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March 2008 Update

With the launch of Oxford Art Online in March 2008, we updated Grove Art Online with more than 85 new and updated articles including the addition of death dates for such distinguished contemporary artists as Sol LeWitt, Elizabeth Murray and Jules Olitski; expansions of articles about such important artists, architects and collectors as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Artemisia Gentileschi and William Randolph Hearst, all based on new research; new articles on a range of topics, from Curwen Press and Curwen Studio to Merle Armitage to the Vergara family.

To commemorate the relaunch of Grove Art Online, we also featured an interview with Marie-Claude Beaud, Director of MUDAM.

Interview with Marie-Claude Beaud, Director of MUDAM

By Christine Kuan

Jean-Christophe Massinon: Portrait of Marie-Claude Beaud; © MUDAM Luxembourg

Jean-Christophe Massinon: Portrait of Marie-Claude Beaud; © MUDAMLuxembourg

Marie-Claude Beaud is the Director of the Musée d'Art ModerneGrand-Duc Jean (MUDAM), Luxembourg. She headed the completion ofthe new museum building designed by I. M. Pei (the museum openedJuly 2006), and navigated the hurdles of integrating thehistorically important Fort Thüngen with the new structure. Priorto this position, Beaud was Director of the Musée des ArtsDécoratifs in Paris, which consisted of several distinct museums,and founded the Fondation Cartier for contemporary art. She talksto Grove Art Online about her experience directing museums anddeveloping collections, as well as the future of artinformation. [Interview conducted in Chelsea, New York, 10 Feb2007]

CK: What were the original plans for the new museumbuilding?

MCB: Pei wanted the entrance to go through the oldfortress and emerge in the new museum space. It was a very smartdesign, but this plan had to be abandoned. In the revised plan theentrance did not go through the old fortress but there was still abridge connecting the two buildings. It was a political game—usinga good thing, UNESCO, for personal and political reasons. And inthe end, this connection had to be abandoned as well.

CK: Was Pei reluctant to redraw the plan?

MCB: No, he’s very kind. He said, OK, I’ll do anotherdesign.

Interior of Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean by I. M. Pei (2006), artwork by Fernando Sanchez Castillo: Nous sommes tous indésirables, 2004 (Luxembourg, MUDAM Collection); photo by Pierre-Olivier Deschamps / Agence Vu, © MUDAM Luxembourg

Interior of Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean by I. M. Pei (2006),artwork by Fernando Sanchez Castillo: Nous sommes tousindésirables, 2004 (Luxembourg, MUDAM Collection); photo byPierre-Olivier Deschamps / Agence Vu, © MUDAM Luxembourg

CK: How long did it take to build?

MCB: It began in 1999, but construction was delayed dueto lawsuits attached to public offer problems. Normally, a museumof this size should take about three years, but there were fouryears more of disputes. The museum is situated in a garden designedby French designer Michel Desvignes, and the museum is dedicated tothe Grand Duke Jean.

CK: What was your experience in Paris before you moved toMUDAM?

MCB: I was the Director of Musée des Arts Décoratifs, andbefore that in charge of the American Center in a building justfinished by Frank Gehry. After two years we decided to sell thebuilding and shut down the activities on site because we couldn’tfind a way to sustain the Center. It was a tough time; I firedeveryone including myself, though I’m still on the board of theAmerican Center Foundation. We are a small group, and we remaindedicated to helping “risky projects”. We help mostly projects inthe visual arts and haven’t done much in the performing artsbecause we don’t have the resources. It’s not just French andAmerican, it’s totally international. For example, we help youngcurators with travel grants and we’re fostering a new generation offreelance artists and curators. In 1984, I started the Cartierfoundation (for contemporary art) outside of Paris and then, withJean Nouvel as the architect, I supervised the new building inParis. I think people need to have a shelter, a place where theycan not only see art, but also communicate, have kids runningaround, lovers, babies, and families.

CK: How did you make the decision to move toLuxembourg?

MCB: My predecessor had asked me to come and meet theboard. I thought I was not the one they wanted, but I went and theychose me. So that was it. I knew my predecessor, he was a very gooddirector who started a very good collection of contemporary art inSaint-Etienne, France. When I first worked in museums, I started inGrenoble in the 1970s when there were few museums of contemporaryart.

CK: Was it an adjustment moving from Paris to run this museumin Luxembourg? Were there significant cultural differences?

MCB: It’s a big difference. Luxembourg is a very smallcity and country, with about 500,000 inhabitants. It’s like onestreet in New York. Because I ran major museums in Paris, peopleasked why I was going to a smaller place. And I said, “Because theproject is interesting to me; the situation is interesting to me.It’s a challenge.” Everyone thinks you have to go from the provinceto the big city. Why? It’s ridiculous. It’s not a formal decision,but I think when people want you it’s easier. I think it’simportant to work with new people. Luxembourg was an area wherethere were always invaders from Belgium, Germany or France. It’s acountry that was changed by the discovery of coal and steel andlater by a financial system. In comparison to France, it’s a veryinteresting economy. It’s the story of the world, we are notdifferent.

CK: So running the museum is different from working in Parisor even in a French museum in the provinces.

MCB: Yes, because it’s much more connected to theEuropean community, which is different from Paris. Paris issomething outside of everything. But I am not Parisian, so it wasnot difficult for me to make the transition. In the 1960s,Luxembourg opened the economy, which in the ‘70s and ‘80s attracteda lot of people. Suddenly, a lot of money arrived—it’s the usualway to become nouveau riche. Jacques Santer as Prime Minister,before he became President of the European Community, identifiedcultural issues and education as key areas for development. As aresult, Luxembourg began to renew the theatre, concert hall, rockhall, and national and city museums.

CK: So the new mandate is to focus on culturalprograms.

MCB: Yes, Luxembourg was chosen as European capital ofculture in 1995. This was very important because Luxembourg’spopulation is extremely diverse. Now more than 50% of thepopulation are not originally from Luxembourg. There are peoplefrom Italy, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Spain, etc. The first wavecame with the coal and steel industry, and then with theconstruction boom. So in terms of culture, there is a lot ofenergy.

CK: You are also in charge of collection building, how youmake decisions in building MUDAM’s collection?

MCB: When I arrived I had a budget of less than a millioneuros and we started with this. If I want to purchase a BruceNauman or Baselitz, it’s too expensive. But if I look for a smallpiece that captures all the vision of his work, it’s possible. Weare not in the commercial art game. We might be able to receivemajor works through donations from important collectors, but what Iwanted was to build a substantial collection based on younginternational artists. When I arrived, I said to the board, I wanta small scientific committee, not an acquisitions committee, but ascientific committee. So I proposed Carmen Giménez from theGuggenheim, Nick Serota from the Tate (who is now replaced byAlfred Pacquement from the Centre Pompidou), StephanSchmidt-Wulffen, the Rector of the Fine Arts Academy of Vienna, andPaul Reiles, former director of the National Museum in Luxembourg.I chose art experts who also happen to be friends. We discuss theworks; we don’t discuss the market or competition. I could bewrong, but with my budget, I don’t think I can make big mistakes.I’m sure I make mistakes, but in the end, museums are full ofunknowns, the Louvre, the Metropolitan too. It’s quite easy becausewe are not so rich; we only have 800,000 euros a year, so a lot ofcommercial galleries are not interested in us.

CK: So you have to make very judicious decisions.

MCB: For example, I just went to a small gallery, and Isaw an interesting video. I got all the information and it’stotally affordable. I will see my curators and we’ll discuss theopportunity because we have to be focused. With a small team, wereally focus, naturally. Often, we have purchased things that arenow very expensive. It’s not a big deal, but it’s nice for ouregos.

CK: MUDAM also collects works by artists who are very young.With emerging artists who don’t have a long exhibition history, howdo you make those decisions and take those risks?

MCB: Everyone on my team travels, and also looks on theinternet. Our team speaks fifteen languages; each person speaksthree or four languages: English, French, Luxembourgish, German,Italian, Slovakian, etc. Also, the diaspora of Luxembourgishartists is interesting because Luxembourg is very tiny. They needto work abroad. Nothing is anonymous here. For artists, it’s muchworse, not just for their private life, but for their intellectuallife. In the next two months we will change the architecture of thegalleries to include one dedicated to collectors, and one fordiscovering young artists on a regular basis.

CK: You mentioned that your curators look on the internet,and that the museum has an e-gallery. How important is onlineinformation for artists now?

MCB: For me, the internet changed the problem ofgeography, which has nothing to do with territories. For us, we arequite an example because we are small. We don’t have Brazil’sweather, India’s size, or China’s philosophy. I think we have to belocal; but we have to give the local the international point ofview.

CK: Some people say the book is obsolete now, but I don’tthink it is. Do you think online information is going to cause thedeath of the book?

MCB: No, it’s two layers. It’s like when people saidpainting is dead because of photography. Media and technology arejust tools. I think art is like any other production, just likeMarx said. Some art is very inventive, some useful, some boring;the internet is just a tool. Adaweb (see http://www.adaweb.com/project/),started in 1995 by Benjamin Weil in New York, was a website forartists and for art production. It was the first one to do so andit reached a lot of people and worked with many new ideas. Also,our site www.mudam.lu is maybe the bestthing for us. The designer Claude Closky is a very strongartist.

CK: So what is the value of the printed book today?

MCB: A friend of mine, an art historian from Ljubljana,said that libraries in his country are disappearing; he is forcedto go to Paris to consult books in libraries for his job. In thelibrary, in the context of materiality, it’s very different. Infact, the spirit of the library is very interesting. You can getquick information online, like the New York Times online, but thelibrary offers a totally different experience. In our museum, I amtrying to make a space for artists to create. For our museumcatalogue, we chose a very traditional graphic designer in Berlinwho doesn’t use computers and draws everything by hand. But he alsoinvited a new media graphic designer to create a special font forMUDAM. Now every exhibition has three parts: the exhibition, thewebsite, and the catalogue.

See MUDAM’s website by award-winning Claude Closky: www.mudam.lu

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