François Pinault

Will François Pinault’s museum on the Seine be built?

Following rumours that Pinault is struggling financially


This month the François Pinault Foundation for contemporary art is applying for planning permission to build a new, private museum on the Île Seguin, an island on the Seine to the west of Paris. The museum is to house the extensive contemporary collection belonging to François Pinault, the owner of Christie’s. Three years ago, Mr Pinault hired the top Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, for the job which is supposed to be finished by 2007. Yet Mr Pinault has yet to finalise his purchase of the land where the museum is to be built.

The rum our is that Mr Pinault is struggling to fund the project. His business empire, Pinault-Printemps-La Redoute, has suffered financial losses ever since it moved into the luxury goods market. In May Mr Pinault sold some works of art, including a sponge relief by Yves Klein and an important canvas by Mark Rothko, both of which could have been exhibited in the new gallery which will have a start date of 1945. Many saw this as a further sign of his financial difficulties.

His acquisitions of video art, through dealer Caroline Bourgeois, have been suspended since 11 September 2001. According to Ms Bourgeois, however, Mr Pinault’s collection is still growing.

François Barré, a spokesman for Mr Pinault, denies that there is any uncertainty over the future of the new museum. He is confident that, “the Foundation is the most important ambition of Mr Pinault’s life.” He also points out that since Mr Pinault recently passed control of his business empire to his son, François-Henri, he has more time than ever to follow the progress of the museum.

The technical problems of building a new museum on the Île Seguin, formerly home to the Renault factory, are considerable. In May, after talks between the local government of the Paris suburb under whose jurisdiction the new museum will fall, Boulogne-Billancourt, and Renault, which owns the site, a contract was drawn up which will allow the land to be used for a public institution.

The thorny question of the site’s decontamination has not been resolved either. The land still contains oils and base metals left over from car manufacturing. Clearing them is difficult without polluting the River Seine and will require special earth-moving barges, of which there are only a few in Europe, according to Paul de Backer, director of DBP Consulting, an environmental engineering company interviewed by a local newspaper in Boulogne-Billancourt.

The Pinault camp, however, remains confident that building work will start early next year and the opening is still projected for 2007.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 139 September 2003