Bourgogne Tribal Show, the Quai Branly and the tribal art market with Julie Arnoux

By Artkhade with Art Media Agency

Paris, 24 May 2016


Julie Arnoux is executive director of the Friends Society of the Musée du Quai Branly. For twelve years, she has been in charge of this association that supports the museum’s development and renown. Alongside this role, she set up, three years ago, Delvoyeurs. This project, shared with three founding partners, aims to design and promote exhibitions, develop editorial projects, produce contemporary artistic works, and support cultural players in their development strategies. Art Media Agency met her also to discuss the organisation of the Bourgogne Tribal Show (from 26 to 29th May).

  • Delvoyeurs is currently organising the Bourgogne Tribal Show. What is this project about?

J. A.: The Bourgogne Tribal Show comes from a fairly zany idea thought up by four dealers specialising in the so-called “primitive” arts: Laurent Dodier, Bruno Frey, Jacques Lebrat and Anthony Meyer. Their project was to set up a festive, convivial event in a different place. They discussed their project with Bruno Mory, a contemporary-art gallerist based in Burgundy with a strong focus on monumental sculptures and photography. These five dealers approached Delvoyeurs at a time when the agency was still very young. We had never organised any fairs, but the idea was really stimulating.

We have a magical site in the Saône-et-Loire in Burgundy that won over everyone. Going far from the capital, major centres and big cities is a wager, and we wanted to create something that uses the codes of big fairs while also developing them — this is how we came to choose the visual symbol of a Charolais cow! We want to amuse, to be innovative while remaining extremely rigorous. Our list of participants includes established dealers and other more discreet ones, from France and overseas, from Paris or from outside the capital — this corresponds to our desire to represent the whole of the market and players in the “primitive” arts circle.

We haven’t offered individual stands to dealers but spaces to share in twos and threes, as shared affinities permit. The idea was to work on territories and approaches by giving them a living form. We provide gallerists with more time and space so that they can tell their stories and those of their objects.

Maternité porteuse de coupe YorubaMASQUE MOSSI, pièce présentée par Olivier Larroque Masque Karan-wemba, Mossi (Burkina Faso, région du Yatenga) Bois, cuir. Fin XIXe s. 95 cm Ex Coll. P. Meulendijk (Hollande)    Exposition Museum de Rotterdam, 1967 (Reproduit au catalogue)
  • How do you intend to bring collectors to Burgundy?

J. A.: The Bourgogne Tribal Show meets today’s expectations. We live in periodically difficult times, and the prospect of spending two or three days in Burgundy, taking one’s time, corresponds to a desire found in art lovers and collectors. By offering a fair that is perhaps less impressive but more convivial than Frieze, TEFAF, or even Parcours des Mondes, we hope to draw other types of publics — art or culture lovers, not necessarily lovers of “primitive” art.

We have relied on ambassadors such as Le Consortium in Dijon, the FRAC Bourgogne and the Abbaye de Cluny. The latter’s administrator, François-Xavier Verger, does a fantastic job, and offered us an exhibition space in “Le Farinier”, one of the abbey’s historic buildings. As the abbey was originally a burial site, we suggested that exhibitors use the space to work on the theme of death. We are also relying on the Musée des Confluences in Lyon, a partner of the event, and the African Museum of Lyon that gathers a high-quality collection.

As for the Quai Branly, for its tenth year, the institution is to be renamed the “Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac”. Jacques Chirac is an honorary member of the Friends Society of the Musée du Quai Branly, and we have had the pleasure of having him sit in on our board meetings on numerous occasions. This is his museum and the teams know what they owe him. A major exhibition called “Jacques Chirac and Cultural Dialogue” will be inaugurating a week of festivities to mark ten years of the institution, and can be visited from 21 June to 9 October 2016.

This will be a wonderful way to show what we owe Jacques Chirac, the impetus he gave to this adventure, and also an opportunity to unveil certain aspects of the man less known to the general public. I remember hearing Jacques Chirac describing works during board meetings and being struck by the precision of his gaze, his insatiable curiosity, and his great knowledge of the arts outside of Europe.

Maternité porteuse de coupe Yoruba Vyala, stay from the roof of a pagoda, Newar, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal, 18th century or earlier. Michel Gurfinkel, Paris © Galerie Punchinello
  • Has the creation of this museum really contributed to changing the way we see tribal art?

J. A.: The way we see this art is constantly evolving. We perpetually reconstruct the way in which we look at the world. In 2006, the Quai Branly organised a founding exhibition called “A View of the Other” that questioned the way in which we look at the arts from outside Europe, from outside the West.

