French museum sends Léger, Picasso and Modigliani on tour of Japan

Japanese enjoy art more than French, says curator of Lille Métropole Museum of Modern Art


The Lille Métropole Museum of Modern Art in northern France has sent 110 works from its collection including major pieces by artists such as Modigliani and Picasso on an 11-month tour of Japan.

Nicolas Surlapierre, curator of modern and contemporary art at the French museum, told The Art Newspaper that the Japanese host institutions—including Tokyo’s prestigious Bunkamura Museum where the show opens in September—had given Lille a donation enabling it to restore 60 works and 17 drawings. He would not disclose how much the gift was worth.

Mr Surlapierre said that the Tokyo-based consultancy White International approached his museum with a proposal for a Japanese tour. He added that the contract was a “classic” exhibition arrangement, in which the regular terms applied: the Japanese museums covered the shipping and insurance costs, which include considerable premiums for earthquake cover.

“There is a ferocious appetite for art exhibitions [in Japan]. The exhibitions are full of people,” said Mr Surlapierre. “Exhibitions are part of their daily life. It’s important for them. I don’t feel that at all in France,” he added.

Lille Métropole Museum of Modern Art, located in the eastern district of Villeneuve d’Ascq, closed its doors in January for a planned 22-month renovation and extension. The work, carried out by the architect Manuelle Gautrand, aims to extend the museum’s exhibition space by 2,700 sq. m, creating room to display permanently the so-called Aracine collection of Art Brut as well as further temporary exhibition space. The reopening is scheduled for 2008.

The travelling show “Modigliani, Picasso and their Time” began at the Ehime Fine Arts Museum in Matsuyama before moving to the Hiroshima Fine Arts Museum last month. It is scheduled to open at the Museum of Modern Art in Akita on 16 July.

Lille museum’s head curator Joelle Pijaudier-Cabot will travel to Tokyo in September for the opening of the fourth stage in the tour. The show later moves on to Kitakyushu and Osaka where it ends in February 2007.

The exhibition consists of 110 works in five sections, focussing on Modigliani, Picasso and Cubism; the surrealist and abstract artists of the1920s Ecole de Paris; Miró and surrealism, and naïve art by the likes of Bernard Buffet and Maurice Utrillo.

All the works on display come from the collection of industrialist Jean Masurel and his wife Geneviève which was donated to the Lille museum in 1979.

The initiative follows a major show launched earlier this year by Paris’s Cartier Foundation, of works from its collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the City of Tokyo (until 2 July). This is the biggest single exhibition to date of its collection anywhere.

In 2000, Lille Métropole Museum sent a show of Art Brut works to Musée Mercian, a museum and cultural centre in an old whisky distillery in the Japanese town of Karuizawa.