Angry billionaire scraps £102m plan for Paris gallery

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The Independent Online

In a devastating blow to the French arts, the billionaire financier François Pinault has scrapped plans to build a museum for modern paintings on the site of a derelict Renault factory on an island in the Seine.

In a devastating blow to the French arts, the billionaire financier François Pinault has scrapped plans to build a museum for modern paintings on the site of a derelict Renault factory on an island in the Seine.

M. Pinault announced in a front-page, signed article in Le Monde that he was dropping his €150m (£102m) plan because of the repeated delays and muddles about the development of the rest of the site.

Instead, M. Pinault, who controls Gucci, Christie's, Printemps and FNAC, said he would house his personal collection of modern art in the Palazzo Grassi in Venice which he recently bought from Fiat for €29m.

The change is the latest in a series of false-starts and U-turns to blight the future of Ile Séguin in Boulogne-Billancourt, birthplace of the Renault car company.

Since the car maker ceased operations on the site in 1992, the island in the Seine south-west of Paris has been the subject of a series of rows between local politicians and residents' associations.

The brooding former factory building - resembling an anchored battleship - was demolished last year. M. Pinault chose a futuristic plan by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando for his art museum on the prow of the island. Boulogne-Billancourt revealed plans to develop the remainder of the island with false "walls", to resemble the original factory. Within the walls there would be offices, homes and a science park.

Local residents objected to the density of the development, delaying the scheduled building work on the Pinault museum, due to begin in March. There have been rumours for weeks that the billionaire intended to pull the plug.

In Le Monde yesterday, he lambasted local politicians for the "vagueness", "imprecision" and "lassitude" with which they had handled the Ile Séguin plans. "Five years after this project began, no organisation nor individual has given me any firm promise," he wrote. "How can anyone imagine that I could engage the talent of an immense architect and invest €150m in a building whose surroundings will be disfigured for more than a decade by a huge building site, or worse, a site of dereliction?"

M. Pinault's statement - which appeared final rather than an attempt to galvanise politicians into action - abandons the only ambitious architectural project for the Paris area in the next few years. The Ile Séguin was once the symbol of French modernity and industrial prowess. Between the wars, the factory claimed to be the most advanced in Europe, if not the world.

"Billancourt" came to be the short-hand for industry and the French working classes. At the gates of the factory Jean-Paul Sartre lectured striking car-workers during the student-worker revolt of May 1968.

In 1992, Renault moved car-making to factories in the outer Paris suburbs. For many years, the island - the largest potential development site in the city - stood derelict. There were calls for it to be preserved and reused, much as London's Bankside power station (now the Tate Modern). This was declared to be impractical.

A prestigious development of the site is regarded as essential to the development of the south-west suburb. Renault, which still owns the land, and Boulogne-Billancourt council now stand to "lose" M. Pinault's extensive collection of European and American contemporary paintings, said to include more than 200 canvasses.

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