Appointment of New Director for France’s École des Beaux-Arts Sparks Protests

Arts professionals are speaking out against the French Ministry of Culture’s decision to name Jean de Loisy, who has served as president of the Palais de Tokyo since 2011, the new head of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) in Paris. There has been much speculation regarding who would be chosen to lead the beleaguered institution, whose former director Jean-Marc Bustamante was criticized for failing to address sexual harassment allegations made against professors at the school last year. His three-year contract ended during the summer and was not renewed.

The appointment, which was announced on Wednesday, December 12, has prompted cultural figures to launch a petition, which calls out the government for failing to tap a suitable candidate to helm the institution and denounces the prevailing “conservative logic” that informs French cultural policy. The more than 350 signatories of the document also demand that de Loisy, whom it calls a symbol of the “hegemony,” pass up the post and that the Ministry of Culture be more transparent about the recruitment of new leaders for the country’s arts institutions in the future.

Signed by artists Mai-Thu Perret and Lili Reynaud-Dewar; filmmaker Pascale Obolo; Chus Martinez, the director of the Art Institute at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel; and Bettina Steinbruegge, director of Kunstverein in Hamburg, among others, the petition reads: “We do not see him as a representative personality, in terms of personal and professional experience, of the diversity that is indispensable for the intellectual construction of future artists. . . . Jean de Loisy is close to retirement and this is a last mission. Can we really formulate a pedagogical project worthy of the name in two, three, or even four years? What should students of such length expect from those who commit to five years in this school? What can be deduced from these games of musical chairs and end-of-career awards for services rendered, which seem too clearly to be the real reasons for these appointments?”

It continues: “This school needs vitality and openness, of a professional engaged for whom it will be a real collective project, for whom this position of direction will have a profound meaning, because it will also modify the outlines of their personal and professional life. This school does not need a personality whose career has already been widely traced and for which the ‘activity’ of school director will be especially at the service of a confirmation or even a capitalization of their relations with the world of art and prestige already widely acquired.”

In response, de Loisy defended his position. He told the Art Newspaper that the pushback is not really about whether he is the right fit for the role. “Of course, everyone is concerned because the school is an essential part of the French landscape but this is all about democracy,” he said. “The application and appointment process was totally transparent, involving an open call and board consultation.” De Loisy is expected to assume his new role in January.