# 6 | Art for whom? | Vincent Huguet and David Cascaro

The notion of the public has been considerably altered by the movement toward rationalization, and even democratization, that began in the second half of the twentieth century. In this regard, sociology has accustomed us to think in terms of the plural rather than of the singular, especially since Pierre Bourdieu and his team undertook their 1964-1965 museum investigation. Thanks to the results they recorded in L’Amour de l’art, we know that there does not exist a single public but, rather, several of them, and even a nonpublic that never goes to see exhibitions at all. This study also revealed the immense social inequality involved in people’s access to art works in museums. The role of the family was determinative in the transmission of cultural capital, and no one could seriously believe in innateness when it comes to enjoyment. The museum as the very site for taking pleasure in art was also the temple in which exclusion was even greater than in other places. Historians of taste went even further along these lines while refining the analysis. The problem of the public for art could not be reduced to the number of visitors to exhibitions or to the corresponding social categories of the population. The work of art was not the subject of the beautiful but of a sort of magic comparable to the kind that, in societies with strong belief systems, endow certain objects with extraordinary power.
This remark retains its relevance today, but the situation has changed in the past thirty years : the publics involved have considerably increased in numbers, in large part among those social categories that have long had an interest in culture. The dream of the kind of democratization imposed by André Malraux’s Maisons de la Culture (Community arts centers) has given way to the rationalization involved in studies (conducted by French Ministry of Culture) and in the “cultural actions” of various “coordinators” and “mediators.” The young, in particular, are now asked on a more systematical basis by their teachers to go to museums, and surely the future depends upon them. Vincent Huguet and David Cascaro are talking especially about them. Whether in book publishing or in museums, each of these authors has endeavored to promote greater knowledge of art. Their reflections nourish our own by referring us back ultimately to the nature of art.
For, history has to hand back the ball to artists who opt for the dialogue they would really like to have with those who view art. At the end of the Sixties, Roland Barthes decided, without the usual precautions, that the reader was going “to be born from the death of the author,” in other words, from his propensity to shed his arrogance for the benefit of his public–“a brutal way of heralding a new and infinitely more delicate dialogue.”

Laurence Bertrand Dorléac
Seminar of September 16th 2005

New Publics,
between Utopia and Marketing

Vincent Huguet and David Cascaro

“It depends upon the passer-by
Whether I am tomb or treasure trove,
Whether I speak or remain silent,
That is due to you alone:
Friend, enter not without desire.”
Paul Valéry

Rem Koolhaas,
Expansion/ Neglect</i. View of the “Always a Little Further” exhibition, Venice Biennale.

“The work of art considered as symbolic good exists as such only for the person who possesses the means to appropriate it, that is to say, to decipher it.” [ref]Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Darbel (with Dominique Schnapper), L’amour de l’art. Les musées d’art européens et leur public (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1966), p. 71.[/ref] Pierre Bourdieu

Nearly forty years have passed since the publication of Pierre Bourdieu and Alain Darbel’s book L’Amour de l’art. [ref]See footnote 1, above.[/ref] The authors of that work had brought out, and put into figures, a reality that was nevertheless not unknown : the high degree of social stratification existing among the museum-going public. Cultural policies, talk about the democratization of art, museum changes, and the advent and then the development of a variety of new structures could for a time leave one with the impression that the inventory drawn up by Bourdieu and Darbel was by now a historical relic. The lengthening waiting lines at major exhibitions as well as the millions of visitors counted for the “Journées du Patrimoine” (French Heritage Days) were said to establish the arrival of a mass public given over to cultural practices long reserved for an elite.

“Mediation” at the Palais de Tokyo with schoolchidren, Paris.

