Obituary: Dominique Bozo
Tuesday 04 May 1993
DOMINIQUE BOZO was the outstanding museum director of his generation in the field of modern art. He became famous through his creation, between 1976 and 1984, of a new national museum, the Musee Picasso in Paris. And it was very much his creation, down to the last detail: he selected the works from the formidable holdings which the artist had retained; he supervised the conversion and furnishing of the 17th-century building which was to house them; he was responsible for their initial
One of his strengths showed in his constantly subtle handling of delicate negotiations with the intestate artist's several families. Another showed in the flair with which he solved the problem of the design of the furniture and lighting fixtures which had to mediate between the edifice and the art: as designer he chose Diego Giacometti, whose style had nothing in common with that of either. And his choice and installation of the pictures and sculptures were exemplary, except in that, as he later freely admitted, he did not choose enough works of the artist's last 10 years.
As to this, even some time after, when he became Director of the Musee National d'Art Moderne at the Centre Georges Pompidou and we were working together on the 'Late Picasso' exhibition for that museum and the Tate (1988), I felt that he tended to baulk at Picasso's more extreme wildnesses, that his responses were slightly limited by a Gallic love of restraint and that this was the one flaw in his marvellous eye. On the other hand, he did greatly like the most strident work of Frank Stella and he insisted against strong opposition that MNAM acquire one of Francis Bacon's most brutally forthright paintings.
Among those close to Picasso who were highly satisfied with the realisation of his monument was his dealer, Louise Leiris. Her admiration for Bozo was combined with affection and a certain maternal protectiveness, and when he accepted in 1981 the directorship of MNAM - he virtually directed both museums at once for some time - she confided misgivings. It seemed to her that he was too private a face for so public a place, too sensitive, too honourable, too vulnerable. She turned out to be partly right and partly wrong (or so it seemed from where I sat as a member of MNAM's Acquisitions Committee).
She was wrong inasmuch as he proved greatly to relish working on a large scale. She was also wrong in that he well knew how to use his intelligence and guile in winning battles with powerful personalities and still remaining liked as well as respected. He was not unaware that he was a charmer. (His attractiveness to women was legendary. Photographs do not convey his sex appeal: they reflect his wit but not his warmth.)
The quiet force of his personality was manifest in the radical alterations he made to the interior of MNAM, which sorely needed revision, as the Centre Pompidou is an architectural masterpiece but a poor museum building. Bozo hired the architect, Gae Aulenti, who was later to turn the Gare D'Orsay into a museum and to do so disastrously, if the purpose of a museum is to show great art well. Yet this same architect, working under Bozo's instructions and supervision, did a handsome job at his museum.
But Louise Leiris was right inasmuch as Bozo proved unable to bear with the bureaucratic peculiarities of the Centre Pompidou. He found it intolerable that the director of a great museum should not be master in his own house, that he should be subordinate, especially in budgetary matters, to someone whose expertise lay elsewhere - the President of the Centre in which the museum was located. In 1986 he resigned and was promoted to a post with a resonant title at the Ministry of Culture which involved being in charge of a whole range of visual arts activity throughout the nation. He was like a brilliant field commander playing the unwilling role of chief of staff. Running up and down the country, he worked feverishly hard and with considerable success at a job he didn't want. He often talked about giving it up to write a book on Leger.
After four years of this waste he was brought back to the Centre Pompidou and in 1991 was appointed its President. He was intending, of course, to subsume into his responsibilities some of the normal functions of the museum's director, including the key role of Chairman of the Acquisitions Committee. At this moment of finally establishing a position where he could realise his vision of the future of Europe's greatest museum of modern art, he discovered that he was suffering from lung cancer and had not got long to live.
He went on working as if his vision could still be fulfilled under his charge. At a meeting of the Acquisitions Committee four weeks ago he was a sharp and powerful presence, but it was terrible to see how he was having to struggle at every moment against pain and exhaustion. That struggle was equally poignant when we met privately and he talked with intense enthusiasm about what he wanted to see accomplished at the Centre over the next five or six years.
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