PRINT April 1975

Beaubourg: The Museum in the Era of Late Capitalism

A minor, living art is far more
virulent than major, dead art.
—André Malraux

IT IS JUST 20 YEARS since there began in Paris the large and polyphonic debate now risen to crescendo around a vast construction site that dominates that section of the 4th arrondissement known as the Beaubourg plateau. Walking east these days through the street that gives its name to the neighborhood, one sees to north and south the proliferation of thoroughfares dense with shops, cafes and the vestiges of prerevolutionary architectural grandeur. Continuing past the Boulevard de Sébastopol, the main and lively artery which runs northward toward the Grands Boulevards, one encounters an even larger gap in this central right-bank landscape; it is the entirely vacant site of Les Halles, extending toward the Bourse and still awaiting, since the removal of its ancient central markets to the suburb of Rungis, the complex and weighty decisions that will determine its design, construction and future use. This double breach within the dense organicity of central Paris visibly exposes the crisis that has accelerated within these two decades of debate.

The Republic of 1954 was France’s fourth, emerging slowly and painfully into a fully industrialized economy, burdened with the legacy of a colonial empire it could no longer sustain or defend. The adventure was at that time suspended between its past and future, not yet the herald of another, fifth mutation. Malraux, retired from the public scene, had recently published his Psychology of Art, whose and most glittering proposal was the acknowledgment of a threshold in the evolution of Western culture through the constitution of The Imaginary Museum, or—as it became known in the standard English-language translation—the Museum without Walls.That excellent rendering tends to obscure somewhat the fuller resonance and ambiguities of the master concept and the manner in which, in contemporary French esthetics, the structure and function of the Imaginary are tied to the primacy of the image. The museum constituted by the perfection of mechanical reproduction, first analyzed by Walter Benjamin in the celebrated essay upon which Malraux had heavily drawn, had also the dimension of a synthesis, a talos constituted in the ahistorical synchronicity of a pure imaginative act.

To this, and to a great many other aspects of Malraux’s esthetic program, Georges Duthuit called attention in a brilliant but, I fear, little-read and less remembered polemical essay published in Les Lettres Nouvelles of March, 1954, and later extended in a two-volume work entitled Le Musée Inimagineable. The impulse of that study was critical rage directed against through the constitution of the Imaginary Museum,the manic and imperial anthologizing of culture and its artifacts spelled out in Malraux’s work, against the arrogance and abstraction involved in the systematic severing of art objects from their cultural contexts and the intellectual imperialism of its programmatic synthesis. Thus,

The museum is born of a breach and it is through that breach that we define its nature and existence as deriving from an immense laceration; the products of art are snatched from life like nails from their surrounding tissue. Once integral parts of a present totality, they are now mere fragments condemned to inertia, incomplete, uprooted, exiled. The yawning abyss that stretches between their disappearance and our endurance, the gate which closes upon them at fixed and regulated hours, force this meaning upon us. All cemeteries have visiting hours, but living things communicate at any time. The accumulative impulse substitutes synthetic appropriation for organicity thereby uniting the heritage of the ages in the simultaneity of the museum.

Duthuit’s position was not entirely novel or unique, but it was argued with a cogency, a sense of the concrete, a wealth of information and of wit that should have been exemplary. Needless to say, it went unanswered.

There were, however, some things that Duthuit failed to point out and which, in any case, become clearer to our own retrospective view. The first is the manner in which Benjamin’s historically informed analysis had been converted by Malraux to the service of an eschatology. The second was the degree in which The Psychology of Art was the product of a sensibility that was academic in at least one sense; it epitomized an idealist tradition that was to be seriously questioned by developments in contemporary art and esthetics. Its rhetoric of spiritual conquest was, as well, the language of a dying imperialism; and its publication immediately preceded that liquidation of the colonial empire which was exacted as the price of de Gaulle’s return to power.

Malraux’s ambiguous fascination for the intellectuals of his generation derived from his double career as writer and as man of action, and the French rediscovery, in the immediately postwar period, of Gaullist euphoria, of the cult of T. E. Lawrence—writer, archaeologist and soldier in the service of that Empire—was underwritten by that fascination. His transition from the role of intellectual plenipotentiary to the revolutionary movements of China and Spain to that of Gaullism’s official spokesman fulfilled the anticipations of mythic conquest at the center of early work such as La Voie Royale. The Faustian mystique of Les Voix du Silence was indeed the mode of intellectual discourse, its stentorian rising, as it ushered in a Fifth Republic. Here is its ultimate statement:

The first universal artistic culture, unquestionably destined to transform the modern art by which it has until now been oriented, represents not an invention, but a supreme conquest by the Occident. Whether or not we accept it, the Occident must illuminate itself by the torch it bears, even though its hand burn. And that torch strives to illuminate the totality of that which acts to extend man’s dominion.

