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Cyrille Sciama: A Ground-breaking Curator

Published on , by Annick Colonna-Césari

Since his appointment as head of the Musée des Impressionnismes, he has breathed new life into the Giverny museum. And the health crisis has in no way dimmed his enthusiasm.

Cyrille Sciama© J.C.LOUISET Cyrille Sciama: A Ground-breaking Curator
Cyrille Sciama

Tell us how you arrived at Giverny.
It was the logical continuation of my career. I had studied at the Institut National du Patrimoine, where I specialized in 19th and early 20th-century painting. Then I was taken on at the Musée d’Arts de Nantes, where I was in charge of the 19th-century collections for fifteen years, and was really immersed in Impressionism. I was also lucky enough to be involved with the museum's renovation project. When it was suggested that I apply for the directorship of the Giverny museum, I saw the possibility of a new challenge.

How would you describe this museum?
It's a gem in the middle of a charming village. It was created in 1992 by the Terra Foundation as the "Musée d’Art américain" and renamed "Musée des impressionnismes" in 2009. It fits in perfectly with the site and its history, and is an ideal foil to Monet's house. Its exhibitions attracted around 200,000 visitors annually before the health crisis, making it one of Normandy's leading museums, despite closing during the winter. 

So what are your ambitions? Have they been jeopardized by the Covid situation?
Even though the museum is doing well, I'd like to inject fresh energy and attract a broader public, because the attendance analyses show that it isn't reaching teenagers and young adults. So I've been introducing activities that reflect changes in society, most of which we've been able to postpone till the autumn, incorporating all the safety regulations. For instance, we're going to stage an electro evening, and a "happy demo" that will move through the village: a kind of intergenerational participatory choreography, designed to explore Impressionism in a fun way. And an American film festival will probably take place during the "Atelier de la nature, 1860-1910" exhibition on landscape art by American artists. I'm aware that some of these activities are rather surprising, but I feel institutions need to open up to all types of audiences. It doesn’t mean we'll give up on more traditional events, though. On the concert side, we will be hosting the Opéra de Rouen. And we are aiming to highlight our garden through tours lead by the head gardener. It's magnificent, though very different from Monet's. 

The Musée des Impressionnismes and its garden© FRANCOIS GUILLEMIN

The Musée des Impressionnismes and its garden

What about your exhibitions?
They've been disrupted by the pandemic, as everywhere. We had to cancel one of the two scheduled, the spring exhibition "Plein air, de Corot à Monet". However, we created a virtual version hosted by Google Arts. Otherwise, we have replaced "L’atelier de la nature", originally planned for the summer, with the current exhibition, "Reflets d’une collection", which features eighty paintings from our collection. In fact, highlighting this collection in summer exhibitions was also one of my projects. It contains two hundred works, and I feel far too few people know about it. In the beginning it was built up through the generosity of lenders, who would donate a Maurice Denis or a Maximilien Luce. Now we want to get the collection better known and add to it. We are particularly looking out for early Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, whose prices have not yet reached crazy heights, and we have the support of a group of loyal patrons.  

How has the museum been doing since it opened after lockdown? 
We are suffering from a drop in attendance, like all institutions. Normally, 40% of our visitors consist of tourists from abroad. In regard to exhibitions, we know it will now be complicated to bring in paintings from the other side of the world. We need to focus on short circuits, and we are already gearing up to that. The Musée des Impressionnismes has a partnership with the Musée d’Orsay, which was involved in its creation. On a regional scale, I have met my counterparts in Le Havre, Rouen and Caen to talk about various joint projects. They also reacted very swiftly when I approached them for some loans for the spring exhibition in 2021, which will be devoted to "Impressionist and Nabi gardens". Along the same lines, our museum has now joined a network called "La Fabrique des patrimoines en Normandie".

Pierre Bonnard, The Seine at Vernon, 1915. Oil on canvas, 80 x 68 cm.© GIVERNY, MUSEE DES IMPRESSIONNISMES/ PHOTO : JEAN-MICHEL  DROUE

Pierre Bonnard, The Seine at Vernon, 1915. Oil on canvas, 80 x 68 cm, 31.4 x 26.7 in.

To return to the winter break: do you think you will maintain it?
In the long run, I'd like to get rid of it. Previously, the museum tailored its opening times to those of Monet's House, which closes in the winter months. But now we don't have these imperatives. The museum, which normally closes at the beginning of November, is going to change the way it operates. It will be open seven days a week until 15 November, and then every weekend – Friday, Saturday and Sunday –­ until 20 December. And it will also open during the Christmas holidays. In the end, people will be able to see the exhibition right through to January 3, 2021. That's a first!  

For several years there's been talk of expanding the museum. Is this still on the cards?
Definitely. This autumn, we should be launching preliminary studies. For the moment, I am doing what I can. And though we are currently going through a crisis, we need to adapt and stay positive. It's a real joy to work in the world of culture.

"Nature's workshop, 1860-1910: an Invitation to the Terra Collection "
Musée des impressionnismes,
99, rue Claude Monet, Giverny (27).
From 2 September 2020 to 3 January 2021.
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