” Striking “. Hanging at the entrance to the Center Pompidou, the banner is discreet. The social movement which started on October 16, 2023, however, has seriously hardened, leading to the complete closure of the public establishment since December 23. The inter-union has just voted to renew the strike notice until February 15, and the doors should remain closed until Sunday, January 7.

At the end of November 2023, its president, Laurent Le Bon, nevertheless hoped to resolve the conflict “from above”. The management had given important guarantees, such as the preservation of the statuses and missions of the agents during the five years of closure for works of the Center Pompidou from 2025 to 2030. Before the winter break, the maintenance of the employment ceiling (number of people paid by the State), one of the two main demands of the strikers with the non-outsourcing of missions, was in the pipeline without anything being acted upon.

“We are one of the rare cultural places where services are integrated,” defends a representative of the UNSA, the National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions, which is demanding written commitments. “We must preserve our identity and our social model, and not give up on this subject,” says Philippe Mahé, Force Ouvrière (FO) secretary.

” The story repeats itself “

The general secretary of the CGT, Sophie Binet, came to galvanize the troops on December 21, 2023: “We must prevent outsourcing, not lose the work collective. You are the watchdogs of our heritage and national heritage. » In the room, Didier Schulmann applauded wildly. “A dismayed conservative, as we speak of dismayed economists”, the former director of the Kandinsky library, the precious documentary collection of the Center Pompidou, often passes a glance in these general assemblies. “It’s funny how history repeats itself,” murmurs the retiree, with a laughing eye, freed from the duty of reserve of his colleagues.

This specialist in questions of spoliation experienced closely the construction site which led to the complete closure of the Center Pompidou from 1997 to January 1, 2000. With sixteen other curators, he founded the Pointe à l’œil association in June 1998, including the title borrows from a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti. Originally designed to collectively reflect on what a museum should be, this “ideas box” has long since ceased its activities, without ever being dissolved.

In agreement with some former members of this think tank, Didier Schulmann paid the balance of 1,000 euros remaining in the association’s account into the strike fund in December. “The action of the strikers is not corporatist or categorical,” defends the art historian. The agents feel a lack of respect for the activities, the collections, they have the feeling that what they have built for years is being destroyed. »

Works duration

Retired conservative since March 2023 after forty years in the house, Olivier Cinqualbre opines: “I don’t remember that there was so much discomfort or confusion during the previous closure. » The former head of the museum’s architecture department admits, it is easy to ripolinate the past. And if Pointe à l’œil saw the light of day, it was because the conservatives already felt that management was not listening to them enough. “But Jean-Jacques Aillagon [then president of the Center Pompidou] had a love of the house. His right-hand man Guillaume Cerutti was very hardworking. And the “building and security” director was a very good project manager. »

This architectural historian, who knows like no one else the innards of the “refinery” invented by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, does not fail to be surprised by the duration of the new works: “They will take longer than its construction from 1974 to 1977! » Orderly and precise, he remembers as if it were yesterday the previous major project, the repair of the glass facades, that of the Atelier Brancusi on the square, before a complete closure which made it possible to redevelop the interior and to extract the offices, scattered in neighboring buildings. “Our biggest fear then was that our fellow citizens might imagine that we were not working during the work,” he confides. “What was painful for us was no longer having contact with the works and with the public,” adds Didier Schulmann. However, the Center Pompidou agents had not been idle.

A tepee planted on the square hosted debates, a temporary exhibition activity was maintained in the south gallery, over nearly 1,500 square meters within Beaubourg. “We also did “A Sunday, a work”, by removing a work from the reserves that we presented to IRCAM [Institute for Acoustic/Music Research and Coordination]. We had a crazy crowd, it was so successful that we continued after the reopening,” rewinds a curator still active, who requires anonymity. The public information library, which feared competition from the National Library of France, opened in 1995, had been relocated to the former premises of a supermarket, nearby.

It was not the lack of work that made the conservatives gloomy, but already a “deficit of collective thinking” – a recurring reproach in the mouths of agents. “The debate raised, yesterday as today, is: what happens to the collections during the closure? », explains Didier Schulmann, recalling “the competition today from the Louis Vuitton Foundation, the Bourse de Commerce, the Cartier Foundation, just a stone’s throw away”.

Projects revised downwards

During the previous project, part of the collections were exhibited for nearly eighteen months on 2,700 square meters made available to the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. Others had been sent throughout France for exhibitions outside the walls. Laurent Le Bon also promised a rich program called Constellations, in the region and in Paris. Some projects have since been scaled back. Thus the occupation of the Conciergerie, where a mini cultural season was to be held per year from 2026. The historic monument, which itself must close for work in the coming years, will only host one or two exhibitions. .

An agreement, the signature of which is planned for the spring, must record the use of two spaces of 2,000 square meters and 800 square meters at the Grand Palais for the duration of the work. An exhibition dedicated to the relationships between Pontus Hulten (1924-2006), the first president of the Center Pompidou, and the artists Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) and Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) is due to be held there from 2025. But for five years there will no longer be a continuous account of the history of art, which is nevertheless at the heart of our vocation, laments a veteran from Pointe à l’œil, who requires anonymity. The collections will be mobilized mainly for international satellites and international paid exhibitions. »

This policy of hard cash exhibitions, in Amsterdam, San Francisco or Spain, which should bring in 14.4 million euros in 2024, according to information from Le Monde, is nothing new. “But what is being considered today is a diversion from the notion of “cultural project,” deplores a curator. Revenue from exhibitions aims to finance a work policy, containing more than content, material more than spirit. »

The retirees of Pointe à l’œil have tried to raise awareness among their younger colleagues in office. In May 2023, after giving the Kandinsky library a box of Pointe à l’œil archives, Didier Schulmann sent an email to the twenty-eight current curators. “I told them: ‘The association still exists, it is at your disposal, do with it what you want. Basically, we leave it to you,” he says. No response to date.