Martin Bethenod: “Contemporary art is one of the most fascinating fields for a museum”

Martin Bethenod
Close Photo Matteo De Fina
Interview
January 11, 2021

Martin Bethenod: “Contemporary art is one of the most fascinating fields for a museum”

Martin Bethenod, Chief Operating Officer of Bourse de Commerce, talks to us about programming at the Bourse de Commerce — Pinault Collection, as well as his personal vision of contemporary art.

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By Bourse de Commerce,

How do you plan to inhabit such an impressive structure?

The architecture of the Bourse de Commerce is not intended to impress, it is a useful architecture, a tool that serves a number of purposes. Firstly, it is used to dialogue with a context, the architectural, historical and aesthetic context of the monument. Secondly, it serves to inspire artists and indeed, we have realized the extent to which the beauty of the site and its unique personality—the antithesis of the standardized white cube—inspire those artists who have been able to visit in recent months in order to work with us and reflect on their projects. It is used to protect artworks since exhibiting works also means taking care of them, in other words offering them a context, a scale, and a lighting, oftentimes as natural as possible, as well as dimensions and volumes that can be monumental but aren’t necessarily so. It is a matter of resisting what could be an injunction to the monumental by offering large volumes but also more intimate spaces. This aspect of taking care of the artworks and of protecting them is extremely important, it is a responsibility that a contemporary art museum has with regard to the works it presents. Finally, this place serves to welcome the public, the hospitality dimension is also very important, and it entails developing as much as possible the best way of welcoming the public, making the visit route clear and easy to follow, and of ensuring a high degree of acoustic and visual comfort.

 

Can you tell us about the Bourse de Commerce programme?

The Bourse de Commerce is a museum of contemporary art whose vocation is to show permanently, i.e., throughout the year, temporary exhibitions that are connected to each other with the aim of constantly renewing the public’s perspective on the Pinault Collection, and through it, contemporary creation. A programme of exhibitions and hangings one after the other so that there is always something to see and that when one gallery is being set up, the others are open. Therefore, at any time of the year, there is a dense rich offer: a programme linked to contemporary art seen through the prism of the Pinault Collection. This idea of looking at contemporary art through the prism of a collection is very important, since it means affirming a point of view or the fact that looking at contemporary art is not always about the search for the sensational or the novel, it is about developing a relationship with contemporary art which is that of the long-term commitment of the collector. When we show works from a collection, our only constraint is no longer that of creativity or innovation, but we also have the extremely fertile and fruitful constraint of showcasing an individual’s relationship to art and their unique gaze.

The programme at the Bourse de Commerce therefore, is organized around this relationship to the collection in two ways. On the one hand, it consists of showing proposals which are built from the works within the collection, and by inviting a curator or a group of curators around a theme or an idea where they develop a project that brings into play, highlights and puts into perspective the works in the collection. We might also invite an artist to create a new project involving works from the collection but also new works produced and commissioned for the occasion and/or consisting of loans or exchanges made with other public or private institutions. We also plan to extend this invitation to other creators and artists from other disciplines to come and confront this space and renew the perspective that we may have of the monumental Rotunda, the Foyer or the Auditorium, by making proposals that can include concerts, performances or choreography. The idea here is to privilege this dimension of live performance. A contemporary art museum is a real place where real people come face to face with real works at a specific time. This live programme, combined with a programme of discussions, meetings and dialogues with artists, aims to provide depth, by meeting an artist, speaking with them, questioning specialists, and comparing the works and projects on display with perspectives born from very different universes or horizons. Another very important dimension at the heart of our programming is that of mediation, how to ensure we provide the visitor with the keys and references to understanding, deepening, exploring and discovering the works on display.

“This aspect of taking care of the artworks and of protecting them is extremely important, it is a responsibility that a contemporary art museum has with regard to the works it presents.”

What is the best way of sharing a private collection with the public?

Any collection is enriched by the way it lives. A collection lives by being confronted with things other than itself, with works that come from other horizons. It is enriched by coming under a different gaze, whether that be the gaze of a curator or an artist. It is also brought to life by confronting audiences and by continually broaching issues which, beyond the world of art, pervade our time and our society. Any collection is a closed whole in and around itself, but it should also be a porous whole, permeable to what is happening in the world and to its major issues, be these social, gender, political, post-colonial and/or racial. The Pinault Collection is open to the world, open to these movements, and open to today. In this way, I believe that the encounter between the collection and the public is equally an encounter with a point of view on our world and our epoch.

 

When does “contemporary art” begin? For how long is something “contemporary”?

Contemporary art is a notion that has many definitions. Some people situate its genesis in 1913 with Marcel Duchamp, others believe that the contemporary period began after the Second World War. Others still consider the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to now be part of art history, claiming that contemporary art begins in the 1980s or 1990s. Other groups assert that contemporary art is the art that is currently being created today. The Pinault Collection is defined by its strengths, which anchor it in the 1960s and 1970s, in the great movements of the 1960s, such as American minimalism, the French avant-garde, and the Italian Arte Povera movement, all of which can be taken as its historical starting point. The collection encompasses works that date from the present day and indeed, many of the pieces shown in our projects are specially created for the occasion. Contemporary art is an art for which time and history have not yet done their job. This is important because it means that when we look at contemporary art, there is no definitive value judgment possible. When we show a work of art, when we adopt a standpoint in relation to a work, we know that this position is always liable to be called into question by time. Undoubtedly, this is the most uncertain or the riskiest aspect, as well as the most touching and the most promising, in that it renders everything possible, precisely because things have not yet been standardized or fixed. When we know that a final value judgment is not possible, this leaves plenty of room for choice. For me, contemporary art is one of the most fascinating fields for a museum and for a collection, in that it is the least certain and contains the most risk.

 

“The Pinault Collection is open to the world, open to these movements, and open to today. In this way, I believe that the encounter between the collection and the public is equally an encounter with a point of view on our world and our epoch.”

What was your first real encounter with art?

My first real encounter with contemporary art occurred in the 1990s with the work of Félix González-Torres, for his exhibition at the Venice Biennale, and then at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. His art spoke to me in a very direct fashion, his were extremely beautiful, gentle, profound works, which had a way of formalizing, or of formulating better than any other discipline, and even more so than the novel, cinema and music, certain questions I asked myself at that time.