At the Troyes Museum of Modern Art, better integrated collections

Troyes (Aube). An exceptional donation and a place steeped in history: by adding the two, we logically obtain a museum. The equation is actually more complex, because since its inauguration in 1982, the Troyes Museum of Modern Art has not established itself on a national level. The donation by the couple Pierre and Denise Lévy is nevertheless one of the most important – and most famous – of the last century, and the museum was created within the episcopal palace of Troyes. To create a museum, what was perhaps missing was an alchemy between the former archbishopric and the plethoric collection of modern art: a balance which is the charm of the recent inaugurations of the Brache-Bonnefoi collection in Beaulieu-en-Rouergue (Tarn-et -Garonne) or the Cligman donation in Fontevraud (Maine-et-Loire). The work undertaken since 2019 to modernize the forty-year-old museum, which was inaugurated on April 16, could be summed up as couples therapy.

A collection and a building

At the beginning of the story, it is a marriage of opportunity which links collection and palace: they are brought together by the local patriotism of the textile industrialist Pierre Lévy, who donates a good part of his collection to the State in 1976 provided that it is presented in its city of Troyes. The donation gradually takes precedence over the 16th-17th century building. A beautiful Champagne checkerboard wall becomes a picture rail for the landscapes of the Paris school, the large fireplace on the ground floor is occupied by a blue podium intended for small bronzes by Maillol. The second floor is transformed into a corridor by picture rails added on either side of this sloping volume.

Open at the end of a first phase of the project since December 2022, this long room dominated by the framework is representative of the work carried out collectively by the scientific team (Juliette Faivre-Preda, curator of the museum, and Éric Blanchegorge, director of museums of Troyes) and the scenographer (Philippe Maffre, Maffre Architectural Workshop).

Opening the permanent route, this vast space needs a sequencing identifiable as a valorization of the architecture: a challenge, since the attic is already punctuated by the beam posts falling in the center of the volume, and it must also house technical networks. “We must use technology as a generator of hypotheses”, believes Philippe Maffre: the formwork of the networks on both sides of the attic thus becomes a lateral matrix for the route, on which quadrangular picture rails stand out, and above all beautiful triangular windows matching the shape of the attic. Chronologically, the progression of the route evolves according to a slight gradient of picture rails, from blue for realism (including a beautiful snowy landscape by Courbet) to gray for the themes of modernity, against which Édouard's two superb factory scenes stand out. Vuillard restored during the work. This leisurely stroll through the history of art is interrupted by the vibrant yellow that accompanies the Fauvist painters. “The roof is left in a rather neutral color, and the nuances are used as a tool of meaning, explains the museum curator. The scenography here supports the point, with this yellow which underlines the shock of the color that Derain represents. »

At the end of the attic, a rotunda is devoted to African works brought together by the Lévys – and presented as collectors' aesthetic trophies rather than according to their original context of creation. It creates a junction with a former office space, on which the permanent route has gained 400 square meters. In this space the couple's timid forays into the world of the Cubist avant-gardes are presented, before a discovery made during the construction site: on the reverse of the Runners by Robert Delaunay, one of the icons of the collection, there is a large portrait of Bella Chagall, still unknown; it is cleverly revealed by a play of mirrors in the scenography. “Today we are 90% sure that the portrait is also by Delaunay”assures Juliette Faivre-Pela.

A discreet scenography

On the first floor, the volumes become more airy, and the high ceilings allow large display cases to be displayed to present the work of the Trojan glassmaker Maurice Marinot (1882-1960), one of the highlights of the collection. A backlighting system transforms the large presentation tables into a forest of tealight holders, where you can appreciate the rich textures of Marinot's glass pieces. As on the second level, the sequencing of the route leaves no down time in the presentation of this aesthetically very homogeneous collection, and once again brings color into play with the deep red of a room dedicated to the “return to order” of 'Andre Derain. In this space where copies of the great classical masters made by the repentant beast are exhibited, the visitor can have the feeling of being parachuted into a museum of ancient art.

This first floor closes its loop on the alternation of brick and limestone of the Champagne checkerboard. This typically Trojan construction technique is highlighted by the strange sculpted figures of Derain, shown almost in the manner of archaeological pieces on a steel frame detached from the wall which plays with the 16th century checkerboard. In this superb presentation, heritage and collection are more than ever reconciled. The vast fireplace has here become a niche for Ousmane Sow's great wrestler (a pioneering acquisition for the museum in 1990), whose technical base blends into the ground. The diversity of the scenographic vocabulary scattered throughout the route does not impose itself on the places, like these pretty pedestals for sculptures, a nod to the Memphis design group, which take up the shades of the local stone.

The work carried out on the light, previously summary, completes the transformation of what was simply the hanging of the “Lévy donation” into a real museum.

Troyes Museum of Modern Art.

© Carole Bell / City of Troyes

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