'They have tried to destroy me' says rising star of Parisian art world

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

In two years, Marc Restellini has shaken up the Parisian art scene. The popularity of his shows far exceeds that of his rivals but his success has created enemies within the establishment.

Paris, you might think, is the most art-saturated city in the world. Setting up a private exhibition hall to compete with the Grand Palais, the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Centre Pompidou and the rest would be an exercise in futility: like offering Australian wines, or, worse, Burgundy, to one of the leading Bordeaux chateaux.

Think again. There is a new star rising in the Paris art world, still relatively little known to tourists but already a favourite with Parisians. The Pinacothèque, a privately run, wholly unsubsidised exhibition space has come from nowhere to lead the field in just over two years. In the last 12 months, it has outdone all other Parisian exhibition halls in the number of visitors attracted to temporary art shows.

Its last exhibition, of Dutch 17th-century masters, was seen by 700,000 people in four months, almost double the number who visited the recent headline shows at the Grand Palais and the Louvre. The Pinacothèque's latest attraction (until 18 July) is the biggest ever exhibition of Edvard Munch paintings from private collections. The show sets out to prove – triumphantly – that there is far more to the Norwegian painter than The Scream. People are already queuing around the block.

How has the fearsome, and much-feared, French state cultural bureaucracy reacted to the competition? Rather badly. The director and founder of the Pinacothèque, Marc Restellini, 45, told The Independent: "They have tried to torpedo me, to destroy me. They have acted like voyous [petty thugs]. You would think that they were rival pharmaceutical companies, with secrets to hide, and interests to protect, rather than parts of an arts world where everything is complementary and everything connects.

"When we announced the Munch exhibition, someone very senior from the Centre Pompidou rang the Munch museum in Norway and said 'Don't work with this man.' How do I know that? Because the Munch museum rang me and said: 'What's the matter with you French? Why do you behave like this?'

"Something very similar happened with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which agreed to loan us most of the paintings for the Dutch exhibition. Someone very senior in the Paris museums world rang them to say: 'Don't do it'."

Mr Restellini is disliked by the French state cultural establishment for several reasons. He is an art historian (and an expert on Modigliani) but he has never taken the official French examination for museum curators. He is young and brash and speaks his mind publicly in a world that prefers discreetly poisonous intrigue. And he made his name in Japan and by running a series of successful exhibitions in the (now temporarily closed) Musée du Luxembourg, which belongs to the upper house of the French parliament.

At the Pinacothèque, he has attracted a series of high-profile exhibitions – Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, the Chinese warriors of Xi'an, Jackson Pollock, Utrillo and Valadon – which the established museums would have liked for themselves. The Louvre, it is said, had been bidding for the Xi'an warriors for years.

He is criticised for the way he hangs his paintings; and the way he lights them. Above all, Mr Restellini has embarrassed the state culture industry with his commercial success. He charges about the same as the publicly run museums – €10 per person – and has made a profit from all but the first of his shows in 2007. If he can make a profit just from entry tickets and shop sales, why do the other exhibition spaces need large public subsidies and private sponsors?

The name Pinacothèque comes from the Greek word for a "room which contains a collection of paintings". The idea of a privately run exhibition space comes, Mr Restellini says, from successful examples in London (especially the Royal Academy) and in Italy and Germany.

The Paris Pinacothèque has taken over a previously disused building on the chic Place de la Madeleine, on the angle between the two halves of the up-market food store, Fauchon. Entering is more like arriving in a cinema lobby than a museum. There is a minimum of fuss. The exhibition is open every day of the week and until late on Wednesdays.

The interior is labyrinthine and twilit, with the pictures individually illuminated. This was Mr Restellini's controversial trademark at the Musée du Luxembourg but is, he says, increasingly regarded around the world as the right way to display art. Some visitors complain that the Pinacothèque is claustrophobic and pokey. No more so, says Mr Restellini, than the space used for rotating exhibitions at the Louvre. "If I had had the money, and if I had wanted to build a monument to myself, I could have spent hundreds of millions of euros on a building with marble and columns," Mr Restellini said. "All I actually want to do is to show paintings and help people to understand them. For those things, the building we have is fine."

One of Mr Restellini's great bugbears is the information given with the exhibitions in the publicly run exhibition spaces in Paris. It is either, he says, too skimpy, assuming that the visitor knows everything, or too intellectualised and recherché.

At the Pinacothèque, knots of people gather not just at the most beautiful paintings but at the long, but not long-winded, explanatory panels. "What people want is intelligent information on the history of the artist and the work, something not too complex, but not oversimplified," Mr Restellini said. "That's not hard to do. Or, rather, it's not easy to do but it's not impossible."

Another of Mr Restellini's pet hates is the way that paintings are hung. They are often placed too high, he says. "People say to me that, at the Pinacothèque, the paintings seem closer to the viewer. They aren't. But they are a little lower. I think art tends to be presented at the wrong angle for the viewer. It should be, as far as possible, at the angle that the painter saw when he was creating the work."

The success of the Pinacothèque can be explained in several other ways. It is new and spoiled Parisian art-lovers are always on the search for novelty. The building, although not ideal, is perfectly placed, a short walk from the big department stores, the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries gardens.

Above all, Mr Restellini believes, he has broken down the walls which fence off different genres and periods of art in Paris (pre-19th century at the Louvre; 19th century in the Musée d'Orsay; modern art in the Pompidou, etc).

"The publicly owned exhibition spaces in Paris are firmly enclosed in their allotted periods and certainties," Mr Restellini said. "They have, poor things, to deal with all kinds of political pressures, financial pressures and a huge cultural bureaucracy. They have no interest in the transversal – in other words, in making connections outside their own domains.

"But art does not fall into neat periods. Artists don't think that way. The public doesn't think that way. Artists draw their inspiration from different periods and approaches and then make a synthesis to inspire their own work. This is what you see in the work of Edvard Munch."

But wasn't the recent, very successful 2008-09 "Picasso et ses maîtres" exhibition, which traced Picasso's influences and straddled several Paris museums, an example of breaking down barriers? "Yes," said Mr Restellini. "But it was 40 years too late. And where did the exhibition originate? From Britain."

What does Mr Restellini have up his sleeve for the second half of this year? Or for 2011? "I dare not tell you because the contracts have not been signed yet. The museums establishment tried to wreck my previous exhibitions when the contracts had been signed. You could imagine what they might try to do before they were signed..."

Pinaco-paranoia? No, more likely pinaco-prudence.

Louvre: The establishment

Founded: 1793

Previous incarnation: Royal palace

Size: 60,600 square metres

Entrance fee: €11

Visitors to last exhibition: 410,000 people saw "Rivals in Renaissance Venice"; an average of 102,500 visitors a month

What they say: "The book in which we learn to read and through which we can come to understand and love everything" – Paul Cézanne

Pinacothèque: The upstart

Founded: 2007

Previous incarnation: Disused building between two halves of upmarket food store

Size: 2,000 square metres

Entrance fee: €10 per person

Visitors to last exhibition: 700,000 people saw "The Dutch Golden Age"; an average of 175,000 visitors a month

What they say: "All I actually want to do is to show paintings and help people to understand them" – director Marc Restellini

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea

film

In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops

film

Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game