“It depends upon the passer-by
Whether I am tomb or treasure trove,
Whether I speak or remain silent,
That is due to you alone:
Friend, enter not without desire.”
“The work of art considered as symbolic good exists as such
only for the person who possesses the means to appropriate it,
that is to say, to decipher it.” (1)
Nearly forty years
have passed since the publication of Pierre Bourdieu and Alain
Darbel’s book L’Amour de l’art. (2)
The authors of that work had brought out, and put into figures,
a reality that was nevertheless not unknown : the high degree
of social stratification existing among the museum-going public.
Cultural policies, talk about the democratization of art, museum
changes, and the advent and then the development of a variety
of new structures could for a time leave one with the impression
that the inventory drawn up by Bourdieu and Darbel was by now
a historical relic. The lengthening waiting lines at major exhibitions
as well as the millions of visitors counted for the “Journées
du Patrimoine” (French Heritage Days) were said to establish
the arrival of a mass public given over to cultural practices
long reserved for an elite.
And yet the question
of art publics as it is posed today cannot be summed up in a head-on
opposition between the fantasy of an educated and endless public
(“the unlimited audience” ironically pointed to by
the architect Rem Koolhaas at the last Venice Biennale)(3) and
the disillusioned observation of ongoing inequalities. Beyond
heritages constructed by public policies and concepts forged by
the human sciences, what are we to make of recent changes in the
museum-going public ? It is also through the lens of two unique
experiences--the adventure of the public outreach program at the
Palais de Tokyo and the creation of an introductory art-history
book collection for adolescents--that we shall attempt to sort
out presuppositions of inconstancy or tyranny, as well as images
of angelism or cynicism--of utopia or marketing.
The Public Invented Outside the State
Even as it places
the public at the heart of the missions it undertakes, in practice
the State in France excludes this public. Philippe Urfalino has
shown quite well how the French Ministry of Cultural Affairs privileges
the citizen’s direct contact with works, as against the
models of popular education and national education. Simultaneously
with this relationship, from 1959 until 2002 it declared its goal
to be that of “rendering the major works of humanity accessible
to the greatest number of people.”(4)
And yet, the construction
of this Ministry discipline by discipline (letters, music, etc.)
leaves little room for a diagonal, crosscutting movement in the
direction of the various publics concerned, artists and cultural
professionals becoming the natural beneficiaries of cultural policies.
The action culturelle and développement culturelle
sectors are buffeted about and renamed at the whim of changes
in the political landscape, and only the Ministry’s “missions”
and “reports” take a direct interest in the disabled,
rural populations, prisoners, and so on. It took until 1992 before
the word public appeared on an organizational chart, in the Direction
des musées de France (French Office of Museums) !
The public is invented, rather, outside the State, by researchers,
who demonstrate the ineffectiveness of cultural policies, and
by teachers who are assigned to museums’ pedagogical departments.
But the public is above all cobbled together [bricolés]
by cultural institutions that are directly confronted with its
existence or its absence.
In contrast to the ideal public of the imaginary museum, World’s
Fairs have altered the scale of the word (six million visitors
in London in 1852), have sought to reconcile relaxation with culture,
and have invented the art of scenography. In 1937, the Louvre’s
curator, René Huyghe, showed an interest in the “visitor’s
well-being,” and museography came to be developed at the
Palais de Tokyo with the Van Gogh exhibition, which “combined
the works themselves with documents about the man and the evolution
of his art.” Recent reflections from George-Henri Rivière
strip the sacredness from the art object, with the result that
exhibitions are oriented more toward a dialogue with the visitor,
thus conferring upon museums a social role.
According to Laurent
Fleury, it was Jean Vilar who invented the public as a category
of action with his Théâtre national populaire
(National popular theater) between 1951 and 1963. There, the public
was considered at once as the objective and the sum of concrete
actions : adjustment of show times, free cloakrooms, banning of
tips, arrangement of a restaurant and an orchestra, preview performances
reserved for the public, subscription options, spaces for socializing
(balls, banquets, special weekends and evenings). These choices
were later to be institutionalized by the Pompidou Center, with
its expanded opening hours, its membership cards for its “correspondents”
system, and a citizen-based effort to increase turnout.
The Turning Point : 1980-2000
With an unprecedented
increase in its budget, the French Ministry of Culture took notice
of the public from the facilities angle, thinking that practices
would develop along with the growth in the number of institutions:
art centers and FRACs (Regional funds for contemporary art) sprang
up at that time. As living spaces, museums were modernized, being
equipped with restaurants, cafeterias, bookstores, boutiques,
rest areas, and so on. Moreover, communication and culture were
brought together under the same ministry, operations such as special
days, festivals, and evenings grew in number
and met with real success. This movement reached its peak with
the adoption, in 2002, of the French “Museums Law”
that proposed to “place, as clearly and concretely possible,
its relationship with the public at the heart of the museum’s
A Mixed Economy for Culture
The cultural policy
of French Culture Minister André Malraux was defined “against
the supposedly desocializing effects of mass consumerism.”(5)
And in 1999 Claude Fourteau underscored “the very strong
resistance to the pressure of a kind of mass popularization [massification]
whose consequence, it was feared, would be a lowering of scientific
standards and an impoverishment in the freedom of choice for exhibitions
But in 2005, the
Ministry found itself competing with cultural forms (cinema, music,
various leisure activities) that have adopted the laws of the
market. Moreover, museums have new needs for financing that are
due to an increase in production costs for exhibitions but due
also to the imperative need to cover the risk-taking involved
in mounting more specialized projects. That is why large museums
naturally utilize marketing techniques, basing their public communication
on market studies and analyses of visitor behavior. Mixing the
promotion of the country’s heritage with leisure industries,
a greater and greater number of structures are blurring the very
French distinction between public and private, as is for example
the case with the Caen Memorial or the Culture Espace (Culture
space) company, a subsidiary of the Suez group.
As for the public,
it does not choose between a culture subsidized by the State and
a culture disseminated by private enterprises: it navigates between
buying records at a large retail music distributorship [FNAC]
and visiting a chateau during the Heritage Days. The sociologist
Bernard Lahire observes that “the boundary between cultural
legitimacy (high culture) and cultural illegitimacy (“subculture,”
mere amusement) does not just separate classes but divides the
different cultural practices and preferences of the same individuals,
within all classes of society.” He shows that dissonant
profiles (the heterogeneous practice of both highly legitimate
and hardly legitimate activities) are in the majority, upending
with a single blow the class theories developed by Bourdieu and
L’art pour guide, A Private-Sector Publisher
Faced with A New Public
In December 2000,
Jack Lang, the French Minister of National Education, and Catherine
Tasca, the French Minister of Culture, announced the launching
of a school plan for the arts and for culture. This plan was intended
to lay the foundations, within five years, for a true artistic
education--that is to say, to complete a building process that
had already been underway for more than three decades.(7)
Beyond the many
actions undertaken in various educational institutions (Artistic
and Cultural Project classes, meetings with artists, choirs, etc.),
this reform was accompanied by an ambitious joint-publication
policy to be undertaken, via the French National Center for Pedagogical
Documentation (CNDP-SCÉRÉN), with private-sector
publishers. It is within this framework that, with the Éditions
Gallimard, a project to create an introductory arts-history
book series for junior-high-school and high-school students was
born through the academies. This project became L’art
pour guide.(8) One merit of this book series is that it illustrates
certain aspects and contradictions the issue of art publics can
take on today.
This is so first
of all because public/private cleavages are not always as clear-cut
as is sometimes thought. Financed in half by a public institution
(the CNDP) with additional encouragement by public bodies (aid
from the French National Book Center and sponsorship by the French
Public Investment Organization), L’art pour guide
is nonetheless published by a private-sector publisher whose purpose,
of course, is not to put out books at a loss. Now, this collection
answers in some way to a mission--that of reaching an adolescent
public that is almost completely absent from museums except when
it is “captive” (in class)--whose commercial results
are not guaranteed. To achieve this, one must invent a new way
of transmitting the history of art that would be beyond reproach
as to its content and in its pedagogical dimension but that would
also be capable of reaching its intended public and captivating
it. The willingness to go toward a “new” audience
implies, therefore, a mixture of utopia (“getting kids interested
in art”) and economic pragmatism (“selling books”).
