After making his fortune in the oil industry, Jean Claude Gandur (74) created a foundation to manage and lend works from his art collection. The partnership with the Geneva Museum of Art and History having failed, he decided to build a museum in France. Following an initial selection, the cities of Bordeaux, Caen and Strasbourg are in the running to host the museum.
When will you announce the city chosen to house your collection?
It will finally be in March 2024. The files for the three cities selected (Bordeaux, Caen and Strasbourg) are so close that I have to decide between them with a new questionnaire. Added to this is the problem of acquiring the land, approximately 25,000 m², on which I will build the foundation building with a large park. I want to eliminate any legal uncertainty before making the name of the chosen city official.
What is the planned schedule?
I would like to open the museum before 2030. Upstream, we must resolve all the administrative problems, draw up the specifications with the programmer, organize a call for applications to find the architect, build the building, fit it out… I would like to do call for a young architect, very aware of ecological issues. I attach great importance to the use of natural materials. I am looking for a building that will integrate today’s innovations and those to come.
How much will it cost ?
I do not know yet. It will depend on the site and my dialogue with the architect, but I assume that it will not cost less than 50 million euros. Regarding the operating budget, the first projections are around 8 million euros.
How are you going to finance all of this?
My companies and I will make financial contributions to the Swiss foundation – as is the case today – which will in turn finance the foundation in France. Ultimately, the Swiss foundation will be endowed with capital whose income will finance the operation of the “museum”.
Who owns your collection?
For now mine, through a trust which protects it from any dismantling. Upon my death it will be transferred to the Swiss foundation. It is made up of around 3,700 works of art and it grows by around 100 to 150 objects per year. There are more and more paintings, having stopped any acquisition of archaeological objects due to problems of provenance. The fine arts collection benefited from an additional budget.
What do you want to do with this museum?
It will not only be a museum, but a place open to everyone, from children to seniors, with multidisciplinary activities such as dance, artist residencies, and mediation. I place a lot of importance on education. I also created a foundation to help the development and social integration of young people in difficulty, disadvantaged, uprooted or with disabilities. I am a migrant myself, certainly a luxury migrant, but a migrant, I had to leave Egypt at the age of 13. We will exhibit my collection in rotation and we will organize temporary exhibitions with loans from other museums. I recommend a limited number of objects, around 300, and not too many rooms, because I am well aware that the attention span of visitors decreases as the visit progresses.
You had initially planned to donate your collection to the Geneva Museum of Art and History, before architect Jean Nouvel’s project was rejected. No regrets ?
No not at all. I joined the Nouvel project, which was not mine. The Genevans rejected it in a vote, in all democratic countries the people are sovereign and their decision is final. Furthermore, it is impossible to build in Switzerland today on such surfaces. Not to mention that operating costs are one and a half times more expensive than in France.
How are you going to keep the foundation alive between now and 2030?
First by continuing to exhibit our works in different places of culture, such as at the Caen Memorial with the exhibition on pop art, or at the palace of the Institut de France (Comtesse de Caen pavilion) with French abstraction [jusqu’au 26 novembre]. And then we have the project of creating an international prize relating to the arts in general, in partnership with the chosen city.
You made your fortune in oil. Does this not risk handicapping the image of the future foundation?
I fully accept it. Our civilization has greatly benefited from this fossil energy. There is nothing illegal about working in oil just as there is nothing illegal about putting gasoline in your car. That said, a few years ago I sold a large part of my oil assets and there is only one company left in this field that I will sell in some time.
The “Journal des Arts” reported to you in June 2022 that a Fayoum mask present in your collections had a suspicious provenance. What have you done ?
I immediately filed a complaint against the gallery that sold it to me and I became a civil party in the proceedings. As a member of the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Zones (Aliph), I am very aware of the problem of provenance. When it was reported to me five years ago that an alabaster plaque I owned had been smuggled out of Egypt, I agreed to return it. Unfortunately, Swiss justice buried the case and did not prosecute the thieves and receivers, being overwhelmed with work. Our two curators are responsible for carefully studying the provenance of our archaeological objects, as a preliminary to an inspection by an authority external to the foundation.