And yet the question of art publics as it is posed today cannot be summed up in a head-on opposition between the fantasy of an educated and endless public (“the unlimited audience” ironically pointed to by the architect Rem Koolhaas at the last Venice Biennale)[ref]Rem Koolhaas, Expansion/Neglect, 38 prints, 2 sequences, 2005, for the “Always A Little Further” exhibition presented at the Venice Arsenale as part of the Venice Biennale.[/ref] and the disillusioned observation of ongoing inequalities. Beyond heritages constructed by public policies and concepts forged by the human sciences, what are we to make of recent changes in the museum-going public ? It is also through the lens of two unique experiences–the adventure of the public outreach program at the Palais de Tokyo and the creation of an introductory art-history book collection for adolescents–that we shall attempt to sort out presuppositions of inconstancy or tyranny, as well as images of angelism or cynicism–of utopia or marketing.

The Public Invented Outside the State in France

Even as it places the public at the heart of the missions it undertakes, in practice the State in France excludes this public. Philippe Urfalino has shown quite well how the French Ministry of Cultural Affairs privileges the citizen’s direct contact with works, as against the models of popular education and national education. Simultaneously with this relationship, from 1959 until 2002 it declared its goal to be that of “rendering the major works of humanity accessible to the greatest number of people.”[ref]French State Decree of May 15, 2002.[/ref] And yet, the construction of this Ministry discipline by discipline (letters, music, etc.) leaves little room for a diagonal, crosscutting movement in the direction of the various publics concerned, artists and cultural professionals becoming the natural beneficiaries of cultural policies. The action culturelle and développement culturelle sectors are buffeted about and renamed at the whim of changes in the political landscape, and only the Ministry’s “missions” and “reports” take a direct interest in the disabled, rural populations, prisoners, and so on. It took until 1992 before the word public appeared on an organizational chart, in the Direction des musées de France (French Office of Museums) ! The public is invented, rather, outside the State, by researchers, who demonstrate the ineffectiveness of cultural policies, and by teachers who are assigned to museums’ pedagogical departments. But the public is above all cobbled together [bricolés] by cultural institutions that are directly confronted with its existence or its absence.

In contrast to the ideal public of the imaginary museum, World’s Fairs have altered the scale of the word (six million visitors in London in 1852), have sought to reconcile relaxation with culture, and have invented the art of scenography. In 1937, the Louvre’s curator, René Huyghe, showed an interest in the “visitor’s well-being,” and museography came to be developed at the Palais de Tokyo with the Van Gogh exhibition, which “combined the works themselves with documents about the man and the evolution of his art.” Recent reflections from George-Henri Rivière strip the sacredness from the art object, with the result that exhibitions are oriented more toward a dialogue with the visitor, thus conferring upon museums a social role.
According to Laurent Fleury, it was Jean Vilar who invented the public as a category of action with his Théâtre national populaire (National popular theater) between 1951 and 1963. There, the public was considered at once as the objective and the sum of concrete actions : adjustment of show times, free cloakrooms, banning of tips, arrangement of a restaurant and an orchestra, preview performances reserved for the public, subscription options, spaces for socializing (balls, banquets, special weekends and evenings). These choices were later to be institutionalized by the Pompidou Center, with its expanded opening hours, its membership cards for its “correspondents” system, and a citizen-based effort to increase turnout.

The Turning Point : 1980-2000

With an unprecedented increase in its budget, the French Ministry of Culture took notice of the public from the facilities angle, thinking that practices would develop along with the growth in the number of institutions: art centers and FRACs (Regional funds for contemporary art) sprang up at that time. As living spaces, museums were modernized, being equipped with restaurants, cafeterias, bookstores, boutiques, rest areas, and so on. Moreover, communication and culture were brought together under the same ministry, operations such as special days, festivals, and evenings grew in number and met with real success. This movement reached its peak with the adoption, in 2002, of the French “Museums Law” that proposed to “place, as clearly and concretely possible, its relationship with the public at the heart of the museum’s calling.”