This apocalyptic rhetoric, colored in its imagery by a certain sado-masochism, is the object of Duthuit’s scorn. One sees it now, however, as the imperialist projection of someone totally disengaged from the immediate realities of contemporary art. Malraux’s failure to confront contemporary painting and sculpture in the completed Voix du Silence came as a shock to his immediate readers of the 1950s, but there is a sense in which that stubborn glance away from the art of his time across ages past and cultures dead, parallels de Gaulle’s superb disdain of the realities of economic and domestic issues for the prestige of foreign pol icy. Both invested their energies in the mastery of an elsewhere.

Malraux was, four years later, to become the Gaullist Minister of Culture. It is a remarkable fact that the decade of his ministry left the conservative, poorly housed and subsidized administration of France’s Museum of Modern Art, constituted in 1945, almost intact and unimproved. His ministry also never ameliorated the desperate need for a rationally designed exhibition space and archive for contemporary arts. One must have experienced the poverty of the French public collections of 20th-century sculpture, constituted almost wholly by donation, to appreciate the difficulties of study and research for French scholars.

Malraux’s ministry was inaugurated with a spectacular restorative act: the systematic cleaning of the Parisian architectural facade, the symbolic nature and limitations of which were immediately grasped and abundantly commented upon. Although the revelation of the hidden warmth and subtle color of the city’s stone are now accepted with delight, two other measures were, if less immediately gratifying, far more consequential.

The first of these was the projected creation of a network of cultural centers in provincial cities and some suburbs. This was a plan which most nearly corresponded to the most innovative trend in postwar cultural policy: the attempt to remedy the inequities of cultural development that had been overcentralized in Paris. The Republic had inherited from Napoleonic times those dominantly centripetal dynamics which tended to make of Paris a glittering vampiric drain upon its resources. A great deal of energetic and intelligent left-supported rethinking of this intellectual economy was directed to restoring to the urban working class, in particular, its access to culture.

The most productive of these ventures had been the systematic decentralization of theatrical production and the establishment, in cities like Lyons, Toulouse, St. Etienne, of permanent, subsidized troupes of first-rate quality. The movement had generated, as well, the establishment in the working-class sections and suburbs of Paris itself, of neighborhood theatrical troupes (Le Theatre de l’Est Parisien is one example), and touring productions of important performances. There was, in fact, an extraordinary moment in the early and mid-’50s, when the left’s energetic attempt to mitigate the intellectual alienation of the working-class was paralleled and sustained by the effort on the part of the Catholic hierarchy’s liberal wing to reclaim for the faith that same increasingly alienated laboring population. The result was a powerful convergence of evangelical energies; theater people and worker-priests dedicated themselves respectively to the restoration of culture and the sacraments into the factories and dwellings of the French worker.

The strategy adopted for theatrical renewal was the establishment, then, of permanent working theatrical troupes within local communities and the encouragement of the creation of new audiences as yet untapped and therefore free of the habits and conventions of the theater of the boulevards and its derivatives. These troupes were soon to rekindle, in turn, the theatrical activity of the capital. The Avignon Festival, from which the T.N.P. of Paris had grown, the work of men like Dasté, Planchon, Chereau, Sarrazin in Lyons and Toulouse and elsewhere were eventually to serve as generators of energy and formal options for that extraordinary renewal of theatrical energy that gave French theater its dominant position in the postwar world. This regeneration, unlike that of postwar Germany, was essentially one of radical innovation and pedagogy—not of equipment. The physical and financial means at the disposal of these men was generally modest in the extreme. They had not the sumptuous new plants and equipments of the postwar theaters of provincial Germany, but the specifically esthetic, social and intellectual fruits of these decentralized efforts—drawing, when necessary, upon Parisian developments—was far more brilliant.

