As French cultural institutions reopen after months of coronavirus restrictions, a spectacular new museum has made its debut in Paris, housing the contemporary art collection of French billionaire Francois Pinault, including a number of prominent Black artists.
A chandelier shaped like a basketball net, by American artist David Hammons, a slow-burning wax replica of a 16th century sculpture aimed to melt completely in six months, the works of Chinese-born painter Xinyi Cheng and British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye — the Pinault Collection is an eclectic mix of contemporary art.
"It’s giving different kind of offers to a general public in Paris, but being more of today, so to speak," said Curator Caroline Bourgeois. "We are focused on today’s question. Even David Hammons is 70s years old, but he speaks a lot of today.”
Bourgeois says the private Pinault Collection complements the raft of other Paris museums, offering completely contemporary works focusing on young artists. This opening exhibit is just a taste of the 10,000 artworks 84-year-old Francois Pinault has collected over the years.
A number of them include a number Black artists like Hammons — a friend of Pinault's, with this show including about 30 of his works. But Bougeois says showcasing race or gender is not the point.
"We don’t want to put them ghettos, to show them just as women artists. This is unfair," Bourgeois said. "Or to show the Black artists as Black artists only. This is also unfair. For us, it’s important that they can dialogue — the dialogues between the generations, the origin…”
This Pars museum embodies a years-long goal by Pinault, a self-made billionaire from humble origins in Brittany. As other European museums struggle to stay afloat after months of coronavirus closures, this one sank nearly $200 million into redeveloping a former Paris grain exchange to house it.
It’s an amazing space — rented for 50 years from the city of Paris. The building’s circular shape is inspired by Roman monuments. The top offers views of Paris—including the Pompidou Center, which also offers contemporary as well as earlier, modern art.
Restored 19th-century frescoes flank the ceiling, depicting colonial-era trade. It’s a sharp and studied contrast with this collection.
Outside, there’s a long line to get in, even on a weekday afternoon. For those lucky enough to get tickets these first days, it’s a discovery.
Francoise, who didn’t want to give her last name, says she knows some of Pinault’s collection from his museums in Venice. This one is luminous, she says, and beautiful.
It’s like reliving after months of lockdown, her friend Jocelyne adds. You can’t imagine what it’s like to see art everywhere.
Curator Bourgeois says she’s been moved by the many visitors who thank her.
"The most beautiful compliment I had about this first show is that it’s made for everyone. And I had that a few times," said Bourgeois. "That everyone can recognize themselves."
She won’t say when or what the next exhibit will be. This one is called “Ouvert” or “open” — a word that suggests many things.