Our view has evolved because, among other reasons, the museum explored the field of the “primitive” arts differently. The Quai Branly offers new perspectives on tribal arts. Today, this institution has become a genuine cultural city with a programme of performances, films, a remarkable popular university, all this with a fast rhythm of new exhibitions. Our view has changed thanks to all these activities. The museum receives nearly 1.4 million visitors per year, all of who come and discover or deepen their knowledge. Our views can only change through this.

  • And what are the consequences?

J. A.: We can choose to approach an object from an ethnological, ethnographical or historical point of view, or from the point of view of its aesthetic qualities. Today, we have the tools to allow us to approach an object in all its complexity. We are capable of identifying artists or studios… This implies a less binary approach. We need to find our way through these issues rather than choosing one in favour of another. We try to restore objects to their complexity — that we never entirely master either.

Exiting from an ethnocentric position is extremely complex, and we necessarily use words that do not always correspond to these objects. So we need to advance with prudence when giving a voice to these objects. Speaking prudently means projecting as little as possible. This is something we’re becoming aware of.

Your role in the Friends Society of the Musée du Quai Branly consists of three missions: the restoration of works, the enrichment of the collection and support for research. Even before the project came into being, four years before its inauguration, the museum’s management wanted to set up a Friends Society for the institution. The Friends are art lovers, collectors, dealers, experts, scientists, auction-house representatives and they support the life of the museum as its leading ambassadors.

We operate classically, relying on the collection of yearly donations. Thanks to these, we enrich collections but we also promote them by financing restoration programmes, which in my mind is a fundamental mission. We have restored two major works: the large Kaiget Seligmann mast and the Moai head from Easter Island that welcomes visitors in the museum lobby. More recently, for the exhibition on “Philippines: An Archipelago of Exchange”, the Friends Society financed the restoration of a warrior’s armour from Mindanao Island, that could not have been displayed without this restoration work.

At the same time, acquisitions enable us to create very strong links between the Friends Society and the museum. We place the donor close to those things that he loves, in other words, the works, that the Society helps him to understand better. Finally, we have developed a research aspect that is infinitely important to me because the enrichment of collections goes hand in hand with the deepening of knowledge. This is why we finance one or more research scholarships every year.

Maternité porteuse de coupe YorubaPoteau funéraire patong, Bornéo, Kalimantan Est, rivière Telen, population Modang, bois de fer, XIXe siècle ou avant. Œuvre acquise par le musée du quai Branly grâce au soutien de Antoine Zacharias, Grand bienfaiteur de la société des Amis © musée du quai Branly
  • How do you operate?

J. A.: Our board, chaired for twelve years by Louis Schweitzer, then two years by Lionel Zinsou, is what a board should be, that is a fundraising tool — € 580,000 in 2015 for 400 donations (editorial note). We gather funds in different ways: donations from Friends, several acquisition circles such as the Lévi-Strauss Circle or the Circle for Photography, yearly gala dinners, etc.

  • How is this different from the American system? Are trustees involved in museums while the Friends Society is a legal entity distinct from the museum?

J. A.: Yes, we are a tool that serves the institution. We support the museum depending on its needs. It’s important for each one to stay in their role. None of the donors gets involved in the museum politics and we are vigilant on this point. The Friends are there because they love the museum, the collections and they want to support the institution.

  • What projects would you like to set up with the Friends Society?

J. A.: Develop our young Circle for Photography. The museum’s incredible photography collections are less known by the public. This is a domain linking contemporary art and tribal art, enabling us to draw a different public with new profiles of art lovers and collectors.

Maternité porteuse de coupe YorubaEnsemble reliquaire Sawos : Sawos a - Figure reliquaire, East Sepik Province Village Torembi, rotin, sparterie, crâne humain, pigments, XIXe siècle. Sawos b et c - Masques, East Sepik Province Village Torembi, rotin, cheveux humains, XIXe siècle. Ensemble reliquaire offert au musée du quai Branly par le Cercle Lévi-Strauss © Martin Doustar
  • The tribal-arts market seems to be polarised. How do you see this phenomenon? How does an institution like Quai Branly conduct its acquisition policy?

J. A.: The market is exactly what we make of it. I wouldn’t say that the market is polarised. When we see what galleries, fairs and auction houses offer, this isn’t the observation that comes to mind. The Musée du Quai Branly makes prestigious acquisitions but also more confidential or scientific acquisitions. Saying that a piece is “museum quality” doesn’t mean much and is just a communication tool.

The Parcours des Mondes gathers sixty dealers offering pieces at all prices, which I think shows that the market is not polarised. But I think that demands are increasingly high, beyond the object’s price. Today, pieces are not bought in the same conditions as in the 1950s. A collector has much more information, and this sharpens choices. Rather than a polarisation of the market, I see increasing rigour from buyers.

Tags: African Art, Asian Art, Oceanic Art, Pre-Columbian Art, Native American Art, Aboriginal Art, Interviews