[ENSBA] After the letter “For an open school” 

The viewpoint of a signatory of the letter “For an open school”

The appointment of Jean de Loisy as director of the École nationale supérieure des beaux- arts de Paris reflects the crisis of representation that affects our institutions and demonstrates, once again, that the absence of consultation and the use of authoritarianism are now the only ways of ensuring their sustainability without questioning them.

Following the few articles announcing the appointment of Jean de Loisy as head of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris and facing the structural inability of the art press to correctly transcribe any kind of critical point of view, it seemed necessary to review this event, in a particularly tense French political context.

Since November, we have witnessed an unprecedented protest movement against inequalities and against our systems of representation. While the desire to experiment more radical democratic forms was being expressed everywhere in the country, and two days after Emmanuel Macron’s television address, who was desperately trying to buy social peace, Jean de Loisy has been discreetly appointed to head of Ensba by the Council of Ministers on 12 December 2018.

It would obviously be despicable to place the struggles of the yellow vests and the protest that took place before the appointment of the new director of the Beaux-Arts de Paris at the same level of importance, but it must be acknowledged that in both cases, and as in every case when a protest movement is expressed against the current government, dissenting voices are systematically ignored, discredited or even repressed. It is therefore with the intention of countering the arguments mobilized by a large number of French art personalities to justify this appointment that we wish to answer to the condescension and contempt expressed, here and there, against the signatories of the petition For an Open School.

“Of course, everyone is concerned because the school is an essential part of the French landscape but this is all about democracy. The application and appointment process was totally transparent, involving an open call and board consultation.”

Jean de Loisy, Director of the École Nationale supérieure des Beaux arts de Paris, The art newspaper,   December 12th, 2018

Who — except for Jean de Loisy himself and the Ministry of Culture — can honestly say that the appointment of the new director of Ensba is the result of a democratic process? 

Does the selection committee composed, among others, of Anita Molinero (artist twice presented in the program of the Palais de Tokyo for the year 2018 alone), Catherine Grenier (a museum conservator, guest of “art and matter” in 2017 on France Culture, a program hosted by Jean de Loisy) and Christian Bernard correspond to the idea of an impartial committee to judge the relevance of Jean de Loisy’s candidature? Why is it impossible to find out about the constitution of this committee, the debates between its members, the candidates’ project, and the different stages of this recruitment?

Which laws supervise these appointment processes and clearly allow us to identify the roles of each of the constituent members of these selection committees? 

How can we not understand that this high degree of corruption, opacity and collusion discourages anyone who does not have support at the highest level of the state to run for leadership positions?

Today, it seems obvious that the notions of “transparency” and “impartiality” associated with the recruitment methods of directors of French cultural institutions are only meaningful to a small number of people who still have an interest in seeing these monarchical practices continue. Since their introduction, the way people are appointed to positions of power, the way institution distribute scholarships and grants of all kinds, the way institutions are acquiring new works for their collections, have caused controversy and frustration within the art community, precisely because of the gross failure to respect the principles of transparency and impartiality.

Jean de Loisy was appointed through a process reflecting the simulacrum of democracy in which we currently live in France today.

“an open letter from several artists and personalities in the art world spoke out against Jean de Loisy’s election and reproached him his age and nobleness”

Le billet culturel by Mathilde Serrell France culture, December 14th, 2018

As far as I am concerned, it seems obvious to me that this letter is more specifically aimed at Jean de Loisy’s cultural and political age rather than his biological age. It is indeed difficult to conceive that the immense project of reforming the Fine Arts school of Paris will be carried out according to a radical approach by a person whose ideology is frozen in the past. His recent assessment at the head of the Palais de Tokyo is nevertheless clear: an almost total absence of interest regarding the structural racism and sexism of contemporary art; a repetition of the vertical, pompous and individualistic formats of art, and the opening of the art centre’s finance without any precaution to private interests and to the most aggressive brand sponsorship.

This ideology of art has a name, it is a right-wing cultural policy. To invoke age discrimination in connection with the letter For an Open School is therefore, of course, a voluntary misinterpretation in order to avoid the real problem raised by this petition: in this case the appointment of yet another right-wing white man who is about to take over one of the cultural institutions the most affected by xenophobia, sexism, sexual harassment and racism. 

If we can expect Jean de Loisy, who hasa strong experience of power, to succeed in finding a way to incorporate the protest against him, I am pretty sure that the profound transformation of the system will not come from him.

