The success of the People’s Pavilion in Montpellier, a place dedicated to photography, was seen by its artistic director
Gilles Mora, artistic director of the Montpellier Photography Space, talks about the success of this space, which presents three major exhibitions a year. The People’s Pavilion celebrated its millionth visitor at the end of last year.
On the last Friday of 2022, the Pavillon Populaire welcomed its millionth visitor since the opening of the Photographic Art Space in 2010. How do you rate the participation of the venue?
It’s great. We do at the Pavillon Populaire 120,000-140,000 visitors per year. Sometimes it averages 750 visitors a day and never drops below 300 a day.
By consulting the figures of participation in various exhibitions, Brassaï, Peter Lindbergh and Linda Mac Cartney reach the top of the ranking. We have three different photographers here?
That’s the whole secret of what I’m trying to do at People’s Pavilion, which is to give the widest possible view of the art of photography. There’s rock photographer Linda McCartney with Paul McCartney’s arrival at the opening. You have Brassai—actually Brassai in America—a major French photographer. This was the first exhibition of work that had never been shown before. And Peter Lindbergh, the fashion photographer, this was the first retrospective for him in France. These are three different genres, but above all three exhibitions that have never been done before.
You are known as an expert on American photography, but your program is currently illustrated by a remarkable exhibition dedicated to the transformation of French photography, or the transformation of photography into an art in itself. A new exhibition in France?
People from the Ministry of Culture, who were in Montpellier to see the exhibition, told me that it should have been exhibited at the Center Pompidou. In 2015, when I did a retrospective of the great American photographer Aaron Siskind, the New York Times wrote: “Why did this exhibition take place in Montpellier and not here?” To see this work, unique in photography, is something we can be proud of in Montpellier.
You have a great knowledge of photography. With all the options available, how do you choose your exhibit?
Photography is not important in my life. I come from a literary background, I’m very involved in the world of music, especially rock and roll, which is why I was able to bring in my friends Paul McCartney and Andy Summers. Not being fully involved in photography gives me all the latitude to do what I want to do. The options are simple. You need to know what is being done, what is not being done or being overlooked, and who is important. And finally, support networks, connections, getting external help, whether it’s from major world museum institutions, influential figures, or special relationships with great photographers. It’s a combination of all the things that work for the People’s Pavilion.
Starting this February, we will leave French photography for three exhibitions of European artists.
These European artists cover all parts of the continent’s history. There will be a tone very much in line with the city’s European ambitions, and then a historical tone. Madame Dora is a great artist who was a reporter of the sufferings of Austria at the end of World War II and its aftermath. Then there will be Antonio Campana, who took photos of the Spanish Civil War. He hid 1,000 original prints in a box that was discovered two years ago. We will show these shots. The third exhibition is Paul Wolff’s. One who is not known in France, but who has an extremely important role. Through his Leica camera, he popularized artistic photography for the amateur public. I was very interested to know how it was done.