Paris (AFP) – A top-level sacking, harsh words from the artist’s son, delays and a huge budget overrun — Picasso museum reopens its doors in Paris on Saturday amid the fallout from a fraught $71-million renovation.
Just over five years after it closed for what was intended to be a two-year refurbishment, the museum — housed in a 17th-century baroque mansion in Paris’s historic Marais quarter — has been extensively modernised and is more than twice its previous size.
Costs, however, stand at 22 million euros ($27 million) over budget due to an increase in the scope of the works, a rift has opened up between Picasso’s son Claude and the French government and the museum’s director of nearly a decade, Anne Baldassari, no longer has her job.
The gallery, which first opened in 1985, boasts one of the world’s most extensive collections of Picasso’s work with around 5,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, photographs and documents.
Most of the exhibits were left to the French state on his death in 1973, the artist having spent most of his life in France.
Others were donated by his family including his widow Jacqueline.
According to new director Laurent Le Bon, the expansion — which has boosted the museum’s exhibition space to 3,800 square metres (41,000 square feet) — will allow it to display far more of its collection, only a fraction of which was previously displayed due to lack of space.
– ‘Fluidity’ –
“Everything has changed and nothing has changed. You still have the basic structure of the building… but at the same time everything has been redone,” Le Bon told AFP.
“There is a lot of fluidity… one can move around much more easily than before, one has a freedom which goes well with the spirit and the works of Picasso,” he said.
Le Bon said architect Jean-Francois Bodin’s renovation sought to modernise and expand the gallery — considered to be austere yet luminous — while at the same time preserving its essential character.
The original conversion prior to the museum’s 1985 opening was carried out by Roland Simounet and aimed to create the ideal showcase for Picasso’s work while also allowing the public to glimpse a great 17th-century mansion.
As part of the renovation, offices have been turned into exhibition areas, former stables transformed into a huge reception hall and the basement excavated.
New minimalist exhibition spaces are characterised by grey terrazzo, bare stone and whitewashed walls.
But the sacking of Baldassari in May 2014, just months before the museum’s reopening, has cast a shadow over the conclusion of the project.
– Staff rebellion –
The director, who had been at the helm for nine years and at the museum for over 20, was summarily sacked by France’s then Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti following a staff rebellion and accusations of authoritarian management.
Her dismissal prompted Claude Picasso, who supported Baldassari, to accuse the French government of not valuing his father’s work and of dragging its feet over the reopening.
“(Baldassari) is the scientific authority who has been responsible for the growth of the museum for many years,” Picasso told Le Figaro at the time, adding that he would regard any replacement who thought they could take her place as an “impostor”.
Baldassari, however, will not be entirely absent from the reopening which has been timed to coincide with the 133rd anniversary of Picasso’s birth on October 25, 1881.
The former director eventually accepted an offer from Filippetti, sacked herself in a surprise August reshuffle by President Francois Hollande, to carry out the hanging of the inaugural exhibition in recognition of her years of work.
In future, the museum is expected to hold one major exhibition each year. The first in mid-2015 in collaboration with New York’s Museum of Modern Art will take Picasso’s sculpture as its theme.