As Parisians exit their third lockdown, they’re about to enjoy the French capital’s newest cultural venue, a 10,500 square metre museum in the city’s former commodities exchange, renovated and filled with art courtesy of billionaire Francois Pinault. The Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection will open to the public on 22 May.
Located in the heart of Paris, the round building dates to the mid- 18th century, when it was built as a center of the city's grain trade known as the Halle au Blé. A 16th-century column from the era of the French queen Catherine de Medici was attached to the building’s exterior, where it has remained to the present day.
Even as the building’s use stayed the same, it went through a series of modifications, including the addition of a spectacular metal and glass dome in 1812. Then, in the late 19th century, the building was renovated and turned into a commodities exchange (bourse de commerce), and remained in use for another hundred years.
Pinault initially wanted to build a center for his art collection on an island on the outskirts of Paris. But bureaucratic delays and urban planning requirements led him to abandon the project in 2005 and pivot to his collection’s two buildings in Venice, the Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana.
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In 2015 though, Paris’s mayor Anne Hidalgo pitched him on the Bourse building as yet another location for his collection. She offered him a 50-year lease for a lump sum of 15 million euros plus annual fees of around 60,000 euros. “I did not hesitate for a second,” he said in a statement.
In order to turn the building from a former commodities exchange (it later became the Chamber of Commerce) into an art gallery, Pinault hired Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The building’s renovations started in 2017 and were completed last year, and cost around 160 million euros ($194 million).
The plan is to stage up to 15 shows a year with Pinault’s own collection hanging alongside loans for curated and thematic exhibitions, according to Martin Bethenod, the deputy Chief Executive Officer of Bourse de Commerce. There will be solo shows, in-situ projects, and standalone artist commissions designed specifically for the building.
Pinault’s collection contains around 10,000 works by nearly 400 artists. The 84-year old Kering founder has been involved in the art world, and art market, for decades. He first invested in auction house Christie’s in 1998 via his personal holding company Artemis. Pinault’s net worth is estimated to be $53.6 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires index.
The Bourse is located within a 10-minute walking distance from the Louvre and Pompidou museums as well as a 30-minute taxi ride from the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a contemporary art center that opened in 2014 under the patronage of another luxury mogul, Bernard Arnault.
A restaurant called La Halle aux Grains (The Granary) run by chefs Michel Bras and his son Sebastien is located on the third floor.
Visitors will be surprised by the mix of old and new once they enter the Bourse: Ando designed a nine-meter high, self-contained concrete cylinder in the center of the main rotunda. Inside the cylinder is one of the building’s 10 art galleries; the rest are located on the ground, first and second floors as well as the basement, which also houses an auditorium.
Inside the rotunda there’s a 360-degree mural representing French trade across the continents. The 1,400 square-meter painting was executed in 1889, timed to when France held the Universal Exposition. When Pinault took over the space, it took a team of 24 people working for six months to restore it.
The Bourse’s first exhibition is called “Ouverture,’’ French for “opening.” In total, 7,000 square meters are devoted to the public and the cultural program at the Bourse de Commerce.“There isn’t a single piece of art in this exhibition that hasn’t been picked by Pinault himself,’’ Bethenod says during a press viewing. The collection’s curator is Caroline Bourgeois, who’s worked with Pinault since 2007. Jean-Jacques Aillagon heads the Bourse de Commerce. He was previously Culture Minister under the late President Jacques Chirac.
Inside the cylinder on the ground floor, visitors will find “Untitled’’ (2011-2020) by Urs Fischer. This monumental piece consists of nine wax sculptures, including a replica of The Rape of the Sabine Women by the 16th century sculptor Giambologna. “It’s a metaphor for the passing of time since the shape of the sculptures will change as the wax melts,’’ Bethenod says.
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On the same level, near the bookshop, a large, brightly colored painting called “Ici plage, comme ici bas,’’ from 2012 by Martial Raysse is reminiscent of a Renaissance frieze. A crowd of sunbathers, peasants and carnival-goers fills the canvas, while the Montagne Sainte-Victoire appears in the background.
Also on the ground floor near the elevator, a white mouse pokes its head out of a hole in a wall. Ryan Gander’s mechanical creature from (2019) “attempts to speak, but stutters and stammers, disrupting the atmosphere and the quiet of the museum with its child’s voice,’’ the exhibition text informs us.
Cats rest on drums of various heights in “Standing Room Only’’ (1996) and “High Level of Cats’’ (1998) by David Hammons. It’s the first time his works—30 pieces in total—will be shown at this scale in France, Bethenod says. The gallery also includes Hammons’s lacerated American flag whose colors have been changed to Panafrican ones, Bethenod continues, adding that “90% of this opening exhibition’s pieces hadn’t been shown before.”
Visitors can then take the stairs along the cylinder to reach the gallery of photographs on the first floor. 11 images of “Untitled Film Stills,’’ (1977-1979) by Cindy Sherman are displayed here. The artist, who’s known to impersonate different characters in her pictures, was also granted a retrospective at Fondation Louis Vuitton last year. Next to her stills is a triptych by Richard Prince from the series “Untitled (Cowboy),” (2015-2016) for which he appropriated the 1960s advertising campaign designed for a famous cigarette brand, staging an iconic character, the exhibition tells us, which is part of the “great American dream.”
The second floor features portraits and sculptures that focus on the “human figure,’’ Bethenod says. Artists of diverse backgrounds are displayed, including Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, whose work is currently on view at Tate Britain in London. The gallery also includes Xinyi Cheng, an artist born in 1989 who lives between Shanghai and Paris. Her paintings, organizers say, capture gestures of friends and acquaintances.
A level above, on the rotunda balconies on the third floor, pigeons lurk. “Others’’ (2011) is a creation by Maurizio Cattelan, the Italian art star behind the infamous banana that was duct-taped to a wall at Miami’s Art Basel fair in 2019. These pigeons, Bethenod says, are intended to be reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie The Birds; it’s an attempt to make visitors more aware, and potentially, more uncomfortable, about their surroundings, he explains.
If visitors head to the basement, they’ll be able to immerse themselves in the studio with “Offspring’’ (2020) by Pierre Huyghe. The artist offers a light show in semi-darkness with the soundtrack of Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie number 1, a melody that’s constantly being re-written thanks to artificial intelligence, says Bethenod.