French Town Snubs €4 Million Outsider Art Gift

City hall has been accused of settling political scores.

Cérès Franco (2013) Photo via: Connaissance des Arts ©Patrice Bouvier

The city of Carcassonne, in the South of France, has been heavily criticized for turning down 1,500 works of outsider art offered by the Brazilian collector and gallerist Cérès Franco.

Some of the works from her collection—worth an estimated €4 million ($5.2 million)—are currently shown in an exhibition which opened at the city’s fine art museum last summer.

At the time of the exhibition’s unveiling, the collection was expected to stay in Carcassonne, an effort championed for over two decades by the local cultural councilor Alain Tarlier.

“All these artists have filled my life with joy,” Franco said on the opening night. “They are the antithesis of official art, the art of technocrats, of academicism, and classicism. My passion has been rewarded; the city of Carcassone has given me a formidable opportunity.”

But the tide turned with the arrival of a new administration following the municipal election in March 2014. The town hall subsequently notified Franco’s daughter, Dominique Polad-Hardouin, that the collection would be returned to her mother’s house-cum-museum in Lagrasse.

“The first argument was an economic one,” she told the local newspaper La dépêche du Midi. “The coffers are empty. The second one is that they are not interested in the works. Their plan as far as culture is concerned is to showcase the fine art museum’s collection, which is utterly uninteresting.”

Some suspect that the move has more to do with politics than art expertise, but the incoming cultural councilor, Jean-Louis Bès, denies these accusations firmly. “The donation came with untenable conditions, considering the city’s current financial situation,” he said, quoting a budget of €500,000–700,000 ($656,265–918,770) for the building works needed to host the artworks, and operating costs of up to €250,000 ($328,000).

Tarlier said he was “deeply hurt.” He added, “I’m waiting for explanations. This was a chance for art in Carcassone.” Although the show is still on, some of the works have already been sent back to Lagrasse, and Polad-Hardouin is now on the lookout for a potential new home for the collection.

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