François Hollande inaugurates Musée Soulages
Veteran French artist Pierre Soulages has donated works to institution in his hometown
By Gareth Harris. Museums, Issue 258, June 2014
Published online: 31 May 2014
The chief curator of a new museum dedicated to the life and work of the 94-year-old French artist Pierre Soulages says he plans to team up with private collectors to help fill gaps in the institution’s holdings. The Musée Soulages in Rodez, which the French President François Hollande inaugurated yesterday, opens its doors to the public today, 31 May. Located in the artist’s birthplace in southern France, the museum's collection includes more than 500 works donated by the “painter of black” in 2005 and 2012.
These include 21 oil paintings dating from the 1940s to the 1970s; more than 100 works on paper dating from 1946 to 2012; walnut-stain paintings from the 1940s; and preparatory works dating from 1987 to 1994 and relating to 104 stained glass windows created by the artist for Conques Abbey, near Rodez. Soulages’s works are displayed in a permanent 1,700 sq. m gallery.
But while the museum owns at least seven works dating from the 1970s to today, the collection lacks recent canvases. “One of the objectives of the museum is to present a variety of works but also a fluid aspect [of Soulages’s canon],” Benoit Decron says. “I’ll turn to a network of collectors and [will make] acquisitions backed by public and private bodies.”
Asked if the artist, who made several visits to the museum as it neared completion, would oversee the exhibition programme, Decron says: “He is not going to meddle with the schedule, but I’ve set my heart on mounting exhibitions that he likes… Soulages has been hanging works [and organising shows] since 1946. He has always been in control.”
Some local politicians initially opposed the museum project when it was announced in 2008. Régine Taussat, a member of the centre right political party, the UMP, told local press that “this elitist museum will not attract tourists and the [local] economy will not benefit”. She questioned the cost of the new building, but Decron says that the initial €25m budget has not been exceeded. He also launched a charm offensive, holding more than 40 meetings for local people. “A curator’s role is like that of Sisyphus,” he says. A friends association, which already boasts 400 members, supports the museum.
Funders include the Midi-Pyrénées regional council, which gave €4m, and the municipality of Aveyron, which contributed €2m. The French government has also awarded €4m to the new museum, which consists of a series of cube-like rust-coloured structures coated in Corten steel. Decron says that running costs will be funded through a €2.2m council grant shared between the Musée Soulages and two other local museums, the Musée Fenaille and Musée Denys-Puech.
The inaugural temporary exhibition includes more than 30 large-scale “Outrenoirs” paintings by Soulages, a series begun in 1979. The French term is loosely translated as “beyond black”, and Soulages once said: “When light is reflected on black, it transforms and transmutes it. It opens up a mental field all of its own.” The works have been lent by European museums and foundations including the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno in Spain (until 5 October).
The museum will also mount shows in a 500 sq. m gallery, dedicated to major international European and American artists and movements. Decron says that an exhibition currently on show at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, “From Picasso to Jasper Johns: the Workshop of Aldo Crommelynck” (until 13 July), is due to come to the museum later this year.
The show includes around 100 works produced in the Parisian studio of the well-known printer Crommelynck between 1982 and 1999. Among the artists featured are David Hockney, Richard Hamilton and Jim Dine. “After that, the next exhibition is dedicated to the French artist Claude Lévêque, and then we plan to show Arte Povera works drawn from private and public collections in Turin,” Decron says.
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