Budget Crisis at France’s Maeght Foundation

Aimé Maeght's descendants squabble over a scheme to sell works from the collection.

The Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation. Photo: courtesy the Maeght Foundation.

The Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation, a 50-year-old French art institution, is known for its Joan Miró labyrinth, Georges Braque mosaics and stained glass, and 35 Alberto Giacometti sculptures. Now, the beloved museum is facing a budgetary crisis, struggling to cover its $4 million annual operating costs, reports the Economist.

French art dealer Aimé Maeght created the foundation that bears his name after his son died from childhood leukemia in the 1950s. He was persuaded to convert the family vacation home, outside of Nice, into an art institution by Braque, Miró, and Fernand Léger. Since opening in 1964, the foundation has amassed a collection of 12,000 works, and its idyllic campus sees some 200,000 visitors every year.

Maeght, a lithographer by trade, fell into art dealing when his shop received a visit from Pierre Bonnard, who was looking to make a print. When Maeght suggested he arrange to sell the engraving, he stumbled into a career as a gallerist, eventually representing modern art giants including Braque, Miró, Giacometti, Léger, Marc Chagall, and Alexander Calder.

Currently, the foundation is run by Maeght’s 84-year-old son, Adrien, who is the head of a board of 12 that includes his sister Isabelle and three French government members. The group is bitterly divided as to how to best steer the organization through its current crisis. (Maeght senior bankrolled the operation until his death in 1981, leaving four-fifths of his personal art collection to the foundation.)

The discord is the basis for the newly published La Saga Maeght, written eight years ago by Adrien’s daughter Yoyo, which reveals the secret animosities of the Maeght family and levels accusations of emotional unavailability and financial mismanagement against Adrien. The foundation depends on the cost of admission to cover 80 percent of its budget, with sponsorships, donations, and producing shows for other venues making up the difference.

Director Olivier Kaeppelin, appointed in 2011, has plans for an underground expansion that would add galleries for drawing and video art, as well as a restaurant and additional rooms that can be rented out as event venues, serving as an additional source of revenue for the struggling institution. Maeght has given his blessing to the plan, and the foundation has launched a fundraising campaign.

The board seems less likely to get behind Kaeppelin’s plan to allow the foundation to sell parts of its valuable collection. He argues that the institution’s holdings include multiple or similar versions of many prints and sculptures, but Isabelle Maeght has voiced her opposition to the plan. Without this source of additional income, it seems unlikely the museum can maintain its operations without a major infusion of cash from the Maeght family or the French government.

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