A Mixed Economy for Culture

The cultural policy of French Culture Minister André Malraux was defined “against the supposedly desocializing effects of mass consumerism.”[ref]Philippe Urfalino, “L’invention de la politique culturelle,” History Committee, French Ministry of Culture, Travaux et documents, 3 (Paris: La documentation française, 1996), p. 345.[/ref] And in 1999 Claude Fourteau underscored “the very strong resistance to the pressure of a kind of mass popularization [massification] whose consequence, it was feared, would be a lowering of scientific standards and an impoverishment in the freedom of choice for exhibitions and publications.”[ref]Claude Fourteau, “Les attentes des publics vis à vis des musées,” in Le regard instruit. Action éducative et action culturelle dans les musées, Louvre conferences and colloquia, Acts of the colloquium organized April 16, 1999 (Paris: La documentation française, 2000), pp. 191-202.[/ref] But in 2005, the Ministry found itself competing with cultural forms (cinema, music, various leisure activities) that have adopted the laws of the market. Moreover, museums have new needs for financing that are due to an increase in production costs for exhibitions but due also to the imperative need to cover the risk-taking involved in mounting more specialized projects. That is why large museums naturally utilize marketing techniques, basing their public communication on market studies and analyses of visitor behavior. Mixing the promotion of the country’s heritage with leisure industries, a greater and greater number of structures are blurring the very French distinction between public and private, as is for example the case with the Caen Memorial or the Culture Espace (Culture space) company, a subsidiary of the Suez group.
As for the public, it does not choose between a culture subsidized by the State and a culture disseminated by private enterprises: it navigates between buying records at a large retail music distributorship [FNAC] and visiting a chateau during the Heritage Days. The sociologist Bernard Lahire observes that “the boundary between cultural legitimacy (high culture) and cultural illegitimacy (“subculture,” mere amusement) does not just separate classes but divides the different cultural practices and preferences of the same individuals, within all classes of society.” He shows that dissonant profiles (the heterogeneous practice of both highly legitimate and hardly legitimate activities) are in the majority, upending with a single blow the class theories developed by Bourdieu and Darbel.

L’art pour guide, A Private-Sector Publisher Faced with A New Public

In December 2000, Jack Lang, the French Minister of National Education, and Catherine Tasca, the French Minister of Culture, announced the launching of a school plan for the arts and for culture. This plan was intended to lay the foundations, within five years, for a true artistic education–that is to say, to complete a building process that had already been underway for more than three decades.[ref]The issue of artistic education dates back at least to 1970. In 1977, René Haby, French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s minister, asked Jean-Claude Luc to undertake such a mission. François Mitterrand promised a reform in 1981, and Jack Lang worked on it with Jacques Sallois and Alain Savary. An agreement gave birth in 1982 to “cultural classes,” then a series of missions and reports, one following another without ever really getting anywhere: the Léotard Law in 1988, the Christine Juppé-Leblond mission in 1993, and so on. Claude Mollard, the Director of the French National Center for Pedagogical Documentation, was made responsible for the “Arts and Culture” Plan in the year 2000.[/ref] Beyond the many actions undertaken in various educational institutions (Artistic and Cultural Project classes, meetings with artists, choirs, etc.), this reform was accompanied by an ambitious joint-publication policy to be undertaken, via the French National Center for Pedagogical Documentation (CNDP-SCÉRÉN), with private-sector publishers. It is within this framework that, with the Éditions Gallimard, a project to create an introductory arts-history book series for junior-high-school and high-school students was born through the academies. This project became L’art pour guide.[ref]Three volumes appeared in April 2005 covering Burgundy, Provence, and Paris.[/ref] One merit of this book series is that it illustrates certain aspects and contradictions the issue of art publics can take on today.
This is so first of all because public/private cleavages are not always as clear-cut as is sometimes thought. Financed in half by a public institution (the CNDP) with additional encouragement by public bodies (aid from the French National Book Center and sponsorship by the French Public Investment Organization), L’art pour guide is nonetheless published by a private-sector publisher whose purpose, of course, is not to put out books at a loss. Now, this collection answers in some way to a mission–that of reaching an adolescent public that is almost completely absent from museums except when it is “captive” (in class)–whose commercial results are not guaranteed. To achieve this, one must invent a new way of transmitting the history of art that would be beyond reproach as to its content and in its pedagogical dimension but that would also be capable of reaching its intended public and captivating it. The willingness to go toward a “new” audience implies, therefore, a mixture of utopia (“getting kids interested in art”) and economic pragmatism (“selling books”).
The ratings race that has been entered into by some museums shows how far the scales can tip toward one side rather than the other. Nonetheless, thinking how to reconcile them, and especially how to achieve the necessary articulation between the two, seems to be one of the major issues for a large portion of today’s cultural and artistic sector . . . which is forced, in a way, to please, without however selling its soul to the devil.

