Sylvie Patry, the second-in-command of the Musée d’Orsay, shocked France when it was revealed she would be joining Paris gallery Kamel Mennour. The Bourse de Commerce, the public art venue housing Francois Pinault’s collection of contemporary art, debuted in May 2021. Christine Patry is the new director of the Louvre after Christophe Leribault stepped down from his position as president of the Musée d’Orsay. Mennour and Patry met while working on an exhibition about the pioneering French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Anne Patry is one of the foremost experts on 19th-century art but also has a keen eye for modernity and contemporary art. Mennour decided to expand the gallery’s museum-like function as a free exhibition place for the public during the height of the global pandemic.
Sylvie Patry, the second-in-command of the Musée d’Orsay, shocked France earlier this week when it was revealed that she would be joining Paris gallery Kamel Mennour as artistic director after serving as the institution’s deputy director of collections and curatorial affairs.
The French newspaper Le Figaro described the news as a “thunderclap,” a “explosive announcement,” and a “total surprise” when Patry decided to work for a successful, contemporary art dealer despite having a storied institutional background and renowned expertise in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
The left-leaning daily Liberation poked fun at the Mennour gallery’s media release, which featured a picture of Patry and Mennour grinning in front of a Daniel Buren piece. It posed the question: “Is it appropriate to exult so at outwitting public institutions?”
Patry’s transfer to Mennour’s 23-year-old gallery, which has four locations in Paris, is seen by many in the French media as yet another blow to public cultural institutions, which are already having to cope with the invading private sector.
The Bourse de Commerce, the public art venue housing Francois Pinault’s collection of contemporary art, is the most recent addition to the Paris scene. It debuted in May 2021. To oversee the private collection’s three museums and many projects, its CEO, Emma Lavigne, also left a career in public institutions. A similar applies to Suzanne Pagé, who quit her position as creative director of the private Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation in 2006 to join the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. A bunch of former museum employees followed her there.
Liberation criticised private art foundations as draining “people as much as subsidies, which formerly thrived for public institutions,” saying that with Patry’s departure “, it seems we’ve once again crossed a threshold.”
The public vs private argument in state-centric France is an old country, especially when well-off private institutions replace works of art that government-sponsored institutions can no longer afford. However, the popularity of private museums and the expanding art scene and market in Paris had seemed to persuade at least some that privately sponsored art endeavours were still worthwhile.
Le Monde and the other media outlets mentioned above were aware of the changes in the French art scene, however unbelievable they may have originally been. The [news of Patry’s relocation] will be less attractive in the United States or other European nations than in France, where, until recently, such shifts from public to private looked inconceivable, according to Le Monde.
According to Patry, if Mennour hadn’t brought up the concept, she wouldn’t have come up with it independently. She admitted that although she had initially been pleasantly delighted when he had raised the prospect, it was not quite what she had anticipated. “However, I took advantage of the situation and accepted his offer.”
Why did she resign from “one of the most beautiful occupations there is,” as she put it, in the first place? Mennour’s track record, which she described as “a true example of enthusiasm, involvement, and a challenging attitude,” is just one of several factors.
Another is collaborating more closely with active artists. Mennour represents about 40 artists and estates, including Latifa Echakhch, Zenib Sedira, Lee Ufan, Alicja Kwade, and Ugo Rondinone. Even though she loves what she does, she admitted that she wished to alter her work situation.
“My underlying drive is the concept that in my humble way, I can work with everyone towards Paris achieving, or continuing to hold, a place as a leading city in the cultural and creative globe,” she continued. “Whether at the Orsay, my former posts, or soon at Kamel’s.” We are currently experiencing a dynamic movement in Paris.
By introducing artists to global audiences, Patry remarked that art dealers have historically played a significant role in promoting regional art centres. She stated, “I believe with zeal in the museum as a public service, a tool and platform of accessibility for all,” instead of working against government institutions.
When Patry was appointed the current director of the Louvre, Christophe Leribault took Laurence des Cars’ place as president of the Musée d’Orsay. Patry applied for the position last summer but was unsuccessful. “Signaled that I wanted to do other things, so if I weren’t going to preside over Orsay, I would do other things,” Patry said of his candidacy. I wanted to change, she declared.
Mennour and Patry met more than ten years ago while Patry was working on an exhibition about the pioneering French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. When Patry served as curator and director of collections at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia for a few years, they collaborated and put on a show of artwork by Mennour client Mohamed Bourouissa. Bourouissa was one of the first individuals Patry claimed she informed about her shift to the gallery.
Throughout her career, Patry has collaborated with modern artists, including at the Orsay, where current artists are encouraged to show as part of a specific programme. According to Mennour of Artnet News, she “has always been quite sensitive [to modern artmaking], therefore it was natural to follow through with a concept that is essential to me: That there are no chapels [or hierarchies], and that there is only Art with a capital “A.”
The dealer continued, “Patry is one of the foremost experts on 19th-century art, but she also has a keen eye for modernity and contemporary art.”
Mennour claimed that for more than 15 years, he has worked to create a gallery where the focus is not on sales. Mennour noted gallery initiatives and shows where the majority of the pieces are not for sale, as well as curated exhibitions of many generations and movements of artists. He asserted, “We need to sell to pay the artists and collaborators, but we’re not a commercial gallery.”
Christian Alendete, a former head of the Giacometti Foundation in Paris, was appointed by Mennour in February to serve as the gallery’s scientific director. And Mennour decided to expand the gallery’s museum-like function as a free exhibition place for the public to view artworks during the height of the global pandemic. Less than 1% of our customers make a purchase, he claimed.
Mennour said that for France to develop an intense art scene, it requires institutions of various kinds. He remarked that I was raised in public institutions and love them, so they must be strong. “I wouldn’t presume to argue that art galleries are a replacement,” she said.
He explained that he favoured a close “back-and-forth with a lot of tolerance and intelligence.” “It’s about giving people a voice and the chance to create the best exhibitions. That’s what has the most significance for me.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network