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Grand Palais revamp could leave Paris’s biggest shows without a roof

What will happen to key culture events held at the site, including Monumenta artist commission and Fiac fair?

by Gareth Harris  |  11 February 2016
Grand Palais revamp could leave Paris’s biggest shows without a roof
Daniel Buren’s Monumenta commission. © Lorena Biret
The Grand Palais in Paris will have to close for at least two years to undergo major renovations, says Jean-Paul Cluzel, the former head of the historic landmark, raising fears about the fate of key culture events held at the site such as major exhibitions, the Monumenta contemporary art commission and Fiac Modern and contemporary art fair.

Cluzel, who was also president of the government cultural body, Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN), stepped down from his post in January after his contract expired. He told Le Monde in December that the renovation of the Grand Palais, which is due to start in late 2019, will cost approximately €393m, around a third of which will be spent on restoring the 72,000 sq. m exhibition hall and museum complex.

The Ministry of Culture will provide €116m, while the European Investment Bank and the Caisse des Dépots et Consignations, a government-controlled bank, may give a €150m loan to the project. Cluzel says that this would be paid back by increasing the number of spaces for hire in the renovated Grand Palais. “It will be possible to use the 12 galleries around the nave and VIP Lounge [Le Salon d’Honneur] independently of each other,” he says. “Today, to use a gallery, you must choose a time when the nave is not taken up with an event. Most of the increase in turnover will come from the management of separate spaces, optimising the occupancy rate.”

However, “implementing the project depends on finding another €200m, which includes the €44m cost of renovating the Palais de la Découverte [a science museum located on the west side of the Grand Palais],” Cluzel says. To release further funds, he hopes that the French president François Hollande will consider making the Grand Palais part of the Grand Paris project, an urban development initiative funded, in part, by the government and local authorities.

But the start date for the renovation of the historic venue, which was built for the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) in 1900, also depends on whether Paris wins the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2024; city officials say that the Grand Palais could be used for sporting events. A spokeswoman for the RMN also emphasises that “the refurbishment of the Grand Palais must get government approval”.

The spokeswoman declined to comment on the potential impact on Monumenta, the biennial art installation, which is the French equivalent of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall commission. The Paris-based artist Huang Yong Ping will fill the Grand Palais this spring with a vast immersive installation for the seventh edition of Monumenta (Empires, 8 May-18 June). A spokesman for Fiac also declined to comment.

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