The ratings race that has been entered into by some museums shows
how far the scales can tip toward one side rather than the other.
Nonetheless, thinking how to reconcile them, and especially how
to achieve the necessary articulation between the two, seems to
be one of the major issues for a large portion of today’s
cultural and artistic sector . . . which is forced, in a way,
to please, without however selling its soul to the devil.
Changing Relationships with Visitors at the Palais de
For its part, the Palais de Tokyo has increased its own resources
by renting out its spaces for events that are sometimes open to
the public and concern artistic creation. Thus, the “Hype
Gallery” was held in November 2004, offering everyone the
possibility of seeing his or her drawing, film, or photograph
exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo. Aimed at amateurs and unknown
young artists, this giant gallery was invented by the Publicis
public-relations company to highlight the printing equipment of
the Hewlett-Packard firm. Having turned the Palais de Tokyo into
a free gallery for a whole month, this operation helped bring
in more than 30,000 visitors. But did they all discover the exhibitions
that were on at the time ? If there are no bad ways of coming to
art, one must make sure that the encounter takes place under the
Part of the trend toward more sensitive approaches to art and
created in order to promote a youth employment program, the context
of which is the current crisis of contemporary art, the “cultural
mediators” hired by the Palais de Tokyo invite visitors
to take a new and critical look at exhibitions. Raised in the
time of a “relational aesthetics,” they regularly
join in the artistic operations.
The “discussion forum” set up at the Palais de Tokyo
promotes an ongoing dialogue with the users of this arts center.
Pricing, programming, budgets . . . no subject is taboo. Civil
society’s participation in the operation of this cultural
institution is one of the ways to ensure the development of a
public for it. In the United States as well as Great Britain,
volunteers who greet the public bring in members of communities
that are generally absent from museums.
Mixing entertainment, game-playing, art history, and interactivity,
the website for introducing contemporary art known as the “Tokyoskool”
allows a large public far removed from Paris to discover the Palais
de Tokyo. One section even allows internauts to engage in an activity
or create an object: indeed, amateur practices would seem to be
essential to the development of new publics.
Building a Public
In 1989, Bernard
Faivre d’Arcier stated : “the public, it must be won
over.”(9) It could be added: “it must be built,”
with utopia as its horizon as well as tools adapted to a reality
whose existence it would be reckless to deny, and that it is a
matter, on the contrary, of accompanying and, indeed, of preceding.
Is not the role of teachers, of museums, and of publishers to
prepare at least the possibility, at best the probability, of
an encounter with art ? For, the very existence of an educated,
curious, and reactive public also conditions the possibility and
the quality of future works of art.
The notion of
pleasure, advocated by Daniel Arasse, is not to be excluded from
this imperative. Arasse himself has never stopped wanting to go
out in search of new publics. Yet his approach is rather rare.
Asked about how “political will relates to art” and
its ends, he had responded :(10)
“I would say : for the sake of memory. In order that fifteen-year-olds
might acquire a memory, in order that they might have an awareness
that they are not simply products manipulated by big businesses,
in order that they might know that they are the culminating point
of a long tradition that had made them, and it is better to know
it. That is the foundation of freedom--of a freedom to know that
one is in history, that we are the products of history.”
That is a way of saying, in the end, that to go toward the public,
to educate, is to pursue a mission that is assigned to art, but
one that could not be achieved without political will.
Bourdieu and Alain Darbel (with Dominique Schnapper), L’amour
de l’art. Les musées d’art européens
et leur public (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1966),
2. See footnote 1, above.
3. Rem Koolhaas, Expansion/Neglect,
38 prints, 2 sequences, 2005, for the “Always A Little Further”
exhibition presented at the Venice Arsenale as part of the Venice
4. French State Decree of May 15, 2002.
5. Philippe Urfalino, “L’invention
de la politique culturelle,” History Committee, French Ministry
of Culture, Travaux et documents, 3 (Paris: La documentation française,
1996), p. 345.
