Nicolas Bourriaud – new director of École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts

   |  4 November 2011  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

Paris, 3 November 2011, Art Media Agency, (AMA).

On suggestion of the Minister of  Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, Nicolas Bourriaud was appointed chairman of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) on 31 October 2011. He succeeded officially Henry-Claude Cousseau, previous director since 1st
September 2000.

Nicolas Bourriaud (born in 1965) is a historian as well as an art critic, specialist in contemporary art. From 200o until 2006 he was co-founder and co-director at Palais de Tokyo in Paris and he was also named curator at Tate Britain. He was also a professor at the University of Venice and since 2010 he has been the leader Inspector at the Ministry of the Culture for the artistic creation. He has written several works and created the magazines Documents sur l’art, Revue Perpendiculaire and Stream.

In order to succeed Henri-Claude Cousseau there were nine candidates officially presented and six of them were selected by Georges François Hirsch, the General Inspection Director for artistic creation. The candidates who were selected for their projects and admitted by Frédéric Mitterrand were Nicolas Bourriaud, artist Jean-Marc Bustamante, the Assistant Director of the Musée national d’art moderne Catherine Grenier, art historian Adrien Goetz, Yves Aupetitallo director of the artistic centre Le Magasin, as well as academic Patricia Falguières.

Nicolas Bourriaud who was elected, must continue the work that Henry-Claude Cousseau started, concerning the insertion of the ENSBA in the procedure LMD (Licence – Master – Doctorate). According to the Minister of Culture the institution “shoud be established as an excellent European pole for higher education of visual arts, connected to the branch of Superior National Art Schools.” The new director should reinforce the synergies between the different components of the school as well as propose innovate exhibitions, strengthen students’ work and follow the international range.”

However, the choice of a new director at ENSBA erupted several reactions. Even before his nomination Nicolas Bourriaud was in the centre of debates. First of all, he should face a general strike by school instructors should he be elected. This rumour, which was quickly refuted, reflects however the atmosphere of the nomination. Then, after a publication in Journal des Arts, which stated that chairman post had already been reserved for Nicolas Bourriaud by the Minister of Culture, he had to defend himself and send a letter to art historian André Rouillé: “contrary to the fiction published by Journal des Arts, the post of the new director was never engaged to me by the minister who was the first to be surprised. He might have proposed Jean de Loisy but not me. I would like to ask you to change this untruthful statement”. It is to remark that this debate comes into a strongly controversial context sensitive to a purely political nomination as happened for Catherine Pégard at Versailles Castle.

Apart from the “pass-dr0it” question concerning the government, Nicolas Bourriaud’s professional profile also started the debate. Following the tradition, the director of Fine Arts is usually a creator or an ancient student of the school. Indeed, contrary to other candidates and predecessors, Bourriaud is not an artist, but a passionate fan of the art world. Several European museum chairmen also signed a personal letter to the Minister of Culture to express their dissatisfaction with the event. The five persons who signed are Chritian Bernard, director of Musée d’art moderne et contemporain in Geneva, Manuel Borja-Villel, chairman at Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Chris Dercon director of Tate Modern in London, Laurent Busine, director of Musée des Arts contemporains at Grand-Hornu in Belgium and David Cascaro, director of superior art and music schools in Strasbourg and Mulhouse. There is an extract of the letter published in daily newspaper’s Libération site :

“The necessity of a personality of an international range tied to the art world can not be doubted by anyone. Traditionally, the director of the École des Beaux-Arts was presented like primus inter pares, one of the most renowned artist professors or the most capable to lead, supervise and support students. In France, the rule of the art schools that allowed in the 1970s several artists to enter into them, lead to a reversal. Councilors and creation inspectors, historians and philosophers, associative activists and cultural entrepreneurs were slowly but firmly replaced by artists in direction posts. It is without doubt that several made their duty and went beyond it. But isn’t it time to open again the recruitment field? To come back to a tradition that is followed by more than the half of French schools with sure results. […] To nominate an artist at Beaux -Arts in Paris could be a nice gesture towards French artists that doubt our consideration of their worth. […] The direction of an art school needs diplomatic qualities, capacities to lead the stuff in different categories in a dynamic collective and a team spirit. A plastic artist could more easily federate the differences in the perspective to form tomorrow artists.”

Despite the oppositions Frédéric Mitterrand gave priority to the professional experience of the candidate who possesses a “strong network of artists.” In our current cultural politics or in the reformed competition for Heritage Curator in order to allow a better professionalisation, is it really surprising that the government’s choice was for Nicolas Bourriaud, a professional of the culture that mulitplied important posts?

Last concerns about Bourriaud’s nomination were published in La Tribune de l’art on 3 October by Didier Rykner. The critic demands on ENSBA restoration: “We can however worry for the future of the School heritage which is not only an instruction establishment, but also a set of historical monuments and a conservation place of very important art collections. […] In fact, the current situation of the school, which is in the centre of capital, is a shame. The Ministry of Culture that is its only tutor is widely responsible. Thus, we will be aware of what the new director intends to do with this aspect. The projects have not been announced in public, we are not aware of what he scheduled to do but we can be reasonably worried about Nicola Bourriaud’s interest in 19th century works conserved at ENSBA and his architecture.”

Nicolas Bourriaud, while waiting to present to the administration council leaded by Frédéric Jousset his project for the development of the school, seems to look forward to the pedagogical and heritage plan. In order to correspond to this heavy duty he will have to start proving and persuading the art world, what ever it is.

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