisians rising from months of coronavirus lockdown with an injection of the brand new and little recognized in France.

Pinault stated he had met David Hammons, a usually reclusive artist who got here of age within the 1960s and ’70s, greater than 30 years in the past. Hammons discovered that Pinault was the uneducated son of a peasant from a small Breton village. “He said we were alike, and I burst out laughing and told him, ‘Well, not exactly!’”

So was an unlikely friendship born. Its fruit is the greater than 25 Hammons works on present on the Bourse de Commerce.

But what of these murals glorifying European colonization, with Christopher Columbus sweeping down from the sky in a caravel to search out half-naked Native Americans? “We were convinced for a long time that we constituted civilization, the most evolved people,” Pinault stated. “I never accepted that.” In the frescoes, he added, was “the beginning of global commerce, but dominated by Europe and France” — in brief, “everything that a David Hammons detests.”

“Minimum Security” by David Hammons, on show on the Bourse de Commerce.Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times

When the artist was proven a video of the frescoes, and big vintage maps tracing post-slavery commerce routes dominated by European navies, he requested that his “Minimum Security” set up, impressed by a go to to demise row at San Quentin State Prison, be positioned in opposition to this backdrop. The squeaking and clanging of a cell door appears to hold the echo of centuries of oppression.

“Some will criticize us and say it’s shameful,” Pinault stated. “We could have hidden the fresco — you can always hide something, that is cancel culture. And here, a great African-American artist said, ‘Don’t hide it.’”

Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the Pinault Collection’s chief government, stated: “When you show it, that does not mean you approve it. This was the image of trade at that moment, and you can’t think yesterday with the mind of today.”

Art is provocation. With virtually Duchamp-like playfulness, Hammons challenges the viewer to suppose once more, as with “Rubber Dread,” deflated internal tubes woven into dreadlocks. He reimagines detritus.

More works by Hammons on show within the Bourse de Commerce’s galleries.Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times“Untitled” (2012) by Kerry James Marshall.Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times

Kerry James Marshall, one other Black artist whom Pinault has collected for years, appears to upend a entire Western custom — Goya’s “Maya” or Manet’s “Olympia,” — with an untitled portray of a Black man, bare however for his socks, mendacity on a mattress with a sidelong gaze, a Pan-African flag coyly masking his genitals.

Pinault stated that his museum wouldn’t add a lot to Paris, however maybe as a non-public establishment it may transfer quicker whereas the committees at state-owned museums contemplated. “So perhaps you have a collection of things that would not otherwise be here.” Perhaps, sure. He was being modest.

He described himself as a stressed nonconformist: “My roots are under the soles of my shoes.” When life presents one thing essential sufficient to entice you into a journey, he instructed, “you have to take your suitcase, like that woman beside the road in the Cindy Sherman photograph — my favorite.”

A from Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills” collection, in a gallery of the Bourse de Commerce dedicated to pictures.Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times“Amendment,” a 1989 picture collection by Louise Lawler.Credit…Julien Mignot for The New York Times

He was 19 when he left Brittany for the primary time and got here to Paris. He enlisted within the military and went to Algeria, the place battle was raging. It was 1956. A parachutist, he was ordered to comb by means of villages in search of Algerian rebels preventing French colonial dominion. But the rebels have been lengthy gone; all that was left have been homes full of ladies, kids and older folks. Pinault stated he confronted his officer: “What the hell are we doing here? This war is already lost.”

“Shut up, Pinault,” he recalled the officer saying.

But he by no means has shut up. Instead, Pinault has made a fortune, a distinctive assortment of up to date artwork and a life out of anticipation. “Only anticipate” may very well be one other of his mottos. As a end result, Paris, generally a little set in its methods, has one thing totally different, disruptive and difficult on supply on the Bourse de Commerce.