Jérôme Bastianelli is deputy CEO of the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, in Paris. His most recent book Proust et Ruskin, is published by Editions Robert Laffont.
A former student of the Ecole Polytechnique, and Chief Engineer of the Corps of Bridges, Waters and Forests, Jérôme Bastianelli worked at the Ministry of Transport from 1996 to 2006 as Head of the Technical Department of the French Government’s Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) for civil aviation safety. He’s also held the role of external auditor of the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO).
Jérôme Bastianelli talks to Art is Alive about some of his favourite pieces in the collection, the success of the recent Picasso exhibition, and the future projects he’s working on.
Tell us something we don’t know about the collection of the museum?
The musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac houses a vast collection of paintings that are widely unknown to the general public as they have long been kept in the museum’s storage. The painting collection comprises around 500 paintings – 22 of which were restored for the exhibition ‘Paintings from afar’ (30/01/2018 – 28/10/2018) – alongside a large number of previously unseen drawings and engravings.
What are your views about juxtaposing modern and contemporary art with the collection of African, Asian, Oceanian and American collections? Do you think that’s a strong way to present art?
The museum’s collection is highly eclectic: from millennia old objects to contemporary artworks (e.g. Aboriginal paintings and Thai Isan masks). For the exhibition ‘Cleaving the air. The Japanese art of bamboo’ (27/11/18 – 07/04/19), the museum will notably be acquiring a series of bamboo baskets produced by contemporary artists.
These recent acquisitions highlight the influence of ancestral traditions on contemporary creation, while new contemporary objects help reinforce their historic value.
Since 2008, the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac has supported contemporary photographic creation through the Photography Residencies programme. Every year, a photography-led creative project receives full or partial support, and the works produced are incorporated into the museum’s collections.
Please select a few highlights in the museum collection and tell us why they are significant works?
AFRICA – Djennenke: Dogon sculpture masterpiece, produced in the 10th century. The conservation of the wood in its current state is an achievement in itself. This sculpture is a metaphor for a chief, as demonstrated by the bands around its arms and the breasts representing fertility and prosperity for their people.
SOUTH AMERICA – Chupicuaro: sculpture representing a female entity from the Chupicuaro culture in Mexico, dated between 400 and 100 BC. This female representation is a symbol of fertility and prosperity. It was the first object acquired by the museum and has since become its emblem.
OCEANIA – Sepik hook: these looks could be used in everyday life, as well as in ceremonial houses. The face of the figure depicted on this hook is a hybrid formed of a man and a bird, representing one of the clan’s ancestors or a mythical hero.
ASIA – Costume worn by the shaman Evenks: this shaman costume from the Stanovoy Range, made from chamois leather and metal ornaments, impresses by the sheer number of constitutive elements: multiple reindeer leather fringes, and metal accessories representing animal spirits.
NORTH AMERICA – front element of a British Columbian ceremonial headdress: The Tsimshian of British Columbia met twice a year to celebrate the seasonal festivals. At the winter festival, the chief performed initiation rituals wearing this headdress, complete with feathers and animal hides.
Any treasures in storage that the public doesn’t have access to?
The museum’s storage is used to conserve and keep all the works in the collection. However, all of the museum’s works can actually be viewed on the website quaibranly.fr. Although not physically accessible to the public, the objects held in storage can be accessed virtually thanks to the online publication of the full collection. Key information from their inventory cards as well as iconography and archives are accessible from anywhere in the world provided the user has an Internet connection.
Tell us about the architecture of the museum and how it was conceived?
Jean Nouvel is the Architect behind the musée du musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. Built like a ship docked on the banks of the Seine, the museum is formed of a complex structure that has broken free from the codes and conventions of Western architecture. The French name for the Main Collections Level, the ‘Plateau’, also refers to the geographic term, and the space itself is laid out as a vast territory to explore. The museum’s architecture is inspired by the natural environment (with the River, the leather snake, etc.). The museography has been designed to allow visitors to wander between the continents, rather than imposing a set itinerary as part of an authoritarian layout. The building blends perfectly with the surrounding landscape, extending the existing buildings. The living wall was designed by Patrick Blanc, while the garden is the work of Gilles Clément.
Tell us about Picasso Primitif please? Was it a successful exhibition? Was it easy to put together?
Several exhibitions and articles have already focused on Picasso’s taste for primitive arts but have yet to evoke the influence of these arts on his work and his life. The exhibition is divided into two sections. The first section presents a chronology of Picasso’s different points of contact with primitive arts, while the second section highlights Picasso’s works and the works of primitive art that influenced the painter.
This exhibition has had remarkable success in France, recording one of the highest visitor rates. It is currently touring internationally in the United States (Nelson Atkins Museum of Art – Kansas City, until 8 April 2018) and Canada (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, from 7 May 2018 to 16 September 2018).
Future exhibitions / projects we should be aware of?
‘GHOSTS AND HELLS. The underworld in Asian art’ is the upcoming major exhibition presented at the Garden Gallery, from 10 April to 15 July 2018. This exhibition will present the world of the dead in various Asian cultures through religious art, theatre, cinema, and contemporary creation. The world of spirits remains very prevalent in contemporary culture in China, Thailand and Japan.
Several events will be organized to coincide with the exhibition, such as the cinema cycle on Asian horror films depicting hell.
What are the new acquisitions by the museum?
2016: Attié statue, from the south of Ivory Coast, dating from the 19th century. This small statue covered with fine gold plates is a masterpiece exhibited in our previous exhibition “African Roads”.
2017: Mask and shishi lion costume: a Japanese figurine representing a hybrid lion figure, like a fantastic animal, inspired by the Chinese mythical lion (shi).
“The Child in the Cradle”: a rare figure of Kanak statuary representing a newborn, presumably deposited on the bodies of dead women in bed. This figurine is a rare example of wooden sculpture from the late 18th or early 19th century, when iron tools were not yet widespread in the New Caledonian archipelago.