Supporters Rally Around Nicolas Bourriaud in Art School Scandal
Paris’ art world stands by the controversial director.
When Nicolas Bourriaud accepted the post of director at Paris’ celebrated art school ENSBA, he probably didn’t fully realize what he was getting himself into. Three years into the job, he couldn’t be less popular. Last month, fourteen professors, as well as students sitting on the administrative board, have written to the French ministry of culture Aurélie Filippetti voicing their disagreement with the star curator’s request to fire three senior members of staff—a barely-disguised condemnation of Bourriaud’s tenure as a whole.
Bourriaud has had a rough ride leading the school. Criticized for his lack of communication with students and staff alike, he came under fire last fall for renting out some of the school’s spaces for the organization of a private dinner for Ralph Lauren, an event which left some students without studios for a few days.
His decision to showcase artists as part of Paris’ gallery weekend CHOICES (May 23–25) was also highly controversial, as it was seen by some as using the school to serve the art market’s best interests. For the opening day on May 23, banners greeted visitors with slogans such as “The École des Beaux Arts is a school, is a school, is a public school,” as well as “a business, an art centre, a brand, a market, a venue–what is the ministry doing?”
“We are not against the principle of organizing something with commercial galleries,” said PhD student Claire Tenu, widely quoted in the French press. “But we were shocked by the fait accompli. Everybody learnt about [the school’s involvement with CHOICES] in the newspapers, the day after a board meeting where this wasn’t even mentioned.”
Bourriaud doesn’t only have enemies, though. A new petition launched by supporters campaigning for him to stay at the school’s helm started last weekend and is quickly garnering attention. At time of writing, over 400 people have signed, including high profile figures such as artists Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Daniel Buren, as well as curators Ami Barak and Hou Hanrou.
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