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The Carré d’art in Nîmes Turns Thirty

Published on , by Céline Piettre

Mayor Jean Bousquet opened the new contemporary art museum in the heart of the ancient Roman city before a crowd of well-wishers on a sunny day in May 1993. The 30th-anniversary program focuses on today’s art.

Norman Foster’s nine-story glass, steel and concrete building is named for its proximity... The Carré d’art in Nîmes Turns Thirty

Norman Foster’s nine-story glass, steel and concrete building is named for its proximity to the Maison Carrée, a first-century Roman temple.
© Dominique Marck - Ville de Nîmes

On October 3, 1988, a torrential downpour turned the streets of Nîmes into rivers of mud. Floodwaters rushed into the hole dug for the future contemporary art museum’s foundations, saving, it is said, the temple dedicated to the worship of Augustus’s grandsons from ruin. Legend or not, this is still remembered as the symbolic “birth date” of the Carré d’art five years before the opening: It helped to win the city’s inhabitants over to the project after years of opposition.   The permanent collection: left to right, Günther Förg’s polyptych Untitled (1991), Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (702) (1989) and Sigmar Polke’s Lapis Lazuli II (1994). © Cédrick Eymenier The “Petit Centre Pompidou” The idea of creating a contemporary art museum did not spring up at Nîmes’ sidewalk cafés, which are as numerous as the ancient ruins, but in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 1950s. When Jean Bousquet came to Paris to try his luck as a model-maker, he befriended Bob Calle, a Gard native like himself. Calle, a recent medical school graduate, rubbed shoulders with avant-garde artists, soon gathering them together at his Sunday dinners. Bousquet became a successful businessman, creating the ready-to-wear brand Cacharel, while Calle became a noted oncologist and art collector. In 1983, Bousquet, running as a center-right UDF party candidate, was elected mayor, wresting control of city hall away from the Communist Party after a 30-year reign. For a long time, he had been thinking of creating a museum in Nîmes. The elected official dreamed of using culture as a way to boost the profile and fortunes of the sleepy southern French city, a former regional capital…
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