Changing Relationships with Visitors at the Palais de Tokyo

View of the “Hype Gallery” at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2005.

For its part, the Palais de Tokyo has increased its own resources by renting out its spaces for events that are sometimes open to the public and concern artistic creation. Thus, the “Hype Gallery” was held in November 2004, offering everyone the possibility of seeing his or her drawing, film, or photograph exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo. Aimed at amateurs and unknown young artists, this giant gallery was invented by the Publicis public-relations company to highlight the printing equipment of the Hewlett-Packard firm. Having turned the Palais de Tokyo into a free gallery for a whole month, this operation helped bring in more than 30,000 visitors. But did they all discover the exhibitions that were on at the time ? If there are no bad ways of coming to art, one must make sure that the encounter takes place under the best conditions.
Part of the trend toward more sensitive approaches to art and created in order to promote a youth employment program, the context of which is the current crisis of contemporary art, the “cultural mediators” hired by the Palais de Tokyo invite visitors to take a new and critical look at exhibitions. Raised in the time of a “relational aesthetics,” they regularly join in the artistic operations.

“Mediator” (on right) at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris.

The “discussion forum” set up at the Palais de Tokyo promotes an ongoing dialogue with the users of this arts center. Pricing, programming, budgets . . . no subject is taboo. Civil society’s participation in the operation of this cultural institution is one of the ways to ensure the development of a public for it. In the United States as well as Great Britain, volunteers who greet the public bring in members of communities that are generally absent from museums.
Mixing entertainment, game-playing, art history, and interactivity, the website for introducing contemporary art known as the “Tokyoskool” allows a large public far removed from Paris to discover the Palais de Tokyo. One section even allows internauts to engage in an activity or create an object: indeed, amateur practices would seem to be essential to the development of new publics.

Construire un public

Venice Biennale 2005, view of the “Always a Little Further” exhibition at the Arsenal.

In 1989, Bernard Faivre d’Arcier stated : “the public, it must be won over.”[ref]Quoted by Guy Baez, in Les publics et la culture, ed. Olivier Donnat and Paul Tolila (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2003).[/ref] It could be added: “it must be built,” with utopia as its horizon as well as tools adapted to a reality whose existence it would be reckless to deny, and that it is a matter, on the contrary, of accompanying and, indeed, of preceding. Is not the role of teachers, of museums, and of publishers to prepare at least the possibility, at best the probability, of an encounter with art ? For, the very existence of an educated, curious, and reactive public also conditions the possibility and the quality of future works of art.
The notion of pleasure, advocated by Daniel Arasse, is not to be excluded from this imperative. Arasse himself has never stopped wanting to go out in search of new publics. Yet his approach is rather rare. Asked about how “political will relates to art” and its ends, he had responded :[ref]Sur l’art et les moyens de son expérience. Pourquoi, comment rendre contemporain l’art ? Éléments de réflexion sur les outils de transmission (interviews conducted by Christophe Domino for “Les Nouveaux commanditaires” [The new sponsors] and the Foundation of France, with Daniel Arasse, Krzysztof Pomain, Denys Riout, and Xavier Douroux: www.nouveauxcommanditaires.com).[/ref] “I would say : for the sake of memory. In order that fifteen-year-olds might acquire a memory, in order that they might have an awareness that they are not simply products manipulated by big businesses, in order that they might know that they are the culminating point of a long tradition that had made them, and it is better to know it. That is the foundation of freedom–of a freedom to know that one is in history, that we are the products of history.”
That is a way of saying, in the end, that to go toward the public, to educate, is to pursue a mission that is assigned to art, but one that could not be achieved without political will.


