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Frédéric Jousset: From the Beaux-Arts tradition to the innovation of Art Explora

By Claudia Moscovici

Frédéric Jousset has spanned the gamut in the arts in the course of his career. Raised in an artistic family—his mother, Marie-Laure Jousset was the Chief Curator at Beaubourg and his father, Hubert Jousset, was President of the École normale de musique de Paris—Jousset has played a key role in French culture. He began his career in the fields of marketing and finance, which he later relied upon to support and fund the arts. In 1994, he started working for L’Oréal (Kérastase) in several marketing roles, followed by managing private equity funds for the international investment firm Bain & Company. In 2000, he partnered with Olivier Duha to establish his own Internet search company, called Webhelp SA. The firm spread to over 40 countries across the world, generating nearly 1.5 billion Euros in revenues in 2019. While thriving as a businessman, Jousset did not forget his artistic heritage. Between 2011 and 2014, he served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris and as a member of the acquisitions committee of the Musée du Louvre (2007-2014). In this role, he developed the museum’s website and funded the purchase of a famous painting by Nicolas Poussin, La Fuite en Egypte (1657).

Beaux-Arts Magazine and the Beaux-Arts System

Jousset eventually became an administrator of the Louvre. In 2016, he became the CEO of the prestigious Beaux Arts Magazine, a monthly art journal founded in 1983, which covers the history of art in all fields from antiquity to today. The magazine is named after the Académie des Beaux-Arts founded in 1816, under the rule of Louis XVIII. This Academy, in turn, merged the Academy of Painting and Sculpture, the Academy of Music, and the Academy of Architecture: all originally founded by Louis XIV’s culture minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. The Beaux-Arts system was instituted to meet the requirements of the Academy, which were taught at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. These included the following principles:

  1. A respect of the hierarchy of genres which privileged, in descending order, history paintings, religious themes, portraits and still-lifes. Of course, principles are always somewhat different from public taste and practice. Even during the eighteenth-century, when Chardin’s still-lifes were extremely popular and defended by notable philosophes such as Diderot, the hierarchy of genres instituted during Louis XIV’s reign was being called into question. During the nineteenth century, with the rise in popularity of realism and the representation of every-day subjects and life, it was even more radically altered. Although some well-respected artists, such as Cabanel and Bouguereau, continued to observe its rules, many artists did not. As Théophile Gautier announced in the 1846 Salon, “religious subjects are few; there are significantly less battles; what is called history painting will disappear… The glorification of man and of the beauties of nature, this seems to be the aim of art in the future.”
  2. Drawing is more important than color. The reason behind this rule was that the drawing of forms was considered more abstract because it was not already found in nature. Thus, it was assumed that it took greater artistic talent to convey forms by drawing their shapes and outlines rather than by blotting, from nature, their colors.
  3. Drawing from live models in conformance to the study of anatomy, not in order to convey nature as is, but to improve it by rendering it more noble, elegant and beautiful. During the seventeenth century, Neoclassicism perpetuated this improvement of nature, or capturing la belle nature.
  4. Painting in the studio, as opposed to in the open air, since the studio was a place where the source and intensity of light and, more generally, the whole painting environment could be controlled to suit the aesthetic needs of the artist.
  5. Paintings had to be elaborately detailed, meticulously executed and, above all, look polished and finished.
  6. The overarching and unspoken framework behind the Beaux-Arts system was verisimilitude: or representing in painting—through shading, foreshortening, sfumato and the observance of one-point perspective—the three-dimensionality of objects as seen by the eye.

By the mid- to late- nineteenth-century, the Impressionists would undo much of the Beaux-Arts system and its stringent rules with their plein air, quick brushstroke, blot of color paintings. But the legacy of a strong institutional tradition valuing the arts continues in France to this day, a country whose top contribution still is, arguably, culture and whose main industry remains tourism, largely centered around its invaluable artistic heritage and exquisite museums.

21st Century Artistic Innovation: The Google Art Project and Art Explora

To preserve an artistic heritage anywhere around the world we must keep up with—and even invent—the technologies of our times. In this fashion, we can engage with new audiences and expand the reach of the arts to more and more places, worldwide. About a decade ago, Google made it possible to visit museums virtually, without having to travel there. On February 1, 2011 it launched the groundbreaking Google Art Project. (See https://artsandculture.google.com/) This website offers an online, high-resolution compilation of some of the greatest works of art, featured in some of the world’s most famous museums: including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Collection in New York City; the Uffizi in Florence; the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée Rodin in Paris and the Tate Gallery in London. Since its inception, 600 museums in 60 countries have participated in this revolutionary artistic venture.