6. Claude Fourteau, “Les attentes des publics
vis à vis des musées,” in Le regard instruit.
Action éducative et action culturelle dans les musées,
Louvre conferences and colloquia, Acts of the colloquium organized
April 16, 1999 (Paris: La documentation française, 2000),
7. The issue of artistic education dates back
at least to 1970. In 1977, René Haby, French President
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s minister, asked
Jean-Claude Luc to undertake such a mission. François Mitterrand
promised a reform in 1981, and Jack Lang worked on it with Jacques
Sallois and Alain Savary. An agreement gave birth in 1982 to “cultural
classes,” then a series of missions and reports, one following
another without ever really getting anywhere: the Léotard
Law in 1988, the Christine Juppé-Leblond mission in 1993,
and so on. Claude Mollard, the Director of the French National
Center for Pedagogical Documentation, was made responsible for
the “Arts and Culture” Plan in the year 2000.
8. Three volumes appeared in April 2005 covering
Burgundy, Provence, and Paris.
9. Quoted by Guy Baez, in Les publics et
la culture, ed. Olivier Donnat and Paul Tolila (Paris: Presses
de Sciences Po, 2003).
10. Sur l’art et les moyens de son
expérience. Pourquoi, comment rendre contemporain l’art
? Éléments de réflexion sur les
outils de transmission (interviews conducted by Christophe
Domino for “Les Nouveaux commanditaires” [The new
sponsors] and the Foundation of France, with Daniel Arasse, Krzysztof
Pomain, Denys Riout, and Xavier Douroux: www.nouveauxcommanditaires.com).
ANCEL, Pascale, PESSIN, Alain eds. Les
non-publics, les arts en réceptions. Paris: Éditions
L’Harmattan, 2004. 2 volumes. 272 pp. and 323 pp.
DARBEL, Alain, BOURDIEU, Pierre eds. L’Amour
de l’art, Les musées européens et leurs publics.
Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1966. 251 pp.
DONNAT, Olivier, TOLILA, Paul eds. Les publics
de la culture. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2003. 393 pp.
FOURTEAU, Claude ed. Les institutions culturelles
au plus près des publics. Louvre Museum conferences
and colloquia. Paris: La documentation française, 2002.
GALARD, Jean ed. Le regard instruit. Action
éducative et action culturelle dans les musées.
Louvre Museum conferences et colloquia. Paris: La documentation
française, 2000. 208 pp.
GALARD, Jean ed. L'avenir des musées.
Acts of the colloquium organized at the Louvre Museum by its cultural
service, March 23, 24 and 25, 2000. Paris: RMN, 2001.
LAHIRE, Bernard, La culture des individus.
Paris: Éditions La découverte, 2004. 778 pp.
LE GUERN, Philippe ed. Les cultes médiatiques
Culture fan et œuvres cultes. Rennes: Presses universitaires
de Rennes, 2002. 378 pp.
LISMONDE, Pascale, Les arts à l’école.
Paris: Gallimard, 2002. 254 pp.
L’Opus 4. “La culture en partage” from the Culture
public series. Opus 4. Paris: Éditions (mouvement)
Publics & Musées, 1-18 (1992-2002). Hanna
Gottesdiener and Jean Davallon, eds. Later: Culture &
URFALINO, Philippe, L’invention de
la politique culturelle. History Committee, French Ministry
of Culture. Paris: La documentation française. Travaux
et documents, 3 (1996). 361 pp.
Collection Art pour guide:www.gallimard.fr/collections/artpourguide.htm
Le forum de discussion:www.palaisdetokyo.com/forum
Les nouveaux commanditaires:www.nouveauxcommanditaires.com
1 Rem Koolhaas, Expansion/Neglect. View of the "Always
a Little Further" exhibition, Venice Biennale.
Fig. 2 "Mediation" at the Palais de Tokyo with schoolchidren,
3 "Mediator" (on right) at the Palais de Tokyo,
4 View of the "Hype Gallery" at the Palais de
Tokyo, Paris, 2005.
5 Venice Biennale 2005, view of the "Always a Little
Further" exhibition at the Arsenal.