ANCEL, Pascale, PESSIN, Alain eds. Les non-publics, les arts en réceptions. Paris: Éditions L’Harmattan, 2004. 2 volumes. 272 pp. and 323 pp.

DARBEL, Alain, BOURDIEU, Pierre eds. L’Amour de l’art, Les musées européens et leurs publics. Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1966. 251 pp.

DONNAT, Olivier, TOLILA, Paul eds. Les publics de la culture. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2003. 393 pp.

FOURTEAU, Claude ed. Les institutions culturelles au plus près des publics. Louvre Museum conferences and colloquia. Paris: La documentation française, 2002. 280 pp.

GALARD, Jean ed. Le regard instruit. Action éducative et action culturelle dans les musées. Louvre Museum conferences et colloquia. Paris: La documentation française, 2000. 208 pp.
GALARD, Jean ed. L’avenir des musées. Acts of the colloquium organized at the Louvre Museum by its cultural service, March 23, 24 and 25, 2000. Paris: RMN, 2001.

LAHIRE, Bernard, La culture des individus. Paris: Éditions La découverte, 2004. 778 pp.

LE GUERN, Philippe ed. Les cultes médiatiques Culture fan et œuvres cultes. Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2002. 378 pp.

LISMONDE, Pascale, Les arts à l’école. Paris: Gallimard, 2002. 254 pp.
L’Opus 4. “La culture en partage” from the Culture public series. Opus 4. Paris: Éditions (mouvement) SKITe/sens&tonka, 2005.

Publics & Musées, 1-18 (1992-2002). Hanna Gottesdiener and Jean Davallon, eds. Later: Culture & Musées, 2004.

URFALINO, Philippe, L’invention de la politique culturelle. History Committee, French Ministry of Culture. Paris: La documentation française. Travaux et documents, 3 (1996). 361 pp.

Collection Art pour guide:http://www.gallimard.fr/collections/artpourguide.htm
Le forum de discussion: www.palaisdetokyo.com/forum
Tokyoskool: www.palaisdetokyo.com/tokyoskool
David Cascaro: davidcascaro@palaisdetokyo.com
Les Nouveaux Commanditaires: www.nouveauxcommanditaires.com

Vincent Huguet a former student of the École Normale Supérieure with a teaching degree in History completed his master’s thesis at the French National Political Sciences Foundation on Georges Pompidou’s private art collection. He is currently preparing a doctoral thesis, supervised by Laurence Bertrand Dorléac, in Art History on the role collector-donors have played in bringing modern and contemporary art into French museums (1947-2000). Huguet edits the Gallimard publishing house’s L’art pour guide series, a region-by-region introduction to the history of art for junior-high-school and high-school students, the first three volumes of which appeared in April 2005.

David Cascaro has a law degree and a doctorate in Political Science. He defended his thesis on policy relating to the visual arts in France during the Fifth Republic at the Université de Paris-II. In 1998, he founded with other enthusiasts the nonprofit organization Apprendre à regarder (Learning to look) that develops an individualized approach to art. Since the year 2000, he is the head of the audience department at the Palais de Tokyo, a setting for contemporary creativity where he has put in place the tools required for a renewal of the relationship between art and museum-goers. Cascaro is the author of Edouard Pignon et la politique (Paris: LGDJ, 1995) and of several articles on contemporary art policy in France.

Comments are closed.