Paris Picasso Museum re-opens after refit

After a five-year closure for what was supposed to be a two-year refurbishment, Paris's Picasso Museum re-opened Saturday with arguments over the €52 million project still reverberating.

Paris Picasso Museum re-opens after refit
Photo: AFP

French President Francois Hollande said at a ceremony the museum was "one of the most beautiful in the world and one of the most moving because it brings together the considerable and prolific work of the best-known artist of the 20th century".

The ceremony, though, did little to hide the rancour surrounding the project, which featured the sacking of its director, a blast of criticism from the artist's son, lengthy delays and a huge budget overrun.

The museum — housed in a 17th-century mansion in Paris's trendy Marais quarter — has been extensively modernised and enlarged to more than twice its previous size.

But the project ran 22 million euros over budget due to an increase in the scope of the works, and a rift developed between Picasso's son Claude and the French government.

The gallery, which first opened in 1985, boasts one of the world's most extensive collections of Picasso's work with 5,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, photographs and documents.

The Spanish artist spent most of his life in France and the majority of the exhibits were left to the French state on his death in 1973.

Others were donated by his family, including his widow Jacqueline. 

Hollande also used the opening to defend a US contemporary artist, Paul McCarthy, who had a controversial inflatable work in Paris' chic Place Vendome — meant to be an abstract Christmas tree, but viewed by many as an overscale green sex toy — was vandalised last week, leading to its removal.

The president condemned "the act of stupidity which leads to an artist being attacked or his work being destroyed".

"The talent of a nation can be measured by the importance it accords to artists," Hollande added.

According to the Picasso Museum's new director, Laurent Le Bon, the expansion — which has boosted the exhibition space to 3,800 square metres (41,000 square feet) — will allow it to display far more of its collection, only a fraction of which was previously displayed due to lack of space.

Le Bon told AFP the beauty of the renovation was that "everything has changed and nothing has changed".

"You still have the basic structure of the building… but at the same time everything has been redone," he said.

"One can move around much more easily than before, one has a freedom which goes well with the spirit and the works of Picasso."

As part of the refit, offices have been turned into exhibition areas, former stables transformed into a huge reception hall and the basement excavated.

New minimalist exhibition spaces are characterised by grey terrazzo, bare stone and whitewashed walls.

But the sacking of the museum's previous director Anne Baldassari in May 2014, just months before the re-opening, has cast a shadow over the project.

The director, who had been at the helm for nine years and at the museum for over two decades, was summarily sacked by France's then culture minister, Aurelie Filippetti, following a staff rebellion and accusations of authoritarian management.

Her dismissal prompted Claude Picasso, who supported Baldassari, to accuse the French government of failing to value his father's work and of dragging its feet over the re-opening.

Baldassari "is the scientific authority who has been responsible for the growth of the museum for many years," Picasso told the newspaper Le Figaro at the time, adding that he would regard any replacement who thought they could take her place as an "impostor".

In future, the museum is expected to hold one major exhibition each year.

The first in mid-2015 in collaboration with New York's Museum of Modern Art will take Picasso's sculpture as its theme.

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Picasso’s $115-million ‘Young Girl’ to be loaned to Paris museum

Picasso's "Young Girl With Basket of Flowers," recently sold at a New York auction for $115 million, will be loaned to Paris's Musee d'Orsay for a Picasso exhibit opening in September.

Picasso's $115-million 'Young Girl' to be loaned to Paris museum
"Young Girl With Basket of Flowers" by Pablo Picasso on display during a Christie's preview. Photo: AFP

“We're very happy,” a museum spokesperson said Saturday in confirming the loan, first reported in The New York Times.

The painting was purchased at auction Tuesday by the Nahmads, a family of art dealers and collectors that includes Helly Nahmad, owner of a New York gallery, according to two sources quoted by the Times. Nahmad did not respond to an AFP request, through his gallery, for comment.

The Musee d'Orsay's “Picasso: Blue and Rose” exhibit is being organized in collaboration with the Picasso Museum-Paris and will focus on the artist's work from 1900-1906, encompassing his critically important Blue Period and Rose Period. It will run from September 18th to January 6th, 2019.

The exhibit will then move to the Beyeler Foundation near Basel, Switzerland, from February 3rd to May 26th, with a modified set of paintings. It is not clear whether the “Young Girl” will be part of that show.

The painting, from 1905, was part of a major auction by Christie's of the extensive collection of the late US banker David Rockefeller and his wife Peggy.

“Young Girl,” which the American collector Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo had purchased directly from the artist, was sold for the sixth-highest sum ever attained by a painting at auction, expenses and commissions included.

Four paintings by Picasso (1881-1973) have now been sold for more than $100 million each. No other painter has seen more than one piece of art reach that rarefied level.

Rockefeller, who died last year aged 101, was a grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. “Young Girl” was a centrepiece of his vast trove of artworks.

The Christie's sale brought in a total of $832 million, pulverizing the record for a single collection sale set in 2009, when the works of designer Yves Saint Laurent and his longtime partner Pierre Berge netted $484 million.

READ ALSO: Picasso's French Riviera mansion set to sell for 'bargain' €20 million