Malraux’s plan for the creation of provincial cultural centers, in Grenoble, Le Havre, St. Etienne and elsewhere, was consonant with this commendable trend, and he announced, with characteristic hyperbole, that the acquisition of culture by all was the next step in that national evolution which had begun, under the administration of Jules Ferry, the extension of primary education to every citizen. The full strength of that allusion is, again, only to be appreciated when one recalls that this advance of the second half of the 19th century had been paralleled by Ferry’s contribution to France’s territorial expansion and the building of her empire in Tunisia, at Tonkin and in the Congo.

Malraux’s other major gesture—and it was, as well, his principle concession to living art—was the establishment of the Paris Biennale, designed to give to artists under thirty-five years of age an opportunity to exhibit in the company of their foreign peers. This meant, of course, the establishment of yet one more Salon, but one which evolved gradually into the liveliest version of that ancient Parisian institution. Its extension of exhibition space and funding to other, newer temporal forms (cinema, music, dance—and public debate), constituted an intelligent gesture of acknowledgment from the young critics largely involved in its organization, of displacement of energy from fixed pictorial and sculptural conventions to other forms. Its latter development under the open-minded direction of Georges Boudaille has reinforced its interest and importance as the liveliest arena for confrontation of French artists and their public within an internationalized context.

The Biennale was launched, however, with a great series of imprecations and exhortations and the explicitly avowed purpose of restoring Paris’s dissolving hegemony in that international context. The version of recent art history proposed by Malraux’s opening statement was in every way extraordinary. I select, as only one instance, his insistence on the I recognition of the influence exerted by the painting of Wols upon the art of Pollock! Here was proof that the. succession of stylistic transformations given salience by the photographic cancellation of scale and concrete materiality tended entirely to obscure historical and formal processes and relationships; the Minister of Culture had shown himself to be the most conspicuous victim of the distortions and deceptions of his Imaginary Museum!

Was it this which impelled him to transport personally to Washington, D.C., not a giant Skira reproduction of La Gioconda, but the very canvas itself? Its “unveiling” provided the Minister of Culture with what must have been the disconcerting experience of finding himself quite outclassed as rhetorician when, after his recapitulation of the grand historical trajectory from the smile of the angel of Rheims to that of La Gioconda, he heard the responding expression of gratitude from that enlightened patron of the arts, John F. Kennedy, for the gracious loan of this work prestigious above all others in “its embodiment of those principles of liberty, fraternity and equality so dear to our two nations”!

I have, for my part, amused memories of the manner in which a modest attempt to correct the inaccurate series of presuppositions of the minister’s historiography, published in the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune, of which I was at that time the art editor, brought clear indications of disfavor from the rue de Valois and embarrassment from well-intentioned Parisian colleagues. The desperation of the claim was interesting, however, in that it demonstrated with a clarity almost ingenuous the real and growing consciousness of the claims of American painting upon the interest of an international public—and its international market. Those were the solid hardening facts of the evolving situation, to be confirmed throughout the ensuing decade and into the present.

For the moment, it was clear that France, speaking through the Malraux ministry, was not prepared to relax her claim upon “major” art, living or dead. Malraux’s regime, renewed by Gaullist plebiscite, left virtually intact, however, the structure and policy of the ill-funded, ill-housed, ill-equipped Museum of Modern Art created in the wake of the liberation. It left intact, as well, the urgent need of centers for documentation and research accessible to the general public. Neither of these demands was met, of course, by the opening, in Vence, of the Maeght Foundation and its consecration of established esthetic values and high commerce. Malraux’s ministry, and, indeed, his career, reached its problematic climax just ten years after his investiture: photographs and film show him, in the most extensively recorded event of French history, standing arm in arm with Michel Debré before the Arch of Triumph, singing the Marseillaise in a counterdemonstration organized by the regime in response to the student and working-class uprisings of May, 1968.

The vast release of rage and renewed hope of May, 1968, had its origin in the critique of the repressive dynamics of the regime’s superstructure, and more particularly of the manner in which the university, supposedly that temple of free intellectual discourse, was subject to police repression. In the ensuing uprising, the presuppositions of almost every cultural force and institution were called into question, as were the modes and forms of esthetic enterprise and their economic base, down to the progressive relics of the Fourth Republic, such as Avignon. The rapid organization and extension of collective action of every kind and scale, of popular functional, street-based forms of art production—slogan, poster, performance, debate, graffiti, music—improvised in the vivid ambiance of mass action, revived in older French intellectuals and artists the Utopian hopes long since bracketed in submission to the esthetic imperatives of party discipline or abandoned in resigned individualism. The aspiration to an art that might be popular, functional, or at least free to create its own mass audience, localized and implanted in a revolutionary movement, generated the dominant metaphor of the revolution as “festivity.” The hope and the despair of it persist, as we shall see.

