Acquisitions Museums France

Director of Musée Picasso's diplomacy starts to pay off

Gift promised by artist's daughter will help Laurent Le Bon move forward

Vote of confidence in Laurent Le Bon

Maya Widmaier Picasso's promised gift of a 1908 Cubist drawing by her father and book of his sketches from the 1960s, announced last week, has been interpreted as a gesture of support for the Musée Picasso team and its new president Laurent Le Bon. He is aiming to reopen the troubled Paris-based museum on 25 October to coincide with the 133rd anniversary of Picasso’s birth.

The French culture minister Aurélie Filippetti said this latest delay followed an evaluation by Le Bon. “We have to be sure of the security conditions”, she explained. Clearly startled by the state of the building, Le Bon stopped the return of the first paintings, initially planned for 23 June. Work was still going on in the whole museum—the office building did not even have a roof. “The security system is not working yet. The air-conditioning will take months to stabilise, and there is not even a storage room ready where I could put the works”, Le Bon told The Art Newspaper. Nor is there a specific exhibition gallery planned in the new museum, which cost €52m—75% more than initially forecast. There is only one door for the public entrance and the cafeteria will probably not be able to take more than 20 customers. The museum is expecting one million visitors during the year after it reopens.

Le Bon, 45, is one of the brightest contemporary art specialists in France and the director who opened the Centre Pompidou-Metz on time. He was appointed after the dismissal of his predecessor, Anne Baldassari. She was sacked for mismanagement and the “deep suffering” of her team, according to an official statement. An internal affairs report described her as “incapable of working with her staff”, maintaining a permanent state of confusion and “behaving as if the museum was her own thing”. In just four years the museum has seen four administrators. The latest to resign, in January, were the public works director, the services director and the curator for paintings. After almost three years of delays the auditors doubted she could open the museum in such circumstances. Baldassari said all this was “fabricated” to get rid of her. Everyone is now asking why the government, which appointed her, did nothing to remedy this situation years ago.

There is no governing board in French museums to counterbalance what has become an autocratic system of management. Le Bon must now rebuild the team. He also has to soothe neighbours and cultural heritage groups and deal with a complaint filed that has suggested that part of the works were conducted without a legal permit. Despite the criticisms, Baldassari has the support of Claude Picasso, the artist’s son, who represents the family. He warned he would consider any curator who dared to take her place as an “impostor”. So far, he has made no public comment on Le Bon, whom he met in Basel in June. 

In the meantime, Baldassari is fighting back. She accused the minister of organising a “witch hunt” against her.  She maintains that she is the only person who can display the works in the museum, and claims her plans for the hang are protected by copyright. This is denied by the culture ministry on the grounds that she was paid as a public servant and could not expect to hold the copyright for an exhibition. In a conciliatory gesture to Claude Picasso, Filippetti and Le Bon proposed that Baldassari be “the curator of the opening show”. Her lawyer, Henri Leclerc, says the State “should thank her for her tremendous work” and “owes her an apology for the brutality of the procedure against her”. Discussions are ongoing with the State’s attorney. Baldassari also has substantial financial demands.  As we went to press, Baldassari had not reacted to the offer to organise the show. But the former director of the museum is not known to compromise. Two months before she was sacked, she told the press: “I have given my life to this museum. I will open it. Full stop. End of story.”

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