Taking a page from the Guggenheim's playbook, Pompidou Center president Alain Seban has announced plans to establish a presence abroad with temporary exhibitions drawn from the museum's permanent collection. "The Guggenheim model of expansion was based on replicating the New York original: flagship architecture, cutting-edge temporary exhibitions, a modest display of the permanent collection, and the fantastic appeal of the brand," Seban told the Art Newspaper's Gareth Harris. "We are taking a more modest approach, with temporary projects in existing venues like museums [and] universities, but why not historical monuments, former industrial facilities, or shopping malls?" Without indicating specific international locations, Seban expressed interest in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), whose burgeoning economies have spurred expanding art markets, and said that these ventures would require the financial backing of the participating countries.
The BRIC countries appear to be the latest frontiers for global museum expansion plans. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has pioneered the idea of satellite museums in Europe (Venice, Bilbao, and, temporarily, Berlin — though the Deutsche Guggenheim will close its doors at the end of 2012 — as well as a proposed location in Helsinki that is moving ahead despite some resistance in Finland). In the Middle East, several projects are underway in Abu Dhabi, including a Guggenheim museum and a satellite of the Louvre (both of which have been dogged by accusations of human rights abuses of workers). The new hints from the Pompidou come on the heels of the announcement of the Guggenheim's sweeping program to partner with non-Western art institutions in places such as Asia and Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa, sponsored by UBS.
Museums stand to reap big windfalls from such international satellites: Abu Dhabi agreed to pay $524 million for the use of the Louvre name alone. Still, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has faced opposition in France for what has been viewed as the commercialization of French culture. Seban's plans — especially his suggestion of showing art inside a shopping mall — are likely to encounter similar resistance. But Nicolas Sarkozy recently renewed Seban's contract for an additional three years, and with the support of the French government, these international aspirations may forge ahead regardless of any opposition — though if the Socialist candidate François Hollande defeats Sarkozy May 6, the project could still be up for debate.
Alain Seban presided over the Pompidou Center's first satellite in Metz, in the eastern French province of Lorraine, which opened in May 2010. In its first year, the Pompidou Center-Metz, which operates as an independent institution, had 800,000 visitors, according to its Web site — the largest number of visitors for any French museum outside the Paris area. Seban also expanded the Pompidou's mission by launching the Pompidou Mobile last fall, a traveling museum that takes works from the permanent collection to rural French towns.
Notably, such international ambitions represent something of a new direction for Seban, who told ARTINFO two years ago that he was not thinking of establishing satellites abroad. "You cannot think of covering the entire world with small Pompidou Centers. It's more about networking within French society, doing research programs in emerging art scenes, creating support groups. So that's what we're working on right now, rather than thinking in terms of creating a subsidiary in China." He did, however, speak about the institution's global mission: "Now a contemporary art museum has to think and act globally because art is global. You can only act globally from a national viewpoint, so I think you need to be rooted in your national culture to be able to bring anything of significance globally," a process which he called "glocalization."