French left and right have traditionally shared the same distrust of technocracy, and the discovery by the young of the university’s allegiance to the repressive apparatus of the state reinforced their distrust of large and centralized agencies of all kinds. In May, 1968, a generation of older artists and intellectuals, for whom the major political issue of the ’50s had been the colonial wars, was regalvanized and regrouped for common action. The defeat of the movement and the succession of the Pompidolian regime, committed to an overriding policy of economic expansionism at whatever cost and ridden with charges of corruption, installed a sense of frustration. A first release of protest came in the unexpectedly powerful surge of resentment at the destruction of the Baltard Pavilions during the dismantling of Les Halles. Support for the preservation of those monuments of early cast-iron architecture was organized and, once again, defeated in the battle to preserve an area of leisure and festivity from the relentless development projects entertained by dominant commercial and real-estate interest. A return of young people to the quarter, an informal and unorganized but multifaceted activity began to be generated in and around the unused structures as they awaited their dismantling, and the culmination of this activity in the installation of Roncalli’s sumptuously innovative production of Orlando Furioso in the pavilions seemed to demonstrate conclusively the wonderfully utilitarian potential of the buildings. This demonstration, too, went unheeded.

It was, however, in 1972, that the organization, under Pompidou’s personal auspices, of a major exhibition designed to review the past 15 years of French painting and sculpture assumed the proportions of gigantic and offensive fiasco, punctuated by demonstrations, counterdemonstrations, withdrawals and invasions, manifestoes and strikes. “L’expo Pompidou,” prepared with unaccustomed maladresse by M. Francois Mathey, who had in years past shown a particular regard and openness with respect to contemporary art, was the the last major occasion for a collective expression of the malaise and ambivalence of the French community of artists about state patronage.

It is, then, in this developing context, and as a particular moment in a historical continuum, that we must consider the decision to create the cultural complex of Beaubourg. In this society, engaged in a prolonged and violent debate on the nature of culture itself, disrupted by a crisis in authority, it was decided, upon Presidential authority (or, as they tirelessly and understandably repeat, le fait de Prince), to found Beaubourg. It was, in fact, in October, 1969, that Pompidou, then succeeding to de Gaulle, issued his decision to create a cultural center in the heart of the city conceived to fill those two fundamental needs: a large-scale, modern public library and a museum of modern art. It was apparently the wish of this former director of the Rothschild Bank, editor of an anthology of French verse and collector of the established painters of the postwar School of Paris, to embody his avocational interests in a grandiose project that will bear his name.

The first, interesting initial move was the opening of an international competition for the center’s architectural design: a committee headed by Jean Prouvé and including museum directors from Holland, France, and England was formed, and one feels that the inclusion as well of Niemeyer and Johnson most fortunately—or cleverly—excluded the possibility of their winning the commission. The winning project, submitted by Piano, Rogers and Franchini, is now under construction, and I shall defer a critical account until its scheduled opening, now rescheduled for 1976.

This opening of the competition to foreign architects, and the inclusion, as well, of foreigners in the jury marked a definite break with French tradition, in which major posts, both active and consultative, have been reserved to citizens of the Republic. It has long been a firm paradox that in a country which traditionally welcomes foreigners to its intellectual capital, the access to positions in education, and other cultural sectors have been reserved for those who can assume the status of national functionaries in the centralized agencies which administer this culture. This major gesture, initiated by the regime of post-Gaullist economic expansion, marked the adoption, for purposes of cultural expansion, of the methods of multinational economic enterprise. The scale and complexity of this project required that same rationalization and flexibility which international capital uses for its expansion. The reconquest of France’s cultural prestige on the international scene had recently opened the directorship of its opera to a German. It called, as well, for the internationalization of the center’s construction and its personnel. The inclusion in its administration of lively and talented young people, a number of them of foreign nationality, would have been unthinkable in the old, civil-service roster under Cassou, Dorival, Leymarie. This recruitment of skills, made possible by the special and independent status and budget of the project, is exceptional, and one senses in the attacks that have multiplied since its inception the crisis of a system and of a generation of functionaries offended by the intrusion of newcomers exempted from the rigors of the civil service hierarchy.

Chief among them is Pontus Hulten, the Director of the Department of Visual Arts, the catalytic center of debate and protest, of contestation from left and right, of generalized hostility. Hulten’s competence has not been seriously questioned; he is, in fact, known to the French as to ourselves for the unusually open and sympathetic, enterprising and cultivated man he is, and as the initiator of one of the liveliest museum programs of the 1960s, that of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. He is, however, a foreigner, which is to say exempt from particular local loyalties and complicities. Above all, he is destined to preside over the reorganization and the relocation (not in space alone, but in history) of what is generally considered “the national heritage,” the cultural patrimony of the permanent collections. The anxiety apparent in the attacks, personal and general, which have proliferated in the press is immense. Immense, as well, will be his power, proportionate to the scale of this huge instrument. Let us consider its overall structure.

Beaubourg is to be known as the Georges Pompidou National Center for Art and Culture; it is a heavy name to bear, and one senses the malaise and reticence of its acceptance on the part the generation of young intellectuals and technicians who compose its staff. The center is designed to function through four major departments.

A library will be open to the public and equipped with a cinémathèque, video archive, collections of records and an information center for instantaneous reception of news on an international scale. Open to the general public without restriction on age, the library proper is planned to accommodate 4,000 visitors a day and equipped to seat 1,300 at any given time (three times the number now accommodated by the Bibliothèque Nationale). The director of the service is M. Viatte, an extremely enterprising archivist, who has begun, while awaiting the opening of the center, to constitute a center of artistic documentation, to build a library of books, catalogues, and, just as importantly, to establish a systematic photographic documentation of current exhibitions in Paris.

From the original plan of the library there developed the second idea of a section devoted to the visual arts, organized around three main services: reception of already existing collections (perhaps the single most immediately delicate, complex and problematic aspect of the whole); organization of exhibitions, documentation. The existing Museum of Modern Art is to be transferred to this department and work dating from before 1905 is to be housed elsewhere.

The third major department is the Center for Industrial Design, an extremely novel idea for a French museum; it will be headed by M. Francois Mathey, of the Museum of Decorative Arts. It is conceived as a research and design center as well as an exhibition space and archive.

The fourth and somewhat independent sector is the Institute for Acoustical and Musical Research and Coordination, to be designated henceforth by its French acronym, IRCAM. Designed as a highly sophisticated laboratory with a small and uniquely conceived performance space, it is to be constructed in a separate, underground building, and its organization under the direction of Pierre Boulez marks his return to an active role in French cultural life.

The Center is to include, as well, a cinémathèque of 300 seats which has been entrusted to Henri Langlois; it should extend or replicate the activities at Chaillot.

There is talk of another, smaller space to be used for work that is newer and more adventurous than that in the Langlois collections. Those plans have not, however, been made public or precise. The department of documentation under M. Viatte has begun to acquire the obligatory films by and’ about painters and sculptors. What is needed, of course, is a collection of work by major independent filmmakers, the very first in Europe.

Finally, M. Blaise Gauthier of the National Center of Contemporary Art (an exhibition program for younger, contemporary artists), will oversee the program of events and confrontations envisaged for the halls, terraces and the large outdoors piazza of this Unique, potential performance center.

Beaubourg, then, is designed truly as a center upon which converge the multiple needs of a city’s culture. Immense in scale, it is also immense in its aspirations; seeking to fuse conservation and creation, art and industry, and a certain pantheonization with the fugitive, transitory and immediately consumed event. The great glass facade had originally been planned as a surface for information-signaling, and exposed piping and hardware were to be in high color. These two elements have been canceled, thereby restoring a certain sedateness to the visual aspect of the building. The general plan, however, persists in creating the impression of a vast and infinitely complex network of processes and activities, its system of administrative interface served by a highly sophisticated electronics. Unquestionably a fascinating prospect, and, to so many different kinds of interests, apparently a disquieting one. What are the reasons?

Here are a few.

This Utopian project poses once again, in a period of international economic crisis, the problematic nature of the relation of culture to capitalist enterprise and its technology. This is a country in which Utopian thought is perhaps more than anywhere else seriously polarized between technocracy and a Maoist austerity. As I have already suggested, the aspiration to a radically decentralized organicity of culture feels violated by this manifestation of centralized volontarist gesture.