A petition signed by “LGBT elements, Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender”

Yves Michaud, Atlantico, article of November 24th, 2018

It seems desirable that an entire generation currently in office, trapped in a system that encourages the polarization of its agents between conservators and an avant-garde, should assume its reactionary positions (and for some of them, their LGBTI-phobia) and release their functions as soon as possible. It is up to the new entrants to break with this temporal logic that prevents us from drastically rethink our modes of governance and encourages each new one of them, who holds power, to reproduce the same mistakes as their elders. Is it, however, completely absurd to make the assumption that this eternal repetition of history is linked to the fact that the same category of person is the only one able to be in charge of cultural institutions? In this case, the right-wing, white, patriarchal and heteronormative French bourgeoisie. The way in which, today, this endogamous ruling class clings to its positions by assuming that subjectivities other than its own have neither the experience, nor the maturity, nor the legitimacy to exercise power in a way that would differ from its own, reinforces the idea of a small oligarchy of art at the end of its reign.

“undoubtedly constructive arguments would have had more scope if the letter were not so polarized on the figure of a man who concentrates projections, amalgams and various resentments. Whatever the relevance of the constructive arguments, nothing justifies in my opinion such an ad hominem attack”

Emmanuel Tibloux, appointed director of the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts décoratifs de Paris in July 2018 under the same conditions as Jean de Loisy. Facebook comment in response to a post by Jill Tonic on her account dated November 9, 2018

“The fact that we can’t fight the municipality is a rumor spread by the municipality itself. ” Audre Lorde.

Anyone obsessed with the idea of accumulating as much power as possible (according to some sources, in addition to his mission as curator of the next Lyon Biennale, Jean de Loisy suggested to be in charge both of the Beaux-Arts de Paris and the Villa Medicis) must logically expect profound challenges to his authority. However, when all attempts to object and proposals for counter-models through traditional institutional means are systematically being ignored, you have no choice but to use confrontational methods. As a reminder, violence never comes from minorities excluded by value systems and hierarchies of the field of art, or from precarious art agents. Violence always comes from the side of those in power.

As for concrete solutions, a recruitment by a jury composed equally of all the relevant bodies of the institution (students, administrative and technical staff, teachers) to decide on a (collegial) management of the school according to a charter imposing the requirement of parity and diversity would be a good starting point.

“Women must be kept out of positions of power to be protected” 

Béatrice Salmon, Deputy Director in charge of Visual Arts at the Ministry of Culture and Communication. Post Instagram of the goton_got account, November 27th, 2018

All those who are engaged in the fight against structural sexism in art institutions will surely appreciate this sentence, which reveals how patriarchal domination has penetrated the minds of senior officials in the world of culture. If some of you still have doubts or deep misunderstanding about this subject, I recommend Elisabeth Lebovici’s excellent article to read here

As to the facts: 

Since the recruitment of new cultural institutions directors started last years, the nominees are: 

  • Emmanuel Tibloux at the head of the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs
  • Chris Dercon as Director of the National Museums Reunion
  • Franck Riester as  Minister of Culture 
  • Quentin Bajac at the head of the Jeu de Paume  Museum
  • Sylvain Lizon at the head of Villa Arson – Jean de Loisy at the head of the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts


Unless I am mistaken, this petition is not an attack led  by identitarian aegist extremists, it is only a protest against the methods of appointment of people at high position of power and a legitimate expectation of a change of model in order to combat the structural racism and sexism in contemporary art.

It is no problem to me that a number of art personalities with neo-reactionary impulses try to demonstrate that we are not outraged by the same issues. In 2019, let’s make the promise not to even answer them anymore and let’s act !

Indeed this appointment is a real call for revolt against a French art world governed by a small ultra-conservative group of people! It is an invitation to do everything possible to make Jean de Loisy’s mandate impossible. This mandate will necessarily respond to the political will to liberalize the school’s economy during which 15 permanent teachers will be replaced. A few months ago, following the departure of Jean Marc Bustamante, we had dreamed of the possibility of a left-wing reform of this school, the appointment of Jean de Loisy as the new director of the institution has reduced all our hopes to nothing. 

Let’s impeach him !

External links

Pour une école ouverte
08.11.2018 (French)
Pour une école ouverte 
08.11.2018 (French)
Beaux-Arts de Paris : des personnalités s’opposent à la nomination de Jean de Loisy 
08.11.2018 (French)
Les Inrocks
Harcèlement aux Beaux-Arts de Paris : les étudiants s’expriment 
12.11.2018 (French)
Appointment of new director for France’s Ecole des Beaux Arts sparks protests 
12.11.2018 (English)