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Former Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon takes the reins at the Grand Palais in Paris

The Belgian curator, who quit the Volksbühne Theatre in April, has been appointed head of the culture body Rmn-GP

Chris Dercon © Marion Vogel

The high-profile Belgian curator Chris Dercon, whose tenure as director of the Volksbühne Theatre in Berlin proved controversial, has been appointed as president of the French government cultural body, Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais (Rmn-GP).

Dercon will run the Grand Palais, the capital’s most prestigious exhibition and fair venue, and the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris under the remit of the Rmn-GP, which also works with around 20 partner museums such as Musée Magnin in Dijon. He takes up the post in January following his appointment by the newly appointed French culture minister, Franck Riester; his contract initially runs for five years. Sylvie Hubac, the former president of the Rmn-GP, was appointed early 2016 but resigned in June to run the government administrative body, Conseil d’Etat.

Dercon is equipped to build “an even bigger audience for the Grand Palais”, says the culture ministry in a statement. But his appointment surprised French culture commentators. “The ministry has opted for a new type of leader, an art historian who has always championed artists,” said Philippe Régnier, the editor of our sister edition The Art Newspaper France. Dercon was director of Tate Modern from 2011 to 2016, and was previously head of Haus der Kunst in Munich.

He stepped down in April as director of the Volksbühne Theatre after a turbulent time. He was announced as the replacement for Frank Castorf in April 2015, and took up the role early 2017. But the move angered German culture professionals who published an open letter in 2016 in which they voiced “deep concerns” about Dercon’s plans for the so-called People’s Theatre.

Dercon faces challenges in the new post not least the disruptive refurbishment of the turn-of-the-century Grand Palais which is due to begin late 2020. The overhaul will result in “exceptional high-quality, generous exhibition spaces to accommodate our partners and visitors”, Hubac said. The building is scheduled to re-open in January 2023. In the meantime, the 2021 and 2022 editions of Fiac and the Paris Photo fair will be held in a temporary structure on the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower.