Dear Ministers, Elected Ladies and Gentlemen, Madam President [of the History Committee], Dear Maryvonne de Saint-Pulgent,Dear Director of the Cité de la musique, Dear Laurent Bayle,Dear Friends,
A French spirit, a gardener of the arts, an honest man of the twentieth century: this is how the newspapers present Michel Guy at his death, 20 years ago, on August 1, 1990, in this apartment of the street of Rivoli where he liked to receive, surrounded by paintings and objects he loved. This universe was for him a source of serenity and «good pleasure», this radio show of which he was the brilliant and affable guest and of which we will hear some significant extracts in a moment. His charisma and distinction, the quality and richness of his aesthetic tastes, his spirit as an entrepreneur and builder make him a special character and a tenant of the rue de Valois «out of the ordinary».
Michel Guy was indeed a forerunner, an ardent defender of the avant-garde; he was also for the Ministry of Culture an «unknown innovator», to use the title of the beautiful work dedicated to him by Michèle Dardy-Cretin. Secretary of State for Culture from 1974 to 1976 at the beginning of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing’s seven-year term, his legacy and action remain largely underestimated.
Heir to a renowned family horticultural business, Michel Guy was a constant arts gardener and tireless sower of talents. He formed his taste thanks to meetings, especially with his friend Andrée Aynard, who later became the designer Andrée Putman, This allowed him to deepen his knowledge of music and later introduced him to artists like Bram Van Velde and writers like Beckett. Michel Guy is gradually gaining a reputation as a «connoisseur», a great lover of contemporary art, dance, cinema and music. He especially created the Festival d'Automne in 1971, this admirable window on contemporary creation. Except for these two years of ministerial action, during which the direction is entrusted to Alain Crombecque, he directed it until his death in 1990. A wise patron, a valuable intermediary, he helped to promote in France such important international artists as Peter Brook, Merce Cunningham and Giorgio Strehler, but also talented directors such as Peter Stein and Luca Ronconi.
Once appointed Rue de Valois, it is a decisive guide to the Ministry’s commitment to contemporary creation and the promotion of new artistic languages. He supports young directors to whom he entrusts the management of national drama centres, some of which are less than thirty years old. Credits for theatre companies are doubled. It was at this time that Chéreau, Mnouchkine, Arias or Lavelli began their brilliant career. The music owes him many creations of Kagel, Stockhausen, Xenakis; he makes known to the public the researches of Bob Wilson; he finally participates actively in the creation, in 1975, of the Ensemble intercontemporain, at the initiative of Pierre Boulez and Nicholas Snowman. This is what explains our presence tonight at the Cité de la Musique and the role that the Intercontemporain ensemble will play during this evening. From now on, the rehearsal studio of the Ensemble will be named after Michel Guy, a translation of the trace left by his action.
Michel Guy’s ministerial action is responsible for many other cultural projects: the integration of the entire book chain within the Ministry, the creation of the Office national de diffusion artistique (ONDA), but also the contribution to the «rescue» French cinema – through the reform of the system of advance on receipts. Taking the Parisian microcosm to task, he never ceases to frequent local elected officials and to listen to them. He travels the country to know the professionals of cultural action and takes up the idea of a contract between the ministry and local authorities. A true pioneer of decentralization, he established cultural charters. The first was signed with a city with an innovative cultural policy, Grenoble, led by Hubert Dubedout. Then followed a dozen other cities - including Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, Angers, La Rochelle - two departments - the Val d'Oise and the Orne - and a region - Alsace. Long before the 1982 laws, Michel Guy felt the need for a quality cultural offer in the regions.
A fervent defender of contemporary creation, Michel Guy did not neglect heritage. One of its most emblematic actions was to inscribe a hundred or so city centres as protected sites, in order to combat the phenomena of enlarging the landscape that prevailed in French cities. He also undertook to protect the heritage still little considered of the 19th and 20th centuries, sometimes fighting against the resistance of the conservative body.
In the quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns, in the opposition between tradition and creation, in the alternative between the State and the territories, Michel Guy did not choose, he built. Browsing the archives of the INA and the sound archives, one is struck by the energy and strength of conviction deployed by this extraordinary minister, sometimes guided only by his subjectivity, his personal tastes and his sincere love of art. As a wise «gardener», he sowed and reaped: he had the intelligence to take up the fruitful ideas that were emerging, he acutely perceived the stakes of the cultural world of the time to build a real project for the Ministry of Culture.
If Malraux contributed to the prestige of cultural policy, if Jacques Duhamel gave him credibility in the state, Michel Guy knew how to give him modernity, or at least make modernity a deliberate choice. Its legacy is more topical than ever, at a time when the challenges of globalization, digital technology and the individualization of cultural practices invite us to rethink modes of action and levers of public policy. Coming from civil society and the arts, he was a bridge between those who make culture and those who administer it. With the creators, he knew how to make both visible and possible, always bearing in mind that there is no cultural policy without a requirement for dissemination. Bearing in mind that there can be no cultural democratization without improving the conditions of appropriation of works by the public.
The ambition of the «Culture pour chacun», which guides my action at the head of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, was already that of Michel Guy. For everyone in particular, because culture, as I often say, is the domain of intimacy. For everyone in particular, because culture, even when it is diffused, is too delicate to be one and indivisible; it is always received in a different way, transformed, even imperceptibly when it is received. The “Culture for everyone” is fully in line with Michel Guy’s desire for democratization: it does not replace the ambition of the “Culture for all”: it nourishes and enriches it.
Before concluding, I would like to thank in a heartfelt way those who made possible this evening-tribute to Michel Guy: the team of the Cité de la Musique and especially its director Laurent Bayle for his availability, the History Committee of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, especially its President, Maryvonne de Saint-Pulgent, as well as Michèle Dardy-Cretin, author of the reference work, the INA for the provision of the very rich audiovisual material, France Musique and Lionel Esparza for the interest they immediately showed, finally all the artists, actors and musicians who will punctuate this evening. I would also like to say that other events will accompany this tribute: a medal of the Ministry of Culture and Communication with the effigy of Michel Guy, an animation in the Hall of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, rue Saint Honoré, a specific file on the Ministry’s website. To honour the memory of Michel Guy, a «feast of creation» was necessary!
Tireless animator, aesthete curious about everything, Michel Guy knew how to embody with panache and modesty what we call – sometimes wrongly - the French spirit: taste, openness to the world, generosity. With Michel Guy, culture and the arts have benefited from one of their last Russian princes, one of their ultimate Florentine patrons, but also and above all from an attentive interlocutor and a warm friend. It is this friend who speaks with modesty and ease of his tastes, of his aesthetic choices and of his projects for Culture and Creation which I wished to honour this evening, alongside his relatives, those who knew him, those who loved him, of those whose artistic career he supported. Place to this minister with a human face, who loved to stroll and dream in his bed, place to this creative lover who found himself in the Goldberg variations or the Mémoires de Saint-Simon, place to this smoker epicurean, loving the world while wanting a style stripped to the extreme, A man named Michel Guy.