After Strife in Berlin, Chris Dercon Is to Run the Grand Palais in Paris
Posted November 8, 2018 5:46 p.m. EST
Chris Dercon, the former director of Tate Modern in London, is to take charge of the Grand Palais in Paris, one of France’s most prestigious art venues, just months after being forced to resign from Berlin’s Volksbühne theater in the face of mounting protests.
On Wednesday, France’s culture ministry announced that Dercon will become the president of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, an umbrella body that runs both the Grand Palais and the smaller Musée du Luxembourg. He will take office in January, the ministry said in a statement.
The Grand Palais is known for its blockbuster exhibitions, and also hosts the FIAC and Paris Photo art fairs.
Dercon, 60, is one of the art world’s highest-profile arts administrators. At Tate Modern he oversaw a significant expansion and staged hit exhibitions such as “Matisse: The Cut-Outs,” which transferred to MoMA in 2014. But his tenure as the head of the Volksbühne, a storied Berlin theater, was dogged by controversy from the start. Dercon tried to overhaul the Volksbühne — known for its ambitious, political plays — so that it hosted more interdisciplinary and international productions.
In 2016, after an open letter signed by more than 200 staff members expressed concerns about Dercon’s vision for the theater, Berlin’s top culture official said he would re-examine the appointment. In September 2017, a group of left-wing activists occupied the building.
The furor was seen by many as a proxy for debates about gentrification in Berlin, with Dercon seen as an archetype for an outsider who moves to the city and changes its character.
Dercon quit in April.
His new role, with an initial five year term, is a step back to more familiar territory. He will even oversee a refurbishment of the Grand Palais, with the building scheduled to close in 2020 for almost three years.
A spokeswoman for Dercon said he would not give any interviews until he had started the new role. But Nicholas Serota, who, as director of Tate until 2017 was Dercon’s boss when he ran Tate Modern, said it was not a step back, but a chance for Dercon to revitalize another institution.
“Chris likes startups,” Serota said. “He likes making big projects. He takes over institutions and gives them a new energy. I think he’ll do that in Paris.”
Dercon struggled in Berlin because Germany’s theater world was “furious this job had gone to a non-theater person,” Serota added. The French art world is more receptive to change, he said.
The French culture ministry did not comment on Dercon’s time at the Volksbühne in its news release announcing the appointment.
“With his experience at the head of prestigious international institutions, and his vision of art and the role of cultural institutions in the 21st century, Chris Dercon will give the new Grand Palais a unique place in France and the world,” it said.