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PRINT March 2004

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the Palais de Tokyo

“ISN’T HE THE NEW DIRECTOR of the Palais de Tokyo?” That’s a question that many have been asking about Bernard Blistène. Hand-picked by France’s minister of culture, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, Blistène—who currently works as inspector general at the Délégation aux Arts Plastiques (DAP) within the ministry—was asked to complete a feasibility study on expanding both the space and the activities of the Palais de Tokyo. According to the ministry’s announcement from September 2003, the study would also include “programming for the years 2005–2008”—a clause that led many to believe that Blistène would take over from founding directors Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans when their three-year tenure ends in January 2005.

But Aillagon did not—and cannot—appoint a new director. Officially, the Palais de Tokyo is a nonprofit “Association loi 1901” whose future director(s) can be named only by its own board. Aillagon, who already intervened at the Jeu de Paume, Cinémathèque Française, and the future Cité de l’Architecture, seems to have anticipated such roadblocks: Blistène was also charged with outlining a “judicial status,” which could effectively change the Palais de Tokyo into a national museum and thus allow Aillagon—and Blistène—to realize a program that is apparently already in the works. What comes first for the Palais: the minister’s legal shift or the board’s own nomination? No one in Paris will say. But with Maurice Lévy, CEO of a powerful advertising conglomerate, serving as the new president of the Palais’s board—and with Bourriaud and Sans hoping for a one-year extension of their current mandate—one can expect some interesting developments over the next months.

Despite its public impact, Blistène’s study—which was to be completed in February—remains an internal affair, but his job description gave a good idea of the ministry’s plans for the Palais: present public FNAC and FRAC holdings alongside private collections; show artists at mid-career; expand from 10,000 to 65,000 square feet; add contemporary design, graphics, and fashion in a “logic of transversality.” Private interests, including galleries, might be included in the mix. Such directives not only anticipate a more stately institution that would museify much of art’s “transversality” but also contradict Aillagon’s pledge, upon taking office, to give museums more independence.

Blistène, praised for his past stints as chief curator at the Centre Georges Pompidou and director of the Musées de Marseille, can’t be blamed for plans dictated by Aillagon, who was president of the Pompidou before becoming minister in 2002. Whatever their allegiances, Blistène—whose “eclectic” curatorial tastes range from Ruscha and Fontana to Buren and Hirschhorn—is no puppet. Yet his richest experience lies in curating for museums, not in running an experimental “site for contemporary creation”—what the Palais has tried to be with varying success and what Paris needs to revive its contemporary arts scene.

What do Bourriaud and Sans have to say? Nothing, according to Aillagon, who failed to identify the “current directors” by name in his announcement, despite the work they’ve done to get the Palais going on a tight budget. Unlike the ministry, Bourriaud and Sans were willing to go on record about the situation: “Nothing is definitive today, but we adhere to keeping the spirit and the independence of the project, as we conceived it and put it into place in 1999.”

Jennifer Allen is a Berlin-based writer.