The CAPC − Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux and the Carré d’art de Nîmes in search of greater local roots

The Carré d'art in Nîmes, in 2013.

In Bordeaux in 1973, in Nîmes in 1993, two atypical mayors, from the right, wanted their museum of contemporary art. One opened before the Center Pompidou in Paris, the other follows on from the decentralization of the 1980s. In this spring of celebrations, the CAPC − Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux and the Carré d’art de Nîmes blow out their fifty and thirty candles respectively with the pride of having gone through the ordeals of political alternations, not without now questioning their local roots.

Historical baron of Gaullism, Jacques Chaban-Delmas (1915-2000) had cherished dreams of the presidency and wanted to shine the spotlight on his city. Jean-Louis Froment, pionate about art, wanted to attract the best designers of his time to Bordeaux. Nothing was too good: the CAPC was richly endowed, its director handsomely paid.

The mayor of Nîmes, Jean Bousquet, aspired to make his city exist “between Jean-Claude Gaudin’s Marseille and Georges Frêche’s Montpellier”, calling for reinforcement Bob Calle (1920-2015), a renowned oncologist and a collector appreciated by artists. Without having the prodigality of the Bordeaux duo, the Nîmes duo also saw big, entrusting the architecture of their museum to a soon-to-be British star, Norman Foster.

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In just a few exhibitions, the quadrilateral transparent like an empty temple, erected right next to the ancient Maison Carrée, has established itself as a regional beacon. Just like the vaulted nave of the Entrepôt Lainé in Bordeaux. But their intensity, today, is no longer what it was.

Accountants instead of visionaries

Paradoxically, the acceleration of travel time from Paris thanks to the TGV did not mathematically benefit the two institutions. Contemporary art was rare, it is now everywhere, or almost. New locations stole their limelight, including the very silver Luma Foundation in Arles. Dimitri Boutleux, deputy mayor of Bordeaux, in charge of creation, recognizes this: “The CAPC was among the first points that lit up on the map of France, today the landscape is more extensive, it is more complicated to be an essential entity. » But, he adds, “we can reinvent it by being at the rendezvous of its time, a place whose doors we are not afraid to cross, a resourceful place where we can eat, attend a conference, go rollerblading or simply party”.

For the current teams, the choice of nostalgia is impossible, that of rebirth hardly easier. Because, in the metropolises – as in Paris -, the visionaries have given in to the accountants. Hardly had he taken over the witness from the hands of Jacques Chaban-Delmas, whose opaque management of the CAPC had been pinned down in 1995 by the regional chamber of accounts, than Alain Juppé slashed the budget. The museum’s endowment increased from 1 million euros in 1997 to 734,000 euros in 2006, before again exceeding the million mark in 2022 since the arrival at the helm of the environmental mayor Pierre Hurmic. No budget for the acquisition of works is any longer allocated to the museum, which slows down the collection dynamic. The city only releases the funds on an ad hoc basis, from an overall envelope of 250,000 euros shared by the five municipal museums.

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