According to the Wikipedia, Elizabeth Merritt, the Director of the Center for the Future of Museums, described the project as an “interesting experiment.” Other leaders in the world of art greeted this venture with more optimism. Julian Raby, the Director of the Freer Gallery of Art, stated that this project would increase viewers’ interest in visiting the actual museums. Brian Kennedy shared this view, stating that even though the virtual museum and gallery tours offer better resolution and panoramic perspectives, that’s still not a substitute for seeing the works of art in person.

It’s not the same, but, in my opinion, the Google Art Project represents the wave of the future–if not the present–not just for museums, but also for art galleries. Galleries in particular have taken a terrible hit during the past few years. Many were forced to go out of business. During tough economic times, art is seen as a luxury that many consumers are willing to forgo. The Google Art Project generates interest in great works of art once again. And with interest comes visits to the museum and galleries, which in turn, increases the number of  art collectors and buyers.

The world of art has reached a pivotal turning point due to this, and similar, technological advances. Those galleries that will adapt to these new ways of reaching viewers to inform and attract the general public will be much more likely to survive than those that will not. I can’t see virtual reality becoming a substitute for actual reality in any domain: be it art, sex or entertainment. But I do see virtual reality as the most effective–and now, indispensable–way to spread information about the reality that will count most in the twenty-first century.

Art Explora: “Beauty will save the world”

Frédéric Jousset apparently shares this vision because lately his focus has been on an artistic innovation similar to the Google Art Project. In December 2019, he partenered with Bruno Juillard and launched Art Explora. Juillard, a former First Deputy to the Mayor of Paris, brings to the table his considerable experience in the arts. Between 2014 and 2016 he was in charge of cultural institutions as well as assuming the role of Chairman of Paris Musées, which included 14 major Parisian museums. He became the Director of the Foundation Art Explora. As with the Google Art Project, the goal of Art Explora is to make the arts more accessible to a greater number of people across the globe. As Jousset states on its website, “I am convinced that art is essential to everyone’s life but that the inequalities related to the access of its creation are still too deep. There is an urgent need for culture to come out of its comfort zone and reach a wider audience. I am creating Art Explora to take up this major challenge: sharing culture with as many people as possible” (https://artexplora.org/en/who-are-we/).

Art Explora adopted Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous phrase, “beauty will save the world”. But this new forum goes far beyond what the nineteenth-century might have considered beautiful. As Art Explora’s Manifesto elaborates, in the 21st century “Culture can take many forms, opera or hip-hop battle, Munch’s Scream or Hitchcock’s Birds, it is a constant metamorphosis. It passes from one hand to the other, from one ear to the other, from one glance to the other and is transmitted by the power of the senses.” Art Explora aims to bring all of the arts to us, not only online but also through its exciting Art Explorer tours. Since about 60 percent of the world’s population lives close to coastlines, Art Explorer, “the largest catamaran in the world,” features immersive artistic events that can be attended by 200 people per day. Wherever it will be anchored, Art Explorer will strive to include the local communities, hosting cultural events that welcome local artists and art lovers. The floating artistic exhibit is set to launch its first tour in 2023. Right now, Art Explora is developing its digital and educational platform, collaborating with the prestigious Sorbonne and with the Cité international des arts in creating courses in the history of art.

I learned about these exciting new developments in the arts through my participation in another new French cultural venture, Panodyssey, which also seeks to reach and unite an international audience. Panodyssey creates “creative rooms” where artists, writers, film directors, architects and explorers of the arts of all kinds can collaborate on joint projects and goals. As I stated in my article about Panodyssey’s mission, during the creation of the Beaux-Arts system, kings, the clergy and the aristocracy were the patrons of the arts. (See https://panodyssey.com/en/article/culture/claudia-moscovici-brbq6rstuk58) Today, it is innovative entrepreneurs who love the arts—creators such as Frédéric Jousset, Bruno Juillard, Alexandre Leforestier and Valentin Bert—that are ensuring that art, in all its forms, continues to not only survive, but also expand and thrive.