Herr Professor, dear Werner Spies,

Saint Cecilia and her invisible piano reviewed by Max Ernst, in a painting with desert colors. The chapel of Ronchamp, Notre-Dame-du-Haut, built by Le Corbusier on the ruins of a medieval shrine destroyed by the bombing of 1944. In a way, it is the shock caused in you by these works that you have built your aesthetic journey.

In the town of Tübingen where you grow up during the post-war period, the garrison officers provide you with some works of Gallimard editions in which you discover a French writing in full renewal: Nathalie Sarraute, Marguerite Duras, Samuel Beckett, Michel Butor. From an early age, interested in France, you translate for yourself books by Saint-Exupéry or Albert Camus, and you discover the New Roman.

From this passion was born a first project: to make Germany discover a certain literary modernity coming from France. You take advantage of an internship at the Stuttgart radio station to contact these renowned authors, proposing them to broadcast their theatre texts on the airwaves. Despite your young age, you manage to convince some of them, thanks to your enthusiasm, your foresight and your somewhat obstinate character. Some 70 texts will be recorded in their German translation. You thus open the doors of a route dedicated to the cultural meeting on both sides of the Rhine.

You touched on the idea of taking orders. It is through an aesthetic, literary and pictorial faith that will replace this first movement that you will work so substantially to the knowledge of our respective cultural treasures.

"Werner Spies is never neutral," it is often said of you. "I could not live otherwise than in fascination. I need epiphany,” you tell a reporter. Lovers of the New Novel, as much as a demanding critic of the painters you have accompanied during your life, you have held out an original aesthetic mirror to Germany as to France.

You arrived in Paris in 1960 «with your bag of Germanities», to use your daughter Alexandra’s expression, fleeing a certain suffocation made of ruins and repentance. Through Robbe-Grillet and your mentor, the famous art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, you enter the artistic and intellectual circles where you meet Picasso, Malraux, Lévi-Strauss, Michaux, Man Ray, Leiris, and especially Max Ernst.

Aware of the incredible opportunity before you, you enter Picasso’s workshops “like a tailor, a hairdresser… but not as a voyeur”, to use your words. You listed in a catalogue all the sculptures that the creator jealously kept with him.

With Max Ernst, to whom you dedicate your doctoral thesis at the University of Bonn, you discover a friend. The painter, whose work represents in your opinion «the most important work of Surrealism», still suffers from the esteem shattered by the war for these German artists who bear an unprecedented vision, that Denise René has also helped to reconnect with their French audience. Each painting by Max Ernst is a vision «before the passage of man or after the passage of man», said his friend Claude Lévi-Strauss. His work will remain, in the abundance of your critical texts, your breadcrumb. Your analysis and technical reconstruction of his famous collages bring to the knowledge of his work an invaluable contribution, through the careful explanations of the processes and materials, especially the reviews, used to build these compositions. Max Ernst, who confessed to being unable to remember the details of his work, was himself stunned, and very grateful for this “Eye at the Scene of the Crime”.

Your criticisms, which remain far from the biographical temptations, published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for more than forty years and tinged with elegance and impertinence, are immediately respected by the community and often cited for their courage. You do not hesitate to dismantle the theories of Joseph Beuys, or to restore the anteriority of Breton on Dubuffet by approaching the art brut in 1967. Your word stands for painters, critics, curators and collectors around the world. The anthology of your analyses by Max Ernst, Picasso, Action Painting and contemporary art is now available in a magnificent edition at Gallimard, after having already been published in German and English.

It is on the occasion of the very famous Paris-Berlin exhibition of 1978 at the Centre Pompidou, prepared in barely six months, that you reach the general public. It is a rediscovery as much as a political and cultural act unprecedented in France. We know that preparing an exhibition is your “favorite sport”, and Picasso sculptor, Max Ernst – sculptures, houses, landscapes or The Surrealist Revolution have been unmistakable successes.

Director of the National Museum of Contemporary Art from 1997 to 2000, which you reorganize from top to bottom, you design exhibitions with the world’s largest museums and get exceptional loans that owe a lot to the recognition of your reliability. Your years at the Centre Pompidou are widely praised both by the specialists and by the general public, who flock to admire these new exhibitions.

Journalist, art critic, essayist, cultural actor, European scholar and generous, you have forged an admirable path between two countries and between two passions. For your exceptional qualities as mediator of French artists abroad, for your tireless commitment to mutual understanding between France and Germany, for the international visibility you give to the history of art in artistic and academic circles,

Dear Werner Spies, we bestow upon you the insignia of Commander of the Legion of Honour.