Advertisement

France’s New Culture Minister

Who is Françoise Nyssen?

The May election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France was celebrated as a new way of doing politics. His subsequent appointment of respected former publisher Françoise Nyssen as Culture Minister has been welcomed by professionals from across the arts. One of Nyssen’s first tasks has been to deal with Emmanuel Starcky, director of the Palais de Compiègne in northern France, accused of living like a king in the chateau he was supposed to manage on behalf of the public. Nyssen’s solution has been to transfer Starcky to the Musée des plans-reliefs, a museum of architectural models in Paris. From leading a team of 130 to one of just 12, it’s quite a demotion. But French culture has more deep-rooted problems than Starcky. Will Nyssen be able to deal with these so neatly?

Since the charismatic Jack Lang led the Ministry of Culture for most of the 1980s and early ’90s, few have held the role for more than two years. Under the previous president, François Hollande, France went through no less than three Culture Ministers. Despite changes in government from centre-right to centre-left, cultural policy in France has remained static. It is exactly the kind of political impasse that Macron – who strode to victory after launching his own political movement, En Marche – has pledged to end.

myop_om_francoise_nyssen_001olivier-monge_600.jpg

Françoise Nyssen. Photograph: Olivier Monge

Françoise Nyssen. Photograph: Olivier Monge

Hence the appointment of Nyssen, one of several of Macron’s much-heralded appointments from outside politics or the civil service. Nyssen is the daughter of Hubert Nyssen, who founded French publishing house Actes Sud in 1978, and she has been president of the company since 1987. She is therefore a figure of significant credibility. Actes Sud has produced beautiful books for French institutions such as Mucem in Marseilles and Galerie Azzedine Alaïa in Paris, as well as artists Sophie Calle and photographer Charles Fréger. The company is based in Arles in the south of France, where Nyssen recently returned for the opening of La Rencontres d’Arles, a major photography festival that takes place in the town every year. Actes Sud also produces the catalogue for the festival.

Like Macron, Nyssen is someone who has carved their own path. She and her husband Jean-Paul Capitani established the Association du Méjan, which runs exhibitions and events in the Saint-Martin du Méjan chapel in Arles. In addition, following the tragic death of their son in 2012, in 2014 the pair founded a school, Domaine du Possible, housed in a farm outside the city. Since Nyssen’s appointment, however, the school has come under attack: left-wing politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon (who, like Macron also launched his own party in advance of the 2017 election) has criticized its links with Steiner-Waldorf, an alternative form of education whose origins stem from a belief in reincarnation.

Aside from such politicking, Nyssen has a potentially difficult brief. French publishing sales may have risen by 4.25 percent in 2016 and the Louvre still remains the most-visited museum in the world. Funding for France’s major institutions has remained relatively stable in recent years – at least compared to the more severe cuts experienced by their Anglo-American counterparts. France still spends 0.8 percent of GDP on culture, compared with 0.3 percent in Britain. However, following a number of terrorist attacks, Paris’s overall museum visitor figures have been falling. Many have high hopes for Macron, but aside from a ‘Pass Culture’ consisting of 500 euros for every 18 year-old to spend on books, access to museums etc. – his manifesto is notably light on cultural policy.

Grow Together: the boom in Parisian, artist-run spaces 

Furthermore, while there is a widespread acknowledgement that changes must be made to ensure the global repute of France’s cultural output, there is no consensus on what those changes ought to be. Several curators I’ve spoken to have expressed concern over a growing gap between Paris and the provinces. Others see it differently. Gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac, for example, who has two spaces in Paris, cites shrinking budgets for contemporary art museums: ‘This lack of a strong political support threatens particularly Parisian museums, [as] they have to defend their leading role by continuing to set the level of excellence challenged by New York and London.’

Arguably more pressing, however, are the difficulties faced by living artists. Although France’s most prestigious arts schools remain free, there is comparatively little support for artists, especially those who don’t have gallery representation. Many work second, even third jobs, as gallery technicians, installation photographers or assistants to more commercially successful artists. Some simply leave – for London or Berlin. In 2009 the ‘auto-entrepreneur’ tax scheme was conceived to help freelance workers such as artists, but the scheme does not include the kind of benefits enjoyed by more traditional employees. Macron has pledged to reform the economy and this summer he will take on the unions over labour reforms. Could this lead to increased support for those in such precarious employment? With Macron an avowed advocate of the ‘gig economy’, the 5,500 who graduate each year with arts degrees should not expect life to get much easier any time soon.

Tom Jeffreys is a writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His first book, Signal Failure: London to Birmingham, HS2 on Foot, was published by Influx Press in April 2017.

Advertisement

Most Read

In ‘Flesh’ at the Jewish Museum, New York, the Lithuanian painter’s visceral still lifes seem eerily prophetic 
A survey of 1,745 artists reveals how job precarity, sexual abuse and gender disparities are rife in the city’s famous...
With authors, curators and musicians recently denied entry, the UK is fast painting itself as a cultural pariah
Why does the ‘men’s rights’ guru to the alt-right surround himself with Soviet-era memorabilia, which he doesn’t even...
Alongside a centuries-old collection of Old Masters, Delftware and Chinoiserie, the Devonshires continue to commission...
In a Victorian-era baths in Glasgow, the artist stages her largest performance project to date, featuring a 24-woman...
In further news: UK class gap impacting young people’s engagement with the arts; Uffizi goes digital; British Museum...
Italian politicians want to censor the artist’s poster for a sailing event, which reads ‘We’re all in the same boat’
A newly-published collection of the artist’s journals allows silenced voices to speak
The arrest of the photojournalist for ‘provocative comments’ over Dhaka protests makes clear that personal liberty...
The auction house insists that there is a broad scholarly consensus that the record-breaking artwork be attributed to...
‘We need more advocates across gender lines and emphatic leaders in museums and galleries to create inclusive,...
In further news: artists rally behind detained photographer Shahidul Alam; crisis talks at London museums following...
Criticism of the show at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest comes alongside a nationalist reshaping of the...
A retrospective at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst charts the artist’s career from the 1980s to the present, from ‘fem-trash...
At the National Theatre of Wales, a performance alive with wild, tactile descriptions compels comparison between the...
There are perils in deploying bigotry to score political points, but meanings also shift from West to East
‘It’s ridiculous. It’s Picasso’: social media platform to review nudity policy after blocking Montreal Museum of Fine...
The first public exhibition of a 15th-century altar-hanging prompts the question: who made it?
Poland’s feminist ‘Bison Ladies’ storm the Japanese artist’s Warsaw exhibition in solidarity with longtime model Kaori’...
An art historian and leading Leonardo expert has cast doubt on the painting’s attribution
How will the Black Panther writer, known for his landmark critical assessments of race, take on the quintessential...
The dissident artist has posted a series of videos on Instagram documenting diggers demolishing his studio in the...
In further news: artists for Planned Parenthood; US court rules on Nazi-looted Cranachs; Munich’s Haus der Kunst...
A mother’s death, a father’s disinterest: Jean Frémon’s semi-factual biography of the artist captures a life beyond...
Jostling with its loud festival neighbours, the UK’s best attended annual visual art festival conducts a polyphonic...
It’s not clear who destroyed the project – part of the Liverpool Biennial – which names those who have died trying to...
Dating from 1949 to the early 1960s, the works which grace the stately home feel comfortable in the ostentatious pomp...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018