A graduate of the French administration school ENA, he was previously secretary general of the Villa Médicis, a cultural attaché in Budapest, but also general administrator for the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie… His name ? Alain Lombard, who this year takes over from Éric Mézil at the helm of the Collection Lambert. An encounter in Avignon.
The news was released on 5 February this year… Éric Mézil, who had directed the Collection Lambert since 2000, would be handing over his position to Alain Lombard. After working for 17 years alongside dealer Yvon Lambert, Éric Mézil has left an enduring print on the Avignon cultural landscape, marked by ambitious programming. We remember of course his big solo exhibitions: Cy Twombly in 2007, Miquel Barceló in 2010, Andres Serrano in 2016, or more surprisingly, the outside-the-walls show, in 2014, in the former Sainte-Anne prison, titled “La Disparition des lucioles”. Now at the helm, Alain Lombard has taken on the mission of bringing life to this extraordinary contemporary-art collection… Indeed, the Collection Lambert, born in 2000 in Avignon, is quite a special museum. The works owned by art dealer and collector Yvon Lambert were long stored in the Hôtel de Caumont, and the donation of over 550 works to the French State only became official in July 2012. Now housed in two eighteenth-century townhouses – after the addition of the Hôtel de Montfaucon to the project –, the Collection Lambert offers a selection of major works from the second half of the 20th century and the start of the 21st century.
Can you tell us about your background?
I had the fortune to be able to choose to join the French Ministry of Culture when I graduated from the ENA, and I’ve worked there since 1982, in the central or decentralised administration, as well as a few overseas missions. This was notably how I became secretary general of the Villa Médicis in Rome, director general of the Villa Arson in Nice, general administrator for the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie, and regional director of cultural affairs in Lyon.
Since the Collection Lambert was launched in 2000, artistic direction has been undertaken by Éric Mézil, and there has only been one external curator invited in the last 17 years. What programming changes do you plan to bring about?
My role with regard to the Collection is both administrative and artistic, but my background is very different from that of my predecessor, so I will not be doing any curating. External curators wil be contributing to our projects, such as Éric de Chassey, director of the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, for this summer’s exhibition on Ellsworth Kelly.
What project were you chosen to accomplish as director?
Strictly speaking, there wasn’t any detailed project drawn up for my appointment. Yvon Lambert accepted the proposal made by the president of the Collection, Jean-Luc Choplin, to bring changes to the association’s governance in order to ensure its longevity and development, and the board unanimously decided to appoint me.
Several times, the Collection has been in deficit. How do you anticipate improving the financial aspect?
I wish to speak about the future and not the past. Expenses need to continue to be kept in control, without any compromise on the artistic quality of propositions, and resources need to be developed. My aim is to ensure the longevity of the Collection Lambert. My background as a State administrator guarantees, a priori, that attention will be paid to the soundness, balance and good management of accounts. The development of visitor numbers is a key factor for better financial balance.
The Collection Lambert is housed in two townhouses. How will the permanent collection now be presented?
I would like the permanent collection’s works to be shown more regularly. The Hôtel de Caumont will now generally be devoted to the permanent collection, the Hôtel de Montfaucon to temporary exhibtions. The Hôtel de Caumont thus opened on 15 June with a selection from the permanent collection, including a focus on Sol LeWitt, of whom the Collection Lambert possesses around forty works. The selection and the focus will be renewed on a regular basis. We’re spoilt for choice given the number of artists represented in the collection.
With a collection that holds works by Robert Combas as well as Anselm Kiefer or Robert Mangold, how will works be selected? By genre, period, or by presenting this diversity?
The works presented will reflect this diversity. They will be chosen in close collaboration with Yvon Lambert. There will not necessarily be any direct ties with the temporary exhibitions, even if the first focus on Sol LeWitt offers a type of counterpoint to the Ellsworth Kelly show presented this summer.
What exhibitions are you holding?
Three complementary exhibitions are being presented this summer until 4 November, on top of the selection from the permanent collection. The exhibition on Ellsworth Kelly, organised by the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, offers discovery of a wide panorama by this major artist who died recently, through fifty or so prints recently donated by the artist’s studio to the INHA, accompanied by around fifty works from public and private collections – often large formats that have not previously been shown in public. We are also presenting two exhibitions as part of our partnership with two of the region’s important cultural structures: the Festival d’Avignon, with an exhibition by Claire Tabouret, a young French artist whose work has been much noticed and who lives in Los Angeles, and the Rencontres d’Arles, with an exhibition on Christian Lutz.
You wish to develop partnerships and to encourage sponsorship…
Like all structures of our type, we need to diversify our resources. Our sponsorship is already well developed. Yvon Lambert managed to persuade some of his friends and partners to support his project. But the most important source of income of our own is ticket sales, and development of visitor numbers is a major issue. For example, we are backing the wager of increasing the share of festival-goers who’ll come to visit us by signing a partnership with the festival as an off event, with half-price rates for all festival-ticket holders.
Admission fees are no longer charged in municipal museums in Avignon. You won’t be going in the same direction?
I’m not sure that free admission is the best way to develop visitor numbers, and we need this source of income, even if we would like to facilitate access to the Collection. We have developed a joint ticket with the Carré d’Art in Nîmes, the Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain for the PACA region and the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, in Arles. There’s also a “digial pass” project that is set to gather different museums in the Vaucluse region.
The Collection Lambert is not a private museum…
That’s right, the Collection is based on a donation of 550 major contemporary-art works made to the State by Yvon Lambert, and housed in these prestigious venues made available by the Avignon town authorities. In legal terms, this is not a foundation but an association, within which all public authorities are represented. We consist of a small team of sixteen persons, excluding security staff, making up a total of 35 jobs. Our financing is mainly from public sources.
Would you like to obtain the “Musée de France” (Museum of France) label?
We haven’t ruled this out, we’re thinking about it. For now, we’re going to ask for the label as a “contemporary-art centre of national interest” by drawing up an artistic and cultural plan in this direction.
Will guest artists still have the possibility of getting their works to dialogue to the Collection’s – the way that Djamel Tatah did last winter?
This will be the case for the winter exhibition, from 4 December onwards on Francesco Vezzoli. At the same time, I wish to continue our relationship with art schools in France by staging a new edition – number three – of “Rêvez”. We’ll be showing works by young artists just out of art schools in the South of France.
The Collection Lambert is offering, from this summer onwards, a programme divided into two components, in each of its two townhouses. On the one hand, an exhibition made up of a selection of works from the Collection’s permanent collection, presented at the Hôtel de Caumont, with focuses on selected movements or artists who are particularly well represented within the Collection. On the other hand, one or more temporary exhibitions, presented twice a year at the Hôtel de Montfaucon to offer a new look at the production of well-renowned artists or to promote the work of newly spotted creators on the international art scene.
“Ligne Forme Couleur. Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) dans les collections françaises”, “Claire Tabouret”, “Christian Lutz. Anatomies du pouvoir”, until 4 November. Collection Lambert, 5 rue Violette, Avignon. www.collectionlambert.fr