Mr. President François Hollande,

Prime Ministers, dear Alain Juppé, dear Lionel Jospin,

Ladies and Gentlemen Ministers,

Dear Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO,

Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors,

Ladies and gentlemen elected,

Presidents,

Dear Françoise De Panafieu, President of the Friends of the Quai Branly Museum,

Dear Claude Chirac,

Dear Jean Nouvel,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

 

"Will they go to the Louvre?"

Almost a hundred years ago (1920), Félix Fénéon, the anarchist turned art critic, launched this call in the form of a question: in favour of these arts which he called «distant».

A call to affirm the equal dignity of the productions of human genius, wherever it comes from.

A call that sounded, at the time, like a provocation.

A call that ends, however, by being heard: in 2000, when the «Pavillon des Sessions» of the Louvre opened its doors to the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

This considerable event was the prelude to the creation of a new museum. Or should I say a new kind of museum: the Quai Branly museum.

“Masterpieces from around the world are born free and equal in law,” said Kerchache. “

In this revolution of perception, you, Stéphane Martin, played a decisive role.

These arts, in turn referred to as «primitive», «distant», «primordial» or «first», you have made them known to us for what they are: simply art.

Together with a few others, you have helped to change our conception of the universal: you have broadened it. You have enriched it. For this we will always be grateful.

Since its creation in 2006, the Quai Branly Museum has welcomed nearly 18 million visitors. The success of this young institution wanted by Jacques Chirac, we owe it to you.

We owe it to your passion, and to your rigour. Few people, like you, combine the spirit of finesse and that of geometry. You are both a great visionary and a great man of action. That’s exactly what it takes to be a great museum president.

Coming from one of the major bodies of the State – the Court of Auditors – you have devoted your entire career to culture: at the Centre Pompidou, at Radio France and directly “in the centre”, where you have held the highest positions, notably as Director of the Minister’s Office.

Each time, you demonstrate an impressive capacity for work, an infallible rigor and a remarkable ability to pilot projects.

In the 1990s, it was alongside three Jacques that you embarked on the adventure that led to the opening of the musée du quai Branly.

Three James: Chirac, Kerchache, and Friedmann. They will offer you the great cause of your life: the dialogue between all the cultures of the world.

These three Jacques, you owe them much. Especially, of course, to the “great” Jacques. Jacques Chirac, for whom, dear Claude, we have a special thought tonight. I would like to recall the words he said at the opening of his museum, the one that bears his name today. It was June 20, 2006:

No people, no nation, no civilization exhausts or sums up human genius. Each culture enriches it with its own beauty and truth, and it is only in their ever renewed expressions that the universal that gathers us glimpses».

These are beautiful words. Words that we need now more than ever. At a time of identity withdrawal, at a time when societies around the world, and also in France, are fracturing. In the face of communitarianism of all kinds, we must proudly carry the banner of brotherhood. Fraternity which is based on the conviction of the equal dignity of all men and of all cultures.

This message from Jacques Chirac, dear Stéphane, the museum you directed gave him a reality, a profoundly original reality.

A word must be said about the bold building designed by Jean Nouvel, in which the project is embodied. Built on stilts, it blends gradually, as the years go by, in its green setting. Like the collections it contains, which are gradually taking root in us, abolishing the distances and time that separated us from them. It is a perched haven that stands out from the surrounding buildings and guides visitors in their discovery experience.

In this exceptional site, dear Stéphane, you have designed a real cultural city. In addition to its permanent collections, the museum hosts a rich programme of exhibitions and events at the Lévi-Strauss Theatre. It is also a place of teaching and research, a dimension to which you are particularly attached.

I would like to highlight the extraordinary diversity of the museum’s temporary exhibitions policy. Diversity of subjects, approaches, eras. There may be a question:

  • Archaeological treasures as well as contemporary creations, including photography for which the musée du quai Branly has become an international reference;
  • From the culture of the Kanaks or the Dogons as universal phenomena such as tattoo or the art of hairdressing.

You are personally very invested in this policy of exhibitions, to the point of having created yourself one of them: the one that the museum dedicated to the art of Japanese baskets, «Fendre l'air». You need to hear about Japan to understand what the word “passion” means!

Your collection development policy is also unique. It is continued today by Yves Le Fur, the museum’s director of heritage and collections, whose role is essential. Because you know, dear Stéphane, surround yourself with the best.

The enrichment of the collections also testifies to the energy with which you mobilize major donors and patrons around the museum’s project. Without these patrons, this museum would not be what it is. We know the role that Martine Aublet played in this area and I salute Bruno Roger who is continuing his commitment as part of his foundation. I would also like to acknowledge the tremendous work of Françoise de Panafieu at the head of the Friends of the Quai Branly Society.

The latest donation for the musée du quai Branly, which I had the pleasure of signing with you and Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, whom I salute, will further strengthen its collections.

You also have an ambitious teaching and research policy, of which Claude Lévi-Strauss, of course, is one of the guardian figures. The specificity of the quai Branly museum is to be placed under the dual supervision of the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. With Frédérique Vidal, who could not be with us tonight, we are working hand in hand to accompany you. You welcome many young researchers who find reference resources in anthropology in particular. Their work is essential to deepen our knowledge of cultures still too little studied.

Finally, let me stress the importance of the international policy you have pursued.

Open to the world, curious about everything, you are an outstanding cultural diplomat who have tirelessly travelled the world to forge links with the best collections in the museum’s specialty areas.

This is how we owe it to you to have organized in China the very first exhibition of African art ever presented in this country, to have carried to Benin, from where I come back, a pioneering exhibition on Béhanzin, and so many others to the States-United like the one dedicated to the plains Indians.

Thanks to you, the musée du quai Branly has not only become a must-see national museum, complementing the Seine Arc dotted by the Louvre Museum and the Musée d'Orsay, but also an international institution of the highest order.

This success would not have been possible without the teams you have been able to surround yourself with throughout these years. I would also like to mention your successive deputy directors general: Pierre Hanotaux, Karim Mouttalib and Jérôme Bastianelli.

But it is in fact all those who work or have worked here who should be mentioned. All have experienced your attention to others. No doubt you have your character… But what it may have somewhat whole is tempered by your humanity, and your legendary sense of humor.

After your departure, I am pleased to entrust the interim presidency of the institution to Jérôme Bastianelli, who has been working with you for nearly 10 years. I thank him for accepting.  

Dear Stéphane Martin,

As you step down from your duties here, we have a responsibility to this institution: to remain faithful to the values that presided over its birth. To the values of sharing and dialogue between the cultures you defended, alongside Jacques Chirac. You can count on me.

In his “Enquête sur des arts lointains”, Fénéon – always him – made this prophecy: when the Louvre Museum receives distant art, “he will not find his complement, but his principle.” Thanks to you, we found this principle, Stéphane Martin. Thanks to your unfailing commitment. I know that wherever you are, you will continue to carry it, this commitment to a certain idea of culture: vast, curious, universal. Like the France we love. Thank you Stéphane.