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Interview with Alfred Pacquement, director of Centre Pompidou

Alfred Pacquement

More than 30 years since its inauguration, the Centre Pompidou is aiming to expand beyond the French borders. If its main building has become an icon of one of the most visited cities in the world, the upcoming opening of a new Pompidou in Metz implies a reconsideration of the dialogue between the institution and the French and European scenes.

Its director, Alfred Pacquement, explains in this conversation some details concerning the institution and its future.

AfN: Mr. Pacquement, when is the Pompidou in Metz estimated to open its doors?

We will probably open in the beginning of next year. The exact date is not fixed because the building is not finished yet.

AfN: What will be the relationship between this Pompidou and the one in Paris?

It will be an independent institution but the idea is that the Centre Pompidou-Metz will not build its own collection rather we will lend to this new institution parts of our collection, which will be arranged as temporary exhibitions so that it can show new works regularly and have a rotation based on our very dense and diverse collection.

AfN: Is the Pompidou in Metz an answer to the need for decentralisation in France?

Well, the decentralisation did not wait for the Centre Pompidou-Metz to exist, but it is certainly another step of this political will for important institutions inside the country, certainly in a national but also in a European context. So it participates certainly in this idea of decentralisation and is an important event in that delivery.

AfN: Due to its location in the crossroads between Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, can the Metz centre be considered as an attempt to strengthen the influence of Pompidou beyond the French border?

I would not say influence; I would say we have a curatorial attitude that I think brings an audience from both inside and outside the country. It certainly has a very interesting position in the geography of France in the sense of the relationships with other European countries such as the ones you just mentioned.

AfN: And is there some strategy to expand towards Asia? Is Asian art well represented in your collection?

In Asia we mostly put on exhibitions when we are asked. We recently had a show in Korea on the theme of Arcadia; we took some important works on Arcadia and delivered this exhibition because some institutions in those countries asked us to do so.

And of course we have an international collection; it is more focused on the western world but it is international.

AfN: More than 30 years after the foundation of Pompidou, has there been progress in regards to the assimilation of contemporary art by the general audience?

Well, I think this is a daily and permanent task that is never finished and one you never can be satisfied with, but I think that this institution has certainly improved the knowledge of 20th century art and art of our time despite limitations such as that of education. This has a very important role in the art field but I think that the valued international public that come to our institution shows that there is a growing interest in the art of our period, but there is still of course a lot more to do.

AfN: And do you think the situation in France is different to that of the rest of Europe in this sense, that of the attitude of the masses towards contemporary art?

What I realise is that when we do an exhibition that travels to different countries, the number of visitors is usually higher in Paris than in other main cities, which means probably the public in France, or at least in Paris, is very open to this kind of event. But I don't think that the term masses is adequate because it certainly doesn't represent all the social categories in the same sense. I do think that we provide a true, important educational program that encourages results.

AfN: What are the Centre Pompidou's aims for the next years?

Centre Pompidou is developing new projects; one is Centre Pompidou in Metz. Another is the development of a mobile Centre Pompidou, which will be a structure that can be installed for a short period of time in places that do not have a museum or centre for art, like small cities or far away places within our country, and we will bring works of art to this setting. We will also have a project around the use of the building Palais de Tokyo as a new exhibition facility for mid carrier artists, especially from the French scene. So we are working on those new projects together, of course with the daily life of the museum, which is always producing new exhibitions from the collection.

AfN: How is the economic situation affecting your capacity to purchase new acquisitions?

The art market has been very difficult for us because of the increase of prices in the last years so maybe the economic situation will, if not lower, at least stop this inflation. This is something that will hopefully help us to consider future acquisitions.

AfN: And is it not possible to consider making a sale to allow for the purchase of key works for the collection?

We never sell anything because this is against the rule of the French museums. To acquire new works for the collection we raise funds from the state or from private money but we never use the collection for commercial value, it's against our principles as with many European museums.

AfN: Do you think that the public institutions are in this sense at a disadvantage to private ones, like MoMA? How do you deal with that?

The majority of the French institutions are sponsored by public money with a few exceptions. There are some private foundations of course but the very large majority of the French institutions are supported by public funds.

All museums in the world who are working in the same field may find themselves to be, I don't know, aiming to acquire the same works for their collection or putting on similar exhibitions. But with MoMA we are partners, we do exhibitions together and we lend each other important works from our collections to support our projects, so we are in partnership most of the time.

AfN: As you know, in Spain the directors of public museums have begun to be appointed after a selection process with an international and independent jury. You took part yourself in the selection of the current director of Reina Sofia (Madrid). Do you see it necessary to export that model to France? Do you feel free enough from politics to manage the institution?

Well, the events that occurred in Spain that led to this situation did not occur in France, such as the change in government and the change in the person controlling the curatorial institutions.

In my case, I have been chosen to run the museum for a 5-year term and at the end of this term I have been renewed for another 5 years, so during this period I sustain my position. But I cannot tell if this will happen in the future, I know that in some cases in France there has been a jury of experts like the one you mentioned but in the case of national institutions, at least until now, it has been a decision of the Ministry.

Interview: Raúl Molín López

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