The extremely complicated and conservative administrative structure which governs the cultural institutions of this society has difficulty, moreover, in accommodating this project, exceptional in its scale, functions, organization. Beaubourg tends to call into question the existent forms governing not only the autonomy and interdependence of administrative units, but, ultimately, the autonomy and interdependence of the art forms administered by them. Exceptional rulings, exceptional expense and exceptional powers are granted to this complex and its administration, and the tensions thereby resulting are considerable. (Among them, very important in its own right, is the difference in pay scales between employees of the. older cultural institutions and those employees and consultants who have been called upon, or created, by Beaubourg. The difference in salaries between Beaubourg and the normal curatorial scale of the Musées de France might, if not resolved, generate a class structure within the cultural civil service.)

The center seems destined to consume a high percentage of the money allocated to the nation’s cultural life. Endowed with an autonomously determined budget for the first five years of its creation and existence, Beaubourg’s construction in 1974, nevertheless, is estimated at a cost representing 15% of the national budget for culture. Its equipment and organization have been estimated at a total of 113.5 million francs (around $23 million), to which IRCAM will add 60 million. (As I write, however, plans for IRCAM are being subjected to radical revision owing to severe budgetary problems.) Beaubourg’s annual functioning budget will require $12 to $14 million, its maintenance being assured by a staff of some 800 persons. (I take these figures to be exclusive of its exhibitions programs, which are extremely ambitious.) Although, in his report of 3 December, 1974 to the National Assembly, Aymeric Simon-Loriêre pointed out that its annual functioning budget is inferior by at least $5,720,000 to that of the Opera (traditionally answerable to the Ministry of Finances), one knows that the extremely questionable role of that institution in the cultural life of the nation as a whole has been constantly evoked. One anticipates difficulties, then, in the renewal of subsidies that will eventually be voted by legislators and committee members whose constituents have relatively little stake in this Parisian enterprise.

The case of IRCAM is interesting in this respect. In a country by no means blessed with a wealth of provincial orchestras and conservatories, IRCAM represents an extreme centralization of effort. Both in its insistence on the sophistication of its technology and in the limitations of its performance area and program (superbly designed as an extension of the laboratory), it promises a sharp focusing on innovation and research. It is conceived, however, in such a way as to attract foreign support, through its staffing (Berio, Globokar, Bennet, Mathews) under Boulez’s direction, and its status as a foundation.

The permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, built largely by donations, are to be absorbed, in a manner not yet wholly articulated, into the collection and exhibition space of Beaubourg, and no aspect of the general plan has touched off more anxious comment than this one. The state subsidies available for contemporary art have been traditionally minimal, and the curatorial authority has been traditionally conservative. The result has been a collection of an unusual shape and character, involving both large gaps and large concentrations. Jeanne Laurent’s excellent analysis of cultural policy under the Fourth Republic relates the historical origins of this through the account by Jean Zay of his visit to the Barnes Collection:

Mr. Barnes has one hundred Cézannes and two hundred Renoirs, the best of Sisley and Van Gogh, and Courbet, Monet, Degas, Manet, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Utrillo, Le Douanier Rousseau, Derain, Braque, Bonnard, Vuillard, Modigliani and Rouault. I could not help remarking to my guide, the collector’s personal secretary, “You must excuse my regret, but these things should be in France.” He replied simply, “We quite agree . . . but whose fault is it? Mr. Barnes was Ambroise Vollard’s best customer and bought most of these canvases for a few hundred francs apiece twenty or thirty years ago. Is it our fault if France disdained them at that time and if your official museums refused them entry?”

The Museum of Modern Art, however, has received since the war a number of massive donations from the estates of established French artists, and purchases have been traditionally reserved for its citizen artists. It is notorious for its lack of works by artists such as Mondrian and Klee, and its imperviousness to the achievements of German Expressionists, Italian Futurists, Russian Constructivists, among others. It has, however, acquired, through massive donations, considerable reserves of Delaunay, Maillol, Braque, Brancusi, Rouault, Signac, Laurens, Dunoyer de Segonzac.

The conditions attached to these sizeable and, in some cases, rather cumbersome gifts, generally specify requirements as to conservation and exhibition, and the donors—often widows and children of deceased artists—are, to say the least, alarmed by the prospect of selection and partial storage promised by the eventual removal to the huge but limited and multifunctional space of Beaubourg. It is above all evident, however, that Beaubourg affords the opportunity for its director to engage in a radically selective and critical reevaluation of the history of modern art as embodied in the already constituted collections and a new acquisition policy. And, indeed, for those who recall the absence of Klee and Mondrian in the vast collections which include the dozens of Rouault, the Dunoyer de Segonzac room, that critical reevaluation is bound to produce some interesting results.

Hulten, then, has been the natural target of contradictory evaluations and predictions. The alleged threat of an “over-intellectual” and essentially “inorganic” approach to curatorial responsibilities expresses the open fear of the critical reappraisal. And his known encouragement of an atmosphere of activity, play, encounter and performance surrounding the collections has invoked charges of “Dadaist” irresponsibility: an interesting conjunction of judgments.

The administration has recently, in any case, stressed its legal responsibility for the preservation of all gifts and bequests, its inability to engage in sale or exchange of such. Donors faced with the option of retaining their sizeable quarters in the shabby environment of the Tokio Palace are hardly likely to choose that peripheral and isolated housing.

Another difficulty, and one which spells out the problems of transition, has been the activity of the Museum of Modern Art awaiting the opening, now postponed until the end of 1976. Reactions to both of these problematic issues are epitomized in a letter signed by artists and critics and published in the Quotidian de Paris earlier this year. Addressed to M. Alain Peyrefitte, then the Minister of Cultural Affairs, it protested against the uncertain destiny of the major donations and the temporary closing of certain sections of the existing museum, badly in need of repairs though it was, and finding it unacceptable that only part of the collections be exhibited: “. . . we must have the courage to say that the French Government, incapable of carrying through an acquisitions policy, is equally incapable of accepting the gifts made to it.” The letter demanded the maintenance of visiting hours and exhibitions until the new center is ready to receive them.

Responding to the mounting sense of anxiety and frustration and prompted by the new Secretary of State for Cultural Affairs, M. Michel Guy. Hulten has announced the opening of some major exhibitions within the next two years: they will include a long-awaited Duchamp retrospective, a Max Ernst show, and a Picabia exhibition, originating outside Paris.

Among the larger, contextual issues under discussion is the fact that this project, requiring exceptional measures and exceptional funds for its construction and maintenance, is launched in a period of severe international economic crisis. Its maintenance makes certain demands of fuel consumption, but above all, its scale and splendor are construed, somewhat generally, as insolently conspicuous. And this at a time when a number of aspects of French cultural activity are somewhat problematic, when, for instance, a certain anxiety over the future of the national theaters has been generated by the unexpected reshuffling of their directorships by M. Michel Guy.

Finally, a constellation of questions is raised by the physical implantation of the project in this particular neighborhood, by the neighborhood’s imminent transformation through the relocation of the major galleries and adjunct enterprises now acquiring space around the center. The Beaubourg planning staff have been at pains to reassure the neighborhood people and their supporters of their best intentions, stressing the welcome planned by the center to children, the recent perfection of a highway system designed to facilitate access to the center from suburbs, etc. The local character and economy of the quarter will be considerably transformed, however, and there now exists a small guide of galleries and other exhibition spaces of the area. Thirty-three are now operating amidst a proliferation of shops and restaurants. This shift began with the opening, two or three years ago, of the first major gallery—that of Daniel Templon, significantly oriented toward American and American-influenced painting and sculpture.

It is known that other major dealers of both left and right banks are seeking or have purchased property in the area. Chief among these is the Galerie Maeght, which has, with municipal backing, acquired four mansions plus an unspecified “island” of property, in which it will open a complex of galleries, studios, shops and other facilities. The Maeght enterprise has been described—surely in a spirit of provocation—as an anti-Beaubourg, but it must be seen as the logical and canny response of the wealthiest of dealers to the immense commercial and real-estate operations generated by Beaubourg’s construction.

The center represents, then, for the community of artists, dealers, collectors and functionaries debating and ratifying its construction, the central convergence point of hopes, fears, energies and anxieties. France is about to receive, through an act of official patronage, a dazzlingly sophisticated instrument which embodies the Law of Combined Development, designed not only to restructure her own position within the cultural concert of nations, but to relegate the presiding institutions of those nations to a museological past. Beaubourg is to open with a major exhibition, conceived by Pontus Hulten as a celebration of the artistic exchange between France and America since 1906: it will celebrate as well the supreme museological instance of the imagination of the late capitalist era.

Annette Michelson