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MUSEUM

Paris to get ‘gift’ of another mega art gallery

One of the world's biggest private art collections is to be housed in a new Paris museum within a stone's throw of the Louvre, a French billionaire said on Wednesday.

Paris to get 'gift' of another mega art gallery
The Bourse de Commerce, soon to be Paris' newest art museum. Photo: Eric Feferburg/AFP

Francois Pinault, the luxury goods mogul who also owns the auction house Christie's, is taking over the Bourse de Commerce in the centre of the French capital to show off his $1.4-billion (€1.2-billion) collection of modern masters.

The city's mayor Anne Hidalgo, who negotiated the deal, described the museum as “an immense gift to the heart of Paris”.

Pinault, 79, has amassed an enormous trove of work by artists from Mark Rothko to Damien Hirst, which he now shows at his private museums in Venice after failing for decades to find a suitable home for them in Paris.

“I am delighted, it's a big plus for the city,” Hidalgo told AFP, pointing out that the new museum is also only a few hundred metres from the Pompidou Centre, Europe's biggest contemporary art collection.

She praised Pinault and his great business rival, France's richest man Bernard Arnault – who opened his own Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation for his art collection last year – for helping put Paris back on the modern art map.

“It is great to have our captains of industry helping to fly our colours. With this and the FIAC art fair, Paris is regaining its place in contemporary art,” she added.

€1billion facelift

The historic Parisian grain exchange which Pinault is taking over is part of a one-billion-euro urban renewal project to give what Hidalgo calls a “new beating heart” to the city's Les Halles district.

Paris's magnificent 19th-century central market was bulldozed in the 1970s to make way for an airless underground shopping complex and transport hub which most of its residents loathe.

But a vast new steel-and-glass canopy unveiled this month by Hidalgo to put a lid on the problem has also been derided, branded a “custard-coloured flop” by the British daily The Guardian.

Under terms of the deal, Pinault and his family will be given a 50-year lease on the building, which they must also renovate. It was not revealed how much the work would cost or how much rent he will pay.

In 2001, Pinault handed the reins of his empire – which includes the Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Puma and Balenciaga brands – to his son Francois-Henri, who is married to the Mexican Hollywood star Salma Hayek.

Since then the man once described as “the most powerful in the art world”, has mostly dedicated himself to his art collection, installing it in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice and two other historic buildings there. They will now work in tandem with the new Paris gallery, which will open in 2018, sources close to the collector told AFP.

Pinault had tried for years to build a museum on the site of an old Renault car factory on the Ile Seguin in the middle of the Seine west of Paris, but gave up in despair in 2005 over planning delays.

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HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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