French Artists Respond to Marine Le Pen’s Courting with Damning Letter

Her party has some ideas about policing exhibitions' content.

French far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen during a speech. Photo credit DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images.

French politician Marine Le Pen’s far-right party Front National (FN) is making political gains with Islamophobic rhetoric in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, and the dangerous strategy is not unsuccessful. The FN is poised, for the first time, to win two regions in the upcoming regional elections on December 6.

Le Pen, who went on trial for hate speech in October, after likening Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation in a speech during a rally in Lyon in 2010, is tipped to win the election in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy, while her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, is leading the polls in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Looking to appeal to new voters, Le Pen sent a message to France’s artists and culture workers on November 26, which Le Monde mockingly summed up with the words: “Artists in need of recognition, here we come!”

There, Le Pen assures artists that she believes “each artist should be respected,” and lists measures that her far-right party will implement in those regions to accommodate culture workers. These include setting up a system of so-called artist “incubators,” to borrow a term from Silicon Valley, which will provide services for “artists of all ages” working in “all areas of creation,” because “our regional action aims to help artists create independently, favoring freedom and talent over the market system,” the statement asserts.

Le Pen’s vision reads like an art world Valhalla, where free services to artists extend to include the production of catalogues, public relations and press, and, the cherry on top, artworks by artists associated in the regional incubators will be presented not only in local institutions but also in Paris, in “prestigious venues such as the Grand Palais.”

If Le Pen’s appeal sounds suspect it’s because it is.

The suggested “incubators” are meant to replace France’s system of institutions belonging to the Regional Contemporary Art Fund (FRAC), a minor detail that Marine Le Pen does little to obfuscate. “We want to break with the current logic of the FRAC that too often promotes commercial interests, forgetting the actual artistic creation,” she argues. Le Pen chose to attack FRAC’s museums for their alleged commercial interests when staging exhibitions rather than their (oft subversive and political) programming, to appeal to local under-represented artists.

Though Le Pen claims her party does not intend to interfere with content or editorial decisions regarding programming, the FN has its pet peeves, and migrants are on top of their no-go list. “If a place wants to do an exhibition on migrants, we will not pay one Euro for this event,” politician Sébastien Chenu who joined the FN a year ago, told le Monde, adding that institutions that stray will be faced with other sanctions. 

Acting Director of the FRAC, the art critic Richard Leydier, has commented in reply, “The FN has declared war on contemporary art, both in the north and south of France.” And he’s not alone. Some 655 artists (and counting) have signed an open letter to Marine Le Pen:


That you should take up your pen to contact artists a few days after the terrorist acts that struck our core values ​​and lifestyle gives us no illusions about your intentions towards us. Everything between you and us is incompatible, and only traitors and fools will believe for a moment that creative freedom has any meaning for your political party. Do not imagine for a second that we are not aware that our society suffers from terrible morale and that the victims of November 13 demand justice. However, whereas you think we need to “clean up” our country and find courage by closing doors and windows, we believe, in contrast, that we have to open them in order to bring air to the troubled souls that see, in you, a remedy. We work and create in France as well as elsewhere, the liberty of creation is first of all an openness towards others—those who are not me, but who are equal to me, no matter what the color of their skin, their nationality, or their religion.

Signatories include Adel AbdessemedKader AttiaChristian Boltanski, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Daniel Buren, Victor Burgin, Cyril Duval, Valérie Jouve, Bertrand Lavier, Annette Messager, and Orlan.

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