Málaga’s Pompidou moment

City mayor jumps gun in announcing tie-up with French cultural institution Artwork from collection to be shown in the Spanish city yet to be decided

Borja Hermoso
A view of the building known as El Cubo, which is set to house a new Pompidou center in Málaga.
A view of the building known as El Cubo, which is set to house a new Pompidou center in Málaga.GARCÍA SANTOS

A secret that had been jealously guarded for months by managers of the Pompidou Center in Paris and by the mayor of Málaga has finally been unveiled: the first international branch of the famous French modern art museum will open in the Andalusian city in 2015.

The new gallery is poised to become the latest addition to a growing list of world-class art centers located in Málaga, such as the Carmen Thyssen Museum (which holds part of the collection owned by Carmen Cervera, wife of the late Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza) or the museum devoted to Pablo Picasso, who was born in the city in 1881. The new Pompidou center will be located on the waterfront, under the shadow of the Alcazaba, the Muslim fortress that overlooks the city. The building is already in place: known as El Cubo (The Cube), the steel-and-glass structure went up two years ago at the port, in the spot where Piers 1 and 2 meet.

This is just one more example of a contemporary trend by which the world's major museums are allowing their holdings to be shown around the world - after receiving a check, that is. Politicians with the power to make it happen are happy. Museum managers anxious for revenues in these hard times are delighted. Democratization of culture is what they're calling it.

The five-year deal comes with annual costs of one million euros for the city

The agreement between Mayor Francisco de la Torre (of the center-right Popular Party) and Pompidou president Alain Seban involves filling The Cube with a permanent collection of 70 artworks from the Paris headquarters, whose art managers will also organize one temporary show a year, curated by themselves.

The five-year deal will represent an annual cost of one million euros for the city, which will pick up the tab for transportation, security and operating costs. Another five million euros are expected to go into construction and refurbishing work to prepare El Cubo for its new mission as a container of valuable art. The exact works scheduled to travel to Málaga are to be determined at a later date, under the supervision of Pompidou officials and a municipal representative for cultural affairs.

The National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center is one of the world's most important art galleries. Located in the heart of Paris, inside a spectacular building designed by the architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano in 1977, it houses a colossal collection of 20th-century art, including masterpieces by Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Miró, Klein, Dalí, Modigliani, Brancusi, Matisse and Bacon. After the Eiffel Tower, it is the second-most popular tourist draw in Paris, with nearly four million visitors in 2012.

Another building was rejected after 30 million euros was spent on restoration

Until now, the only branch of the Pompidou was in Metz, a northern French city.

The new Pompidou Málaga will occupy 6,000 square meters, but before settling on El Cubo, the mayor and the French museum managers had contemplated another choice: the old, majestic Tabacalera, home of the former tobacco factory, which is a bit further away from the city center. Restoration of this building has already set the city back 30 million euros. At one point, it was going to house the Gem Museum, and the city gave up to eight million euros to a group of private investors who were going to run the center, until plans fell apart.

But the mystery of Pompidou Málaga is not completely solved yet. One unknown factor is the caliber of the artwork that will be on permanent display here: it is not the same to get a Picasso as a Fontana; a Kandinsky is not the same as a Klein... Nor is it clear why Alain Seban ended up choosing Málaga when, not three months ago, he was still talking about "Latin America, Africa and the Middle East" as priority destinations for the Pompidou's "provisional" centers.

It's not the same to get a Picasso as a Fontana; a Klein is not a Kandinsky

There is also no proper explanation as to why the mayor of Málaga made the announcement so suddenly, with no prior warning, but chances are that he was in the grip of that uncontrollable fervor that comes with political achievements. For their part, Pompidou officials considered the announcement "premature."

"It was announced too soon; we might be reaching a deal in a few weeks, but right now we are at the statement-of-intent stage," said a spokesman for the Pompidou. Items still up for discussion are "financial issues, the type of collaboration between both centers, and the type of shows to be put on." Even the opening date, it turns out, is not etched in stone. "2015 is not officially confirmed," said the museum, whose managers have already expressed their dismay to Málaga officials.

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