What a strange idea to name museums or public buildings after Presidents of the Republic! It is normal, nonetheless, that their names be attributed to streets or avenues. Moreover, attributing their surnames to airports corresponds to a commonly recognized international rule, both in democracies and dictatorships. But christening museums or libraries as such is uncommon, except in the context of dictatorships: There is no Churchill, Roosevelt, Bush, Clinton or Obama museum. And the names of foreign leaders are generally given to foundations promoting actions that they undertook while in power, or (in rarer cases, as for President Carter), foundations of general interest. And, in the case of dictatorships, these names are erased at the sight of the first revolution.
In contrast, naming cultural institutions after a president is now a well-established practice in France: there is a Pompidou Museum and a Francois Mitterrand Library. There will one day be, and everyone knows it, a Giscard d’Estaing museum (now le Musée d’Orsay) and a Jacques Chirac museum (today known as Musée des Arts Premiers or Musée du Quai Branly). There is much to be said about the role of other presidents in these projects, though in reality all were inspired by others and each other (one could quote Pierre Boulez, Françoise Cachin or Jacques Kerchache). But still—in France, everything refers back to the supreme power.
There will be neither a Nicolas Sarkozy museum nor a Francois Hollande library. It wasn’t the wish of either president, perhaps feeling that public opinion did not wish for it. Moreover, having exercised only one term of five years, they did not have the time to launch a project without a successor jeopardizing it: without the re-election of Francois Mitterrand, there would be no Grand Louvre today.
In other words, a prince is known by name only when he has had time to enshrine himself in history and establish a fairly reputable legacy so that his name will not be erased by his successors.
Not to mention a crucial point: those who do the naming are the ones who are financing. And most of the named institutions would not have existed if the princes that they are named after had not secured their funding.
In a world where power shifts from politics to money, we are seeing the emergence, in France and Europe after the United States, museums adorning the names of their benefactors (or brands that they own when their name is not itself their main brand).
Even more: as stadiums are named after brands, for the duration of the contractual terms, we may also see brand names adorning museums for a few years, and then see a name change at the whim of the sponsors. Without a doubt, we will never have a Louvre-SFR museum. But soon, perhaps we may have, for a decade or less, a Jacquemart André -Engie museum, or an Arsenal-Hachette library or a Vivendi-opera.
If this allows the cultural institutions of our territories, which are too often tragically neglected, to regain their former glory and acquire the means for future projects, without interfering with the programming or curating, it must be accepted without reservation. After all, in the past, religious benefactors have unknowingly financed many timeless masterpieces. The source of financing has been forgotten, but the genius aspect has been retained. Naturally, no one should be fooled by the possibility of “art washing”, similar to “green washing”, which is when companies attempt to hide their various turpitudes by financing ecological projects.
I want to bet that the essence of art is precisely to transcend the funding, to dupe it and do as you please with it—for the greater good of humanity.