Montpellier Ditches Franco-Algerian History for Contemporary Art

Musée de l'Histoire de la France en Algérie Courtesy Montpellier Agglomeration

The new mayor of Montpellier is making waves. The Parisien reports that Philippe Saurel, who leads the Southern French city, has announced his plan to replace the yet-to-open Museum of the History of France in Algeria with a contemporary art museum.

Construction of the historical museum started in 2010 and was supposed to last 18 months. But they have already cost half of the €20 million budget, and are still nowhere near finished. The museum was intended to cover the historical period from the invasion of Algeria by the French in 1830 until the Independence in 1962

“We are still at a reversible phase of the project,” said Saurel. “A change of destination won’t change the total bill.”

Money aside, this change is indicative of a shift in priority in a region with a significant Algerian community and numerous families of so-called “pieds noirs,” the former French settlers in Algeria.

Saurel promised a contemporary art museum in his election campaign, but he won’t build a new collection. Instead the mayor plans to collaborate with the local FRAC (Fond Regional d’Art Contemporain, a state-funded organization collecting art in each region of the country). He also hopes to start working with the Centre George Pompidou in Paris. Before the inauguration of the Pompidou-Metz, the city of Montpellier had been considered a potential location for the national art museum’s regional outpost.

The historical museum might end up in other cities with a strong pied noir heritage like Marseille, or Perpignan. It could also be built in Montpellier on another plot of land, near the infantry museum.

None of these solutions are confirmed yet, and €2 million have already been spent on acquisitions for the Museum of the History of France in Algeria. If the project is completely abandoned, the fledgling collection will be sold.

Saurel’s proposal will be discussed at the next local council meeting, where it has to be validated.

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