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"L’Asie sans réserve” at the Musée d’arts asiatiques in Nice

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© Musée départemental des arts asiatiques de Nice

After the success of the Hokusai exhibition, the Musée départemental des arts asiatiques in Nice presents a new ambitious project. Its aim is to discover Asian works that are rarely presented for several reasons: too fragile to be exhibited, far from the museum's theme, or misunderstood because of their provenance.

A long-term project, L’Asie sans réserve will be presented in several volumes.

Volume 1 is an immersion in the museum's storage to show what is behind the scenes and to answer a question often asked by visitors: what do you have in your storage? It is also an opportunity to share with as many people as possible the first discoveries made by soliciting important institutions in the region, and to demonstrate that Asian art is present in places that one would not expect.

Interview with Adrien Bossard, curator of the exhibition, director of the Musée départemental des arts asiatiques in Nice and Lympia cultural centre

Pourriez-vous décrire votre rôle en tant que directeur du musée départemental des arts asiatiques à Nice? Comment prépare-t-on une telle exposition ?

L’Asie sans réserve, c’est une réponse à une question que l’on nous pose presque tous les jours au musée : qu’avez-vous dans les réserves ? Dans l’opinion commune, on y cache des trésors alors qu’en réalité, les musées exposent au maximum leurs chefs-d’œuvre pour se montrer le plus attractif possible. Néanmoins, les réserves relèvent effectivement des œuvres extraordinaires que les équipes de conservation retirent des espaces d’exposition en raison de leur fragilité. Les textiles et les arts graphiques ne s’exposent que trois à quatre mois d’affilée à 50 lux et sont ensuite mises au repos pendant trois à quatre ans. Ces œuvres ne se régénèrent pas, bien sûr, mais cette règle permet de les faire durer le plus longtemps possible. Les réserves du musée départemental des arts asiatiques ont donc été le point de départ de ce projet, qui a d’autant plus de sens cette année en raison du 25ème anniversaire de l’institution. Et par extension, mon intérêt s’est porté sur les œuvres asiatiques conservées dans les réserves d’autres musées du territoire des Alpes-Maritimes pour montrer que l’histoire du patrimoine local comprend également une part d’Asie, dans des lieux auxquels on ne s’y attend pas. Sept institutions, dont l’université Côte d’Azur, le musée Matisse ou encore le château de la Napoule, ont participé à ce projet.  


Les objectifs de cette exposition sont nombreux : partager les enjeux de la conservation dans un musée, montrer qu’une collection vit grâce aux acquisitions, suivre les évolutions sur 25 ans de la collection du musée départemental