Centre Pompidou Malaga, Three Years Down the Track

Art News, Exhibition Announcements

June 28, 2018

On the strength of its success, the Centre Pompidou Malaga, inaugurated in March 2015 and initially set up for a five-year period, recently had its stay in Spain extended until 2025. A progress report on its first three years and a review of a pilot project in favor of cultural decentralization.

Rumors had been flying around the streets of the Andalusian city for several weeks, but it was on 20 February that they were confirmed by Serge Lasvignes, president of the Centre Pompidou, and Francisco de la Torre, the mayor of Malaga. The inaugural planting of the Parisian museum overseas was an experiment.

After three years of operations, the assessment of the Centre Pompidou Malaga is highly satisfactory, resulting in an extension of the project and the prospect of new ones. Two branches will shortly emerge in Brussels and Shanghai.

Museums proliferate in Malaga. Home to 570,000 inhabitants, the city contains no less than 36 museums, including the Museo Picasso, the Museo Carmen Thyssen and the first branch of the Russian Art Museum of Saint Petersburg, inaugurated in the same week as the Centre Pompidou’s Spanish site.

This multiplication of art institutions is partially explained by the mayor’s policy, making access to culture a priority. By taking this stand, Francisco de la Torre hopes to boost tourism and bring economic vitality back to Malaga, a city heavily affected by the crisis.

To finance the Centre Pompidou project, the municipality paid over 7 million euros and committed to pay 1.5 million euros every year to the Parisian institution, for use of its image and exhibition design. Museum strategy as a cultural and economic springboard is an appealing idea in itself, but not always adapted to every spot.

In the case of Malaga, it seems realistic. As Picasso’s city of birth, endowed with rich archaeological heritage, Malaga is a place where artistic tradition is deeply entrenched in the minds of the inhabitants, and represents a major tourist draw. Malaga, a cultural capital? What might seem like a bold policy actually appears to be on track. According to Francisco de la Torre, “the Centre Pompidou gave a big boost to Malaga by upgrading and filling out its offer, while reinforcing its status as a cultural capital on the Spanish, European and global scale.”

Meanwhile, Serge Lasvignes made the following declaration to AFP: “The Centre Pompidou Malaga experiment is a success. […] But we can’t fall asleep on our laurels. It’s an adventure that we need to keep pursuing at all times. We need to be creative, to understand our partners’ expectations, and to be attentive to the public.”

The Andalusian city, Spain’s number-four tourist destination, has witnessed a rise in museum visitor rates in the last three years. While the Museo Picasso opening in 2003 remains the most highly visited, the Centre Pompidou comes in second in terms of attractiveness. Between its opening in March 2015 and December 2017, it welcomed 500,000 visitors, 57% of whom live in Spain. In terms of these Spanish visitors, half come from Malaga.

According to Nathalie Vaguer-Verdier, project manager at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, “the future aim in the years to come is to win the local public’s loyalty and to encourage it to return to the different activities on offer.” Jaime Mena de Torres, head of mediation for the Spanish team, seems more confident, and declared in February this year: “We’ve noticed that the events we organize around exhibitions are very successful with Malaga’s inhabitants. They come in the largest numbers on Sundays. They’ve taken up the habit of spending time at the Centre with their families, for a workshop.”

Topping a large glass cube that accounts for its nickname “El Cubo”, the Centre Pompidou is found on Quay No. 1 of Malaga’s port: a strategic location frequented by tourists when they get off cruise ships and ferries. Renovated several years ago, Las Ramblas has seen a multiplication of its shops, thus attracting many locals who come by to sip a drink in the sun. From the city’s heights, the site stands out thanks to the squares of color installed by Daniel Buren on the glass structure.

El Cubo is now to Malaga what the Louvre pyramid is to Paris: the city’s symbol, highly prized by photographers and just-married couples... The public was quick to embrace it.

A Mini Beaubourg?

Constructed in 2013 by the architecture agency L35, the museum offers 6,000 m2 in surface area, corresponding to one floor of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Resembling a pint-sized Beaubourg, the venue holds a temporary space, an auditorium and workshops.

Serge Lasvignes recounts:

We had an aim, which was to work out how to choose works that could bring together a Malaga public and a foreign international public. What we needed was to find a balance while refusing facileness.

The Centre Pompidou’s president sought to draw visitors via “headline” artists while also revealing others. The first exhibition, presented since 2015 and featuring works on the theme of the body, was renewed in December 2017 and retitled Modern Utopias. Presented by Brigitte Léal, the itinerary retraces historic events that impacted society and artists in the 20th and 21st centuries. Protagonists, witnesses or victims of History, modern artists have, over time, resuscitated symbolic shapes and figures that support or denounce the dreams and ideals of humanity.

During the exhibition’s opening, Serge Lasvignes and Francisco de la Torre presented it in the following way: “At a time when, in a globalized world subject to new and unforeseeable tensions, it is important to preserve our values and undertake deep-reaching transformations, utopia - this myth that rhymes with both promise and nostalgia - is becoming a topic that deserves our attention. [...] This endless, age-old yearning for a new life and society finds its best means of expression in contemporary art when the decision is made to reunite creation and life. These are the modern utopias that bring meaning to this new exhibition of the Centre Pompidou’s collections in Malaga – which is also a manifestation of the utopian vision shared by the cities of Paris and Malaga. The avant-gardes gave free rein to their dreams at a time when a chimerical wall of protection was raised against different forms of totalitarianism. The collective trauma of World War II led to a necessary rebirth, from ashes, of the ideals of fraternity, pointing to social relationships founded on democratic bases – a notion which fashioned architecture in particular, given the need for reconstruction after the devastation.”

Presenting 63 works by 60 artists, the exhibition is divided into six parts: The Great Utopia, The End of Illusions, Together, The Radiant City, Imagining the Future, and The Golden Age. Artists from around the world are represented, including Wassily Kandinsky, Robert Delaunay, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Frank Stella.

Parallel to this exhibition, scheduled to run until March 2020, numerous events have been planned, namely the Hors Pistes festival partnering the local and Parisian teams.

Although the mother institution and the branch collaborate on the program, no decisions can be confirmed without the agreement of the French institution, owner of the name and the collections being presented: in other words, the Spanish can put forward propositions, but remain dependent on the Parisian team.

However, in the interests of fitting into the local scene, the Parisians remain open to propositions to promote Spanish artists: a strategy for drawing more local visitors. So even if the Centre Pompidou Malaga’s facilities and programme have turned it into something like a mini Beaubourg, in the long run it may well evolve towards developing its very own identity.

Malaga, An Experimental Project

Following Malaga, the Centre Pompidou is continuing on the same path and will open another branch in Shanghai in 2019, then another in Brussels sometime in 2022-2023.

The Belgian branch will be taking over a former Citroën garage, built in 1933, on the edge of a canal. The building will be renovated by whichever architecture agency wins the competition – the winner’s name will shortly be revealed.

To keep the public happy in the meantime and to win its loyalty, the Brussels-Capital region has asked the Parisian team to offer a preview before the renovation works commence. So over thirteen months, from 5 May 2018 to June 2019, the garage will be running a program, featuring live performance in particular, curated by Bernard Blistène, director of the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Nearly six times larger than El Cubo, the 35,000 m² space in Brussels is set to offer a modern- and contemporary-art collection, an architecture center, an auditorium...

Unlike Malaga, the project will not be exclusive, and loans from other institutions can also be presented. According to Nathalie Vaguer-Verdier, “the Belgian scene is very rich, namely in the area of live performance. The whole program will be defined in collaboration with local cultural institutions, which will help us to insert ourselves in a milieu that is already extremely vibrant and of high quality. We are supporting the Brussels-Capital region in the construction of its cultural project, but with the aim of helping it towards autonomy and to the construction of a collection, while offering our expertise. This is a very different scene from Malaga, which resembles the one in Paris far more.”

Exciting projects ahead. In the meantime... see you on the Costa del Sol!

Conquering the world

According to Serge Lasvignes, the brand will continue to expand overseas without pursuing a decentralization policy within France. The president of the Centre Pompidou made the following declaration in a press release published to mark the institution’s 40th birthday: We have 120,000 works. This is one of the two biggest contemporary-art collections in the world, along with the MoMA in New York. We only exhibit 5% of these works. We make many loans, we hand many works over to French museums obviously, but the idea is also to bring this collection overseas, to get it seen internationally. [...] The idea of setting up little Centre Pompidous a little all over France bothers me as there are already magnificent museums and art centres, both public and private, all over our country. To celebrate our 40th birthday, we organized the Kandinsky exhibition with the Musée de Grenoble – they don’t need a Centre and they drew 135,000 visitors. However, they needed our works, and of course we loaned them. I really believe in the mutual enrichment between the Centre, its collections and multiple existing venues. I don’t believe in a Centre with multiple branches. Overseas, things are different: it’s a question of the brand’s presence, of France’s renown, of diffusion of the Centre Pompidou model. This is a way for us to get to know the foreign artistic scene and to enrich our collections. Given the current financial situation, this type of contribution is very important. One-third of our own resources comes from sponsorship and this type of contract for using our brand.”

From what the Pompidou’s president says, the Centre Pompidou Metz will certainly remain the museum’s only branch to be developed in France as the institution has its eyes set further afield. According to the Spanish newspaper El País, when the Centre Pompidou Malaga’s semi-permanent exhibition was renewed, Serge Lasvignes is said to have announced that Colombia may well be the next destination for a new branch.

“It’s a country that’s exiting a very difficult situation, and where artists are very committed. For now, there’s reciprocal interest, and we’ve started a few informal discussions.”

After Malaga, Shanghai and Brussels, a Centre Pompidou in Colombia? Stay tuned for this possible new step towards the French institution’s international renown.

Modern Utopias, new permanent exhibition, until March 2020. Centre Pompidou Malaga, Malaga, Spain.

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Featured image: Centre Pompidou Malaga, by Epizentrum via Wikimedia Commons.