Laurent Le Bon is Director of the Picasso Museum in Paris, the Musée National Picasso.
Your previous career was as a Professor and a curator, and now you are the Director of the Picasso Museum in Paris. What is the right profile for the director of an institution today? There is a debate all over the world as to whether the person who directs a museum should be more of a manager, or should that person have an artistic profile, for instance an art historian? The same question can be raised for a theatre or a library, should a library be run by a manager or by a writer? What is your answer?
Somehow I achieved a synthesis between the world of management and the world of art history. In my studies I had the opportunity to learn about both, so when it comes to running the Picasso Museum I have the advantage of my experience in both fields.
You previously worked at the Beaubourg, at the Louvre, at Versailles. What makes the Picasso Museum different?
I believe the Picasso Museum has the advantage of being a small museum for a great artist. Today the public wants intimacy. The reflections of the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk come to mind. When he set The Museum of Innocence in Istanbul Pamuk gave a lot of thought to the experiences of the visitor who wants to encounter something different from the big museums like the Louvre or the Centre Pompidou or the MoMA. The visitor wants to be told a story.
What stories do you tell at the Picasso Museum?
In this magnificent 17th century building we tell stories about one of the most important artists of all time, and I believe that the dialogue between the classical architecture of the building and the modernity of the art of Picasso works marvellously well.
Who does the Picasso Museum belong to?
It is a public establishment of the Ministry of Culture. It is autonomous, with a financial grant from the Ministry.
Who owns the collection?
The State. In France there is a system of donation, whereby one can pay taxes through giving works of art. When Picasso died in 1973 the family proposed that they would pay his death duties with works of art.
Are Picasso’s most important works in the Museum?
Yes, it is the most important collection of works of Picasso in the world, with more than 6,000 pieces. We call the Museum collection ‘Les Picassos de Picasso’.
Because they are the works that Picasso kept for himself during his life.
Which are the masterpieces?
The collection as a whole is the masterpiece. The very important individual masterpieces ‘Guernica’ and ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ are not at the Musée Picasso – ‘Guernica’ is in Madrid at the Reina Sofia Museum and the Demoiselles are at the MoMA in New York – but the Picasso Museum is the only place where one can discover the entire career of the artist and the diversity of his technique. The museum also holds almost all his sculptures.
How many visitors do you have?
The Museum reopened in October 2014 after five years of renovation work. Since then we have received more than 700000 visitors each year. 70% of the visitors pay for their ticket and 30% are admitted for free. 70% of the visitors are French, and 30% are foreign.
Do you organise exhibitions?
We organise a lot of exhibitions, each year two major exhibitions in the Paris Museum and more than 20 abroad. This year we are going to launch the international cultural event ‘Picasso-Méditerranée’. 2017 is the centenary of Picasso’s trip to Italy and there will be a major exhibition in April at the Capodimonte in Naples and another in September at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome.
In Capodimonte there will be a complete exposition about the ballet ‘Parade’, and Rome will be a panorama over ten years, from 1917 to the end of the 1920s. Olivier Berggruen is the curator for the exhibition in Rome, and Sylvain Bellenger for Naples.
The first exhibition on the relationship between Picasso and Giacometti – which had never been studied before – has just ended. It has been a huge success and we had more than 300,000 visitors.
What other projects are you planning?
In March we are going to open an exhibition on Picasso’s first wife, ‘Olga Picasso’. It is an exhibition made with Bernard Picasso, Olga’s grandson, and there are more than 40 lenders. The story of Olga is very interesting. In September we are going to open the exhibition ‘Picasso 1932’ in partnership with Tate Modern in London. The idea of this exhibition is to tell the life of Pablo Picasso from January 1st to December 31st of the same year, and 1932 is a very important year in his life because it is the year of his first retrospective at the age of 51. It is also the year of his passionate love affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, who he met in 1927, and by good fortune we have the opportunity to be able to show the painting ‘Le Rêve’, ‘The Dream’. 1932 was also the year when Picasso launched his catalogue raisonné. He is one of the first artists to establish his catalogue raisonné during his lifetime.
Can it sometimes be monotonous to be director of a museum that is entirely dedicated to a single artist?
I think the danger would be to transform a museum into a mausoleum. On the contrary, with Picasso we have an artist who constantly offers new perspectives. For example, the paintings of the last years of his life, which were very undervalued. Today their value is completely appreciated and highlighted.
Do you buy works of art?
We try, but having the necessary budget to buy masterpieces is very important. Anyway, we buy drawings, pictures, archives and we also receive donations.
How would you describe your job?
I oil the wheels. My role is to ensure that everything goes well, that projects are realised and that the collection is well curated in order to preserve Picasso’s legacy for our children and grandchildren.
Is Picasso French or Spanish?
He is a universal painter, but he is Spanish above all else. France refused him nationality in 1940, but nevertheless Picasso chose to remain in France. Of course he travelled, in Italy, in Poland, in Russia, in England, but on the whole he travelled very little. There is a lesson in Picasso’s communism. As you know, today there is a new resurgence of nationalism, and I believe that Picasso taught us a lesson of open mindedness by his fight for peace and being against all fanaticism.
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Portrait of Laurent Le Bon © Musée National Picasso-Paris. Béatrice Hatala 2014.
For more on the subject of Picasso please see the interview with John Richardson at: https://alainelkanninterviews.com/john-richardson/