Dijon’s museum gets a renovation (II)

Dijon’s museum gets a renovation (II)
Leading lights  -   Collectors

Last month, Art Critique announced the highly anticipated reopening of the Dijon Musée des Beaux-Arts. Judgement is reserved about whether the exhibition of modern and contemporary collections lived up to its promise. It does, however, raise a piercing question about the fate of what makes (made?) the modern Museum what it is today, namely the Granville Endowment. In 1969 and 1974, art dealer Pierre Granville and his wife Kathleen donated their vast collection, focused on the School of Paris, to the Dijon Museum. In an institution that had been practically destitute in 20th century art, the gratitude bestowed on the donors reflected the magnitude of their legacy; The Granvilles had been proclaimed conservators for life of the “Modern and Contemporary Art Division”. Needless to say, that the Granville Endowment is significant not only, and possibly not even primarily, because it is a collection of pieces but because of the way that the two benefactors selected them and decided to have them interact among themselves and with chronologically and geographically distant objects. Pierre Quarré, the wonderful director of the museum during its golden era, yet envious of its authority, declared that the halls dedicated to the Granvilles symbolized “a museum within a museum”, having its own soul and personal guiding principle.

By all accounts this independence has increasingly proven to be a thorn in the side of the conservators of the post-Quaré era. When she held the same office in Dijon in 2000, Sophie Lévy, the current director of the Nantes Museum, wanted “the pieces to reclaim a part of their independence, (…) and for their presentation to evolve”. In 2019 “Museum Transformed” allowed this vision to be realized. Without misplaced nostalgia, visitors cannot help but lament the time when, a threshold symbolically crossed, sent them into another world, one which was certainly still the museum, but was also something else – a “museum of eye” that was very different from the didactic museum that developed within the old halls. It’s precisely this didacticism that has been used to justify “refining” the new halls: all the other bequests made over the centuries and decades that have contributed to the richness of the public collection have been included in a common fund, we are told; why should the latest donation be any different? The argument is somewhat specious. First of all, what unbreakable law dictates that exhibitions must follow a strict succession of generations and schools? The educational museum, like the one in Dijon, could very well become a cabinet of curiosities, centred on the successive contributions, restoring consistency to the passions and style of various historical periods. These two options both have their pros and cons which must be weighed but there is no reason to reject any one out of hand. Besides the issue does not pose the quite the same challenges for the Granvilles it does for His de La Salle (1863), Trimolet (1878), Grangier (1905) or Dard (1916). These respectable donors have been resting peacefully in their grave for a long time now, while there are still a great many people who knew Pierre Granville (who died in 1996). Haven’t we, as the old guard might say, observed a respectable “mourning period”?

So then what kind of tour of 20th century art is the Dijon museum is now offering? At the start of the exhibit visitors are greeted with a beautiful “Outburst” by Judit Reigel*, before entering a hall dedicated to Francois Pompon. Without overindulging in the cult of Pompon, which hardly deserved the harsh words that the late Georges Pompidou heaped on the poetry of Frances Jammes, this decision is commendable.  If there’s one particular unique trait that Dijon can claim, it’s that since the 14th century it has consistently been promoting work of the most celebrated sculptors thereby also giving prominence to a neglected art. Long live Pompon, then – but also long live Pablo Gargallo, whose work appears later, thanks to the Granvilles, in the form of a charming bronze “Fauna” from 1907! After a very large-scale piece by Viera da Salva, the curators sought, as a kind of prelude, to make amends for the excessive liberties taken with the Kathleen and Pierre Granville’s choices. As collectors they were, among other things, devotees of ATP and have brought together, as a kind of memoriam, a very small personal collection (there are only about a dozen pieces). That’s not nearly enough! The next hall in the tour spotlights Cubism and African Art and while it’s not likely to not make anyone forget the initial presentation, nevertheless it is more faithful to the concept of creating an interplay of early 20th century masks, objects and paintings.

The same cannot be said of the unimaginatively named “1920s to 1940s” hall, that uses and definitely abuses the permission to be eclectic:  works by Desvallières, Delaunay, Dufy, Fautrier, Jacques-Émile Blanche (a very bad Blanche), Tal Coat, Rouault, and even Zoran Music are displayed side by side – almost like Drouout before a sale! Pieces from the Granville collection are placed alongside some of the museum’s own acquisitions, most importantly with loans from the National Museum of Modern Art, which only loans their best. Picasso’s Minotaur (1933) is beautiful, but viewers cannot help but search for coherence from a hodgepodge that is unworthy of Dijon. A short distance away is the first floor of the Tour de Bar, one of the most noble spaces of the tour. It had been attributed to Lapicque. Colourful, plentiful and unabashedly flashy, Lapicque is an ideal painter for those who know very little about painting just as there are writers for those who know little about literature. But does the artist deserve his own hall?  That is something for the Dijon museum to re-examine again in a few months when the euphoria of the reopening subsides. So, what’s next? Well, nothing. Rooms 47 to 50, different from the other temporary exhibition halls indicated on the map, are occupied… by an exhibition! The city had always been very infatuated with Yan Pei-Ming and wanted to mark the completion of this major construction project by inviting the Chinese artist who lives in Dijon to show some recent pieces, echoing other life-size pieces scattered among the ongoing collections, although it is still uncertain how long they will remain on display. Ming is talented, nobody disputes that; his bold, dark, disturbing art directly communicates with the modern world, seducing viewers as easily as it upsets them. When Ming’s paintings are finally taken down, will there be a place for the post-Lapicque at the Dijon Museum? No one knows. For the moment, the (long) Dijon exhibition ends with Ming’s Xavier Douroux, portrait of a friend. Douroux, founder of the Consortium, who died in 2017, refers to a local arts history that was brilliant and hopefully will continue to be so depending on whether or not the Dijon museum makes that their priority.

Originally posted on July 9th; the original article can be found here.