« We went from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China’! »

Jérôme Sans

Interview of Jérôme Sans, Artistic Director, co-founder of Palais de Tokyo

Palais de Tokyo
Palais de Tokyo

Your life is about art, creation …, you are in charge of a cultural mission to develop Ile Seguin at the gates of Paris …

My job since the 80s has been to ensure that creation is not exclusively a micro-scene of specialists in contemporary art, but first to open the doors of the institution and to ensure that creation stimulates everyday life. That’s what interests me, to ensure that culture overflows, goes beyond the borders in which it should normally stay …

Your first time in China dates back to 2005: when you look back, what have you learned in China?

I learned that you never know anything, that what is an established fact is not, that you have to respect others in order to gain respect from others. I understood that in China, alone you are nothing, and with others you can become everything. China has been a detonator in my personal and professional life.

How do you present Paris to your Chinese friends who come to the capital?

Chinese people do not need to be shown Paris. They know before you what happened here and what is going on there. They are much more curious than us, they have less clichés in mind than we have on their country or their territory, they know almost everything. If you tell them that France is a land of difference and exception, they already know it.

They already know that we have a cuisine that is as interesting but not as varied as theirs, but in any case has an exceptional level of quality, they know very well that our wines are among the best in the world, that we have the best couturiers in the world, exceptional architecture and unique cities, where there is a savoir vivre that interests them, which corresponds to their immemorial history, which they lost for a time but they wish to recover… So there are few things we can teach them other than to share with them.

Your friend calls you from Beijing and asks you: where should we go in Paris?

My friends don’t want to be taken to big restaurants, they already know all the great chefs, they have met them in China. I take them to the districts of the 10th, 9th arrondissement, with chefs who take over restaurants and who tend to make food simpler, service much simpler, with dishes that are more like tapas that you can share… it’s this very friendly side that suits them completely, which they particularly like … so the neo bistros.

The cultural offer in Paris is one of the best in the world. What does this mean for Chinese people?

Look at the landscape of Parisian institutions, from the Pompidou center, Palais de Tokyo, Jeu de Paumes, Monnaie de Paris, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, Orsay: there is today – without any pretention – , no equivalent in the world…

For Chinese people, the way we live, how we can be on a café terrace, walking in a city for them is something completely exceptional, and that’s why they obviously want to come here …

We are a kind of model of a life from another era. They are more in the 21st century, we are in a post 19th century, romantic and friendly. I want to say that what we live in Paris is a bit like a coin with heads and tails. These are two completely different sides that can go together very well.

I like this big gap between the old world, which I consider to be our magnificent Europe and France, and this new ultra-contemporary world, which sometimes French people have not understood, represents China today.

«I like this big gap between the old world, our magnificent Europe and France, and this new ultra-contemporary world, which represents China today.»

Jérôme Sans

You say there is a Momentum in France …

The momentum is there indeed, from every point of view, even if there are failures in the engine .. France has a hard time not moaning, not complaining, while we have a social system quite exceptional, a general system of society which is quite unique in the world: Chinese people are quite fascinated, sometimes they do not understand how we can still complain in France about something that they have never had and that they may not have…

Let’s talk about China … It’s quite dizzying, it’s going at a crazy speed … What do you say to companies, to French people, to the world of luxury, art, culture who want to go there?

There is a considerable change, we are almost in the third generation of an extraordinary mutation. Companies that arrive trying to impose their own history are wrong, because it is not the history that interests Chinese people, it is today and tomorrow. It’s how we will behave with them by involving them and not by saying, here is our past, we are glorious, we have existed since 1854, or 1912… this is very small compared to the eternity of China which 5000 years old!

Foreigners often forget it, many luxury brands come by swaggering or talking about a century or two, but it’s nothing at all compared to the history of China.

The challenge today is how to invent new communication tools for these brands with the driving forces of China, to ensure that there is a real dialogue … Today we can no longer swagger, we just have to try to build together, with them and not by imposing only our models…

Do you see coming this new generation of Chinese artists, creators and designers?

Absolutely, we went from a period when it was Made in China to Created in China. The transformation is taking place there, as well in architectural terms, we have in Paris the Ma Yansong building that is the first building made by a Chinese architect. It’s a big change. It’s in Batignolles, built by the French architect Christian Biecher and the Chinese firm MAD. Led by Ma Yansong, an architect of just 40 years old, MAD is characterized by its buildings with fluid and rounded shapes. There is this mutation with fashion creators too, designers who are no longer there to copy what we used to do but who invent new forms and offer other things for the contemporary world.

In cinema it’s the same, in literature, in all areas there is today, not only in contemporary art, which was the case before, we only saw that, like the keyhole, behind there is today a mountain of creatives…

We go from «made in China» to «created in China»…

It took time for these creators to have the opportunity to express themselves. Before they couldn’t, there was no room. By leaving directly, by opening the country, they had to effectively take back what they had seen, the little that they had seen, they were there.

Now you have a whole generation that has studied and read, that has been able to look at a number of international references on the internet and from that now have had a more personal intervention with a Chinese axis, in a global dialogue. They are now able to react to that.

What I find really fascinating is what is happening today, at this moment, this cultural revolution, in quotes…

You said that China is both fascinating and disturbing. You said this is just the beginning of China’s transformation?

We are at the very beginning of the power of Chinese market in general. Whether it’s the securities market or the art market. There is a considerable development. The country is gradually waking up, in the past it was old generations who managed the business, today it is the new generation. So there is a new style, lifestyle, work, completely different.

We went from old systems to more contemporary systems … There is a generation today between 24 and 35 years old that will take power. Those who are at the helm of business in China are very often very, very young and it is a game-changer, in all areas of creativity.

Major Chinese brands will be the Dior or Chanel of tomorrow. It is obvious…

Jérôme Sans

Will there be major Chinese brands that will be the Dior or Chanel of tomorrow?

Of course … That’s for sure! It is mandatory. There are many French fashion brands which are bought by Chinese people, Balmain, Lanvin… They take over everything, not just the brand name, they take over, reactivate, reinject… Among this generation who has also studied in London, New York, Antwerp, in the best schools of Fashion, will inevitably rise international-level creators who will take a share of the market. It’s obvious … with the firepower they have!

Large museums such as the Pompidou Centre or the Rodin Museum are exporting to China…

It is clear that these Museums are big brands. It’s like the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. I just come back from there, it’s exceptional, it’s a new generation of museums. For the Pompidou Centre in Shanghai, I find it great that France has one of the first international museums in a territory like China …

There is something to be learned from each side. China can learn a lot from the know-how of a House like Pompidou Centre. But Pompidou Centre also needs to learn other know-how from China. I think this is an absolutely exciting playground! The fact that we are among the first, that we have a fairly exceptional cultural offer, a very upscale image in culture, it’s quite beautiful …! We know the complexity of setting up projects of this scale in China, it is not so simple … but they get there, it is amazing.