Nicolas Bourriaud and Fleur Pellerin Attack Each Other in Public Dispute

Students, faculty, and galleries are supporting Bourriaud.

Fleur Pellerin and Nicolas Bourriaud.
Nicolas Bourriaud <br>Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger via Monopol

Nicolas Bourriaud
Photo: Alexandre Guirkinger via Monopol

Last week, the French Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin dismissed Nicolas Bourriaud from his post as director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, in a surprise decision that sent the French—and international—media into a frenzy, sparking rumors regarding possible ulterior motives.  

In a public back-and-forth carried out in the French press, Bourriaud challenged Pellerin’s decision to fire him, calling it “arbitrary.” Pellerin didn’t stay silent on the matter either, and accused Bourriaud of running the Beaux-Arts like a personality-driven institution.

It all started with an exclusive interview with Télérama published on July 4, where Bourriaud responded to the points laid out in the press release and call for applications issued by Pellerin following his dismissal, and which could read—as interviewer Joséphine Bindé suggested—like a reproach to his tenure. Bourriaud rebutted the points one by one.

“I do not understand this decision. I understand it even less given that the school is in excellent condition, and we have truly extraordinary projects underway…,” he told Bindé. “These points represent a list of what have always been my priorities as director of the Beaux-Arts.”

To the first point, which states that Pellerin is looking for “a more collaborative governance,” he replied: “We’ve instituted this more collaborative governance throughout the year, especially with a new important measure: it will now be a professor from the school who will be director of studies. It is a measure that changes everything, and that is truly at the service of the educational project.”

Regarding a need, according to Pellerin, for a “greater social diversity of students,” he reminded the journalist that he was the one who has appointed the first African artist to head a workshop in the academy’s history—Pascale Marthine Tayou (a public artwork by the Cameroonian artist was recently destroyed by militant Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk, Ukraine).

Bourriaud also pointed out the financial aid provided to students with limited means, and stressed that his removal of the outdated age limit for entry resulted in “an exceptional influx of candidates, 1,400 candidates this year!” This also contributed to the increase in number of foreign applicants.  

He went on to refute the claim that the institution must become more “internationally influential.” “With all humility,” he said, “I don’t think you can do any better than I did on this issue,” naming collaborative programs with academies in Tokyo, Beijing, Buenos Aires, and Reykjavik, with others underway.

École nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, photo: Hermann Wendler

École nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris.
Photo: Hermann Wendler

Asked about the speculations published in the July 1 issue of the satirical weekly le Canard Enchaîné, that his job was made vacant to create a new post for Éric de Chassey, the husband of a friend of President Hollande’s lover, he replied: “I’m afraid the other points in the article proved to be founded…” 

He also pointed out that the call for applications was extremely short-term: “I wonder how the minister was able to launch an open call for projects on July 3 which ends on the 21! Only 15 days to set up a project, all this is not very serious…”

Fleur Pellerin finally broke her silence on the matter in a press conference held during the opening ceremony of the photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles yesterday.

She profusely denied all allegations of nepotism, emphasizing that the position had not been promised to de Chassey. Her job is to “defend the future of this school and its students,” she told the press, not mincing her words.

Stressing that “an administrative position belongs to no one,” it is “normal that the holder is accountable to its supervisory authority.” She criticized Bourriaud for not having established “a project for the academy after four years in office.”

The minister also made a remark on her intention to stop the position from becoming “ego driven”: “A high profile curator is not necessarily a good director,” she blurted. She is seeking “a director for the Fine Arts Academy that is really there, and not absorbed by his personal projects […] a man of vision that puts the school before personal interests and tastes.”

French culture minister Fleur Pellerin imposed an export ban on the items Photo: Jens Gyarmaty via FAZ

French culture minister Fleur Pellerin 
Photo: Jens Gyarmaty via FAZ

Bourriaud was not going to let this one go. Today, the paper Le Figaro published an open letter from Bourriaud where he denounces Pellerin’s “wild accusations.” 

“I was appointed on a project for four years,” he asserted. “I submitted a second project last year, which was sent to all members of the school board. Then we took all year to discuss the terms and objectives with students, faculty, and staff. What’s even funnier, the meeting of the Board of Directors on July 2 was canceled by the Minister, but contained in paragraph 4 or 5 was the ‘new project for the academy,’ which was also given to the Minister during our appointment.” The 45-minute appointment during which Pellerin fired him, that is.

Meanwhile, students, faculty, and other supporters have signed a petition launched on to keep Bourriaud in office. Commercial galleries have also shown their support, sending open letters to Pellerin.

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