Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr is probably the most known auctioneer in France. Since the decease of Mr. Pierre Restany in 2003, founder of the Nouveaux Realistes movement in 1960, Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr became the president benevolent of the Palais de Tokyo. In this interview, we focus on Mr. Cornette de Saint Cyr’s idea of promoting French Art in the international art scene.
Paris, Jan 2011
Palais de Tokyo
Selina Ting [ST] : We are in Palais de Tokyo, the most contemporary place in Paris completely devoted to the new artistic creation and to the promotion of young artists. You were the Vice-President of Palais de Tokyo with Pierre Restany (President) since its creation in 1999, and now you are the President. What’s so special about the Palais de Tokyo in the French art scene?
Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr [PCSC]: This is the only place that’s vivant, because it’s open until midnight everyday except Monday. It’s conceived as the laboratory of contemporary art. There is always something happening here in this place. At the very beginning, we wanted it to be a transversal platform for all forms of arts to mingle and to confront with each other, be it the plastic art, music, videos, haut couture or even gastronomy in Nomiya in the roof top of the Palais, as well scientific research, which is very important because the next wave would be digital art.
ST: What do you mean by scientific research?
PCSC: Here we work a lot with scientists and artists at the same time. The great scientists told me that, you know, we have changed the civilization in two generations. 90% of scientific discoveries and technologies of human history dated later than 1950s, which means we have more discoveries in the last 50 to 60 years than the 1950 years before that. So, the only motor of this new world is creativity and now science and art is very similar because the artists use a lot of high-ended technology, almost the same tools as the scientists. We are in an extraordinary world. That’s why we have to develop the female side of the humanity. We need creativity, sensibility and imagination in this brand new world.
ST: Palais de Tokyo is a place for permanent creation and re-creation. It’s now closed for renovation and will re-open in mid – late 2012. What would be the new direction for the art centre in the meantime?
PCSC: To be more international.
French Art in the International Art Scene
ST: You mean you have projects to promote French artists in the international art scene?
PCSC: Of course, that’s a must today. Since we are the last communist country in the world, and in the communist countries we lock our artists inside. It has been 40 years that we shut our artists in the territory! Now we have enough, we are going to get them out! I always want to send the French artists to China, because it has yet to be done!
ST: Why China in particular?
PCSC: China and the US. I want to have correspondences in China and in New York. I really want to collaborate with China because it’s an extraordinary world. You have six thousand years of extraordinary civilization. I always say that it’s essential to establish cultural relationships and understandings between two countries before we do business together, because trust comes from mutual understanding and good-willed interactions.
ST: Collaborations with China is something not so habitual for the French institutions.
PCSC: The French museums didn’t want to promote French artists in the international art scene. My war now is to promote French creation in the world. We are a formidable country. We have excellent artists, researchers, critiques, entrepreneurs to build and support French art. All these efforts were hindered by the infamous French administration and the bureaucracy.
Regional vs Global
ST: You have been criticizing the French cultural policy of concentrating too much on promoting art in the regions rather than in the international scene, such as the creation of the regional institutions and collections, etc. Are you still skeptical with the system?
PCSC: They have created all the FRAC and DRAC in the late 1980s in the whole country. These collections have important budget to buy work and build their collection. But the majority of the works is stocked in the reserve, sometimes they were lent to other museums or art centers, but the majority is just forgotten. Now, what has to be done is the promotion of French art in the world. Pompidou Centre isn’t doing enough. It hasn’t organized any solo show of any French artist outside France in the last 30 years. They should at least organize a show per year of a great French artist in New York, in Beijing or in Mumbai. Every time when we organize a show of a French artist, we should travel it to other cities outside France and outside Europe as well. I give you another example, the former President of the Palais, the Late Pierre Restany, was a great curator and art critique. It was him who created the Nouveau Realisme movement with Yves Klein, Arman, Raysse, Cesar, etc. This year is the 50th Anniversary of Nouveau Realisme and no French institution plans any exhibition on this group of artists.
ST: Even though this group of artists are now seen everywhere in the French collections…
PCSC: They are always 50 years late. All these had been blocked for decades, and we have to catch up with the world.
ST: What about the contemporary art museums in the major cities, such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseilles, etc.? Aren’t they doing the infrastructural work for the French art scene and the popularization of art?
PCSC: We have a good infrastructure, and these museums are presenting interesting exhibitions. But it’s important that every time when a major show of a French artist is organized, it should be pre-sold to museums in other countries. All the international museums are in the exchange network. The Tate Modern is doing this and it’s associated with the private enterprises to do the promotion. Look at what Tate Modern and Saatchi have been doing for the British artists. The French just don’t want this! If you want, there are European artists that became international stars, Miquel Barcelo from Spain, Maurizio Cattelan from Italy, Damien Hirst from Britain, etc., but none from France.
ST: Did their country make them famous or did they gain their notoriety in New York?
PCSC: Because their countries promoted their art in New York then their works were in the American collections. When I went to New York, I asked the American collectors why they didn’t collect French contemporary art, they said, “show us your artists”! Even a small country like Belgium, they have international stars and they have so many important collectors as well. But I tell you, no artists can get out of a communist country before the wall falls down. The Berlin wall fell down 20 years ago, now it’s time to make the Parisian wall falls!! They won’t be happy that I said so, but it’s the fact!! [Laugh…]
ST: What about Palais de Tokyo? Is Palais de Tokyo doing enough in this aspect?
PCSC: We want to do more exchanges and collaborations with international museums. We started from scratch, from ground zero and it took years to build up the base. Now, I really hope that we will reach agreements soon with different bodies and museums to travel our shows. New York and Beijing are always interesting for us.
ST: Today’s artists from the global nomads. Is it still important to export them in a cargo with a French trade mark?
PCSC: To be international, firstly, you need the cultural root. It’s the base of an artist’s creation. It’s interesting to see why a French artist create certain work that becomes universal, and to understand this, we need to go back to the root of their cultural context. The Chinese artists today stressed that they are international artists and they are no longer creating Chinese art. But at the very beginning, they came into the scene as Chinese artists.
ST: Is there a so-call denominator of French contemporary art? What are the features of French art today if such features exist?
PCSC: We have very fine artists, for example, in digital art. They have a vision of art that is at the same time audacious and strongly connected to the traditions, in particular to painting and sculpture. I like to look at the future and I believe in the importance of creating a global presence for the French contemporary art.
ST: Thank you!