PRINT January 2000

On the Road

the Centre de la Jeune Création

PARIS’S NEWEST CONTEMPORARY ARTS CENTER won’t open until September, but it’s already making waves on the French arts scene, if in ways not necessarily anticipated by its initiators. As announced by Minister of Culture Catherine Trautmann last April, the Centre de la Jeune Création will be a showcase for young, edgy French art. With about five million dollars in seed money, the new center will take up some 3,000 square meters of exhibition space in the now-vacant west wing of the Palais de Tokyo, the Neoclassical complex built in 1937 to house the Musée National d’Art Moderne (which moved to the Pompidou in 1977) and the Musée &Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (MAMVP), which still occupies the east wing.

The idea of such a center—on the model of London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery, Rotterdam’s Witte de With, or New York’s P.S. 1—was developed by Guy Amsellem, head of the ministry’s visual arts department. While acknowledging that the stately Palais de Tokyo is perhaps not the ideal site for an alternative space, Amsellem stresses the center’s innovative aspects relative to existing public institutions in France—autonomous status, minimal staff and funding, and, above all, directors who are to be recruited from outside the usual arts-administration circuit and limited to three-year, nonrenewable tenures.

One of the first responses to the announcement of the future center was a petition, signed by some 150 artists of greater and lesser renown, calling on Trautmann to take the ministry’s initiative to its logical conclusion and put an artist in charge of the new space. Several months later, Suzanne Pagé, director of the MAMVP, which has had its own showcase for contemporary art (l’ARC) since 1967, launched a preemptive strike on her future neighbor by inviting the rising stars of the alternative art scene (who would not normally be seen in that institutional setting) to participate in a show, “Zones d’activation collective.”

For its first three years, the center will be entrusted to a team of independent curator-critics, Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans, after their joint proposal was selected over eight others. Sans envisions the west wing as “a space of experimentation rather than consecration.” While the program is not yet public, he indicates that the vast quarters will permit a staggered calendar of events, juxtaposing visual arts, music, fashion, film, design, architecture, and literature. “An institution isn’t necessarily a mausoleum,” Sans maintains. “I’ve always thought that it’s possible to rethink everything, to reinvent everything from the inside.”