Paris, 26 March 2013, Art Media Agency (AMA).
By way of celebrating their 30th anniversary, the Fonds Régionaux d’Art Contemporain (also called the FRAC, which consist of the French Regional Funds for Contemporary Art) have announced the programming of an exhibition titled “The Pleiades” that will be held from April to December 2013, the time needed to draw a report on the contemporary art collections conserved just about everywhere in France. But will the public be thrilled by the constellation, dwarf or supernova?
Though not too familiar to the public, the Fonds Régionaux d’art contemporain (FRAC) have otherwise been carrying out a real revolution in terms of the perception and distribution of contemporary art in France. As references of the big decentralisation projects of Lang’s time, they were the invention of a new form of art institutionalisation, but were considered to be light and reactive, to the extent that their establishment in 1982 as exhibition venues came as a big surprise.
In order to develop their territories, each of the 23 regions in France then wished to highlight these associations entirely dedicated to contemporary creation, led by the “necessary utopia of making culture available to all”… and by the financing of the State and the territorial collectivities. They aimed at accomplishing two objectives, those of collecting works from living artists and of making the public aware of the development – not always easily accessible – of contemporary art.
Thirty years later, the report is rather impressive: acquisitions of more than 26,000 works created by 4,200 artists – more than half being French – with an annual total of about one million visitors… By way of comparison, the Musée National d’Art Moderne (National Museum of Modern Art) conserves 22,257 contemporary works, which raises the question about the enormousness now achieved by these regional collections.
Exceptional collections with controversial acquisition procedures
The FRAC do not resell their works. Their collections are growing and becoming “super-reserves, comprised of temporary and permanent exhibition rooms for works,” according to a report from Ifrap. The FRAC, initially created as “museums without walls,” became sedentary according to the 2013 French finance bill. On a whole, the FRAC are being transformed into museums while plastic art financing continues to act as a palliative.
It is not only about criticising and attacking the idyllic painting of “utopia.” Acquisition procedures are often considered to be opaque. The technical committee responsible for purchases is in fact comprised of figures from the world of art, except for the artists themselves, who stick to the singularity of not being judged by their peers, contrary to all other artistic professions. That is enough to raise suspicions about agreements, knowing otherwise that neither purchase prices nor motives for rejection are made public.
In terms of art, history is a reminder that the State has not always been the best judge or the greatest visionary. With “contemporary art,” the FRAC tend to focus on conceptual art. The Ifrap report details the acquisitions of one of them in 2011: most purchases concerned works from instructors at art schools, from laureates of international prizes or from artists whose works are already present in the collections of museums, way far from the FRAC’s profession of faith to promote emerging creation and young artists.
A full programme for their 30th anniversary celebrations
However, the FRAC are endowed with several unquestionable originalities. Since their establishment, they carry out actions for publics that do not benefit from cultural offers, for rural communes, for prisons and even for hospitals. Besides, every collection is unique.
This diversity is highlighted in the 30th anniversary celebrations under the title “The Pleiades.” Each of the 23 FRAC have launched their invitations by means of blank cards to artists whose creations they will exhibit in 2013. As for the FRAC of Ile-de-France (the Parisian region), for instance, the Rentilly castle in Seine-et-Marne will be transformed by artist Xavier Veilhan in collaboration with architects Elisabeth Lemercier and Philippe Bona, and scenographer Alexis Bertrand. According to plans, it will be both an exhibition venue – of more than 1,000sqm – and a work of art. In fact, the edifice itself will be decorated with a second layer of mirrors, made out of plates of stainless steel “reflecting the surrounding park as a real building-sized sculpture,” according to the statement.
The works created will be reunited during the collective exhibition at Abattoirs, in Midi-Pyrénées in Toulouse, from 28 September 2013 to 5 January 2014, in order to capture the attention of plastic artists to the revisited collections. The programme will have an itinerant international dimension in 2014, with the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven (Hollande) then with the Singapore Art Museum (Singapour) in 2015. An editorial project on the theme of the customs and experimentations of the FRAC, as regarding their collections, will also be available.
But the most visible side of the celebrations will no doubt be that of the inauguration of the new building housing the FRAC of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Franche-Comté, Nord-Pas de Calais and Aquitaine. Initially left without their own exhibition rooms, the FRAC gradually started designing these venues in the 2000s in order to develop their programming, welcome a wider public and manage their collections. After the recent inauguration (2010) of the new buildings of the FRAC of Auvergne, Poitou-Charentes and Corsica, about half of the FRAC will be endowed with equipment specially made for them, whether they concern architectural rehabilitations or new constructions.
Several FRAC are waiting on their new buildings. The contests launched for the designing of the new FRAC attracted renowned international architecture teams. But as for the FRAC of Provence-Alpes-Côté d’Azur for example, that was scheduled to be set in the heart of Marseilles, the construction project launched in 2011 was postponed, to the extent that the building was not ready in time for the launching of the 2013 edition of the European Capital of Culture. Its cost is estimated at €22m. These projects are as costly as they are ambitious, marking their definitive transformation into museums.