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The Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain

A successful wager

Enthroned on the Boulevard Raspail in Paris is a 1,200 sq.m. glass cube designed by Jean Nouvel. Embodying a study in transparency and reflection, this setting is home to a wide spectrum of exhibitions, creations and encounters. More than 35 people work here, including Hervé Chandès, Director of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, with whom we sat down for a chat in his glass-walled office.


For the French capital, this showcase dedicated to contemporary art is a considerable asset, yet its success was not a given. Since 1984, the Fondation Cartier has been inviting the public to plunge into a wide variety of worlds. Each year, it attracts around 250,000 visitors and Hervé Chandès’ mission for each exhibition is far from easy, but nonetheless consistently thrilling. This exceptional talent-scout has been engaged in this adventure for 24 years and remains just as fascinated by animals as he is by artists such as Patti Smith.

How did the idea of creating this foundation come about?
In the mid-1980s, César spoke to Alain Dominique Perrin (then President of Cartier International) about a pet project he had in mind: that of opening up a place entirely dedicated to artistic creativity. He wanted somewhere that would meet artists’ needs both for working and exhibiting. It was a case of an artist speaking on behalf of all artists. The idea was entirely innovative at the time.

What identity have you managed to instill into the Fondation?
It’s a very distinctive place and personally I know of nowhere comparable. First of all, the Fondation displays both famous and unknown artists. The programming is international, intended for all audiences and covers a range of themes including design, fashion, music, living shows, science, anthropology and nature. Our 360° curiosity is truly boundless. In addition, it’s a perfect example of corporate patronage.
Is it this eclectic programming that enables you to maintain the image of a lively creative artistic hub?
I think constancy is the keynote. The Fondation has been around for 34 years, which is extraordinary and indeed miraculous for such a private undertaking. Around 200 exhibitions have been staged here. It means a lot of work, but we always throw ourselves wholeheartedly into each new adventure. It’s as if we were learning a new language! Our mission is to create content and substance… and it works!

As far as programming is concerned, what are your selection criteria?
There are a number of parameters. Given the abundance of what is on offer both in Paris and around the world, we have to bring something different. Rules must not become limits, the overarching goal being that the exhibition should become an important moment for the public. If we show people what they’ve already seen or can see next door, the Fondation serves no real purpose.

In some ways one might say you take a lot of risks?
Absolutely, all the time – and I love it that way! We never follow the beaten track. When we do a David Lynch exhibit, we show the little-known painter and photographer facets of the man. The same goes for Patti Smith and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Among all your encounters, which artist has made the strongest impression on you?
There have been so many! Jean-Paul Gaultier for example. At the time of our first meeting, he told me he wasn’t interested in having an exhibition, but I invited him to come back and see me if he had an idea. That’s exactly what he did when he told me about his childhood dream of wanting to be a baker and that he therefore wished to transform the Fondation into a bakery by creating collections from bread dough. I thought it was a great project. He didn’t believe we would invite visitors to eat his creations, but we did just that!

Are you seeing a growing interest in art and is it becoming more popular over the years?
Definitely and even to the point of excess! One need only list the exhibition venues in Paris alone. Between museums, existing and future foundations, as well as galleries, there is a general enthusiasm for culture. Creativity is everywhere and available to all. We are seeing art become accessible for everyone.

Is the 1,200 sq.m. exhibition area spacious enough or do you plan to extend the institution in the future?
These days, when people come to see an exhibition, they like to sit down, have a drink or enjoy lunch with friends, and our capacity is stretched to bursting. We would also like to exhibit our permanent collection, as well as show the work of the film-makers with whom we collaborate – yet we don’t even have a screening room. All of this means that expanding or acquiring a second location are definitely options we are considering, but nothing has yet been decided.

Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain - 61 boulevard Raspail - 75014 Paris - www.fondationcartier.com

Based on an interview by Anouk Julien-Blanco


© L. Boegly

© L. Boegly

Photograph of Lecture Hall in the Park construction process.
© Junya.ishigami+associates

Photograph of Home for the Elderly physical model.
© Junya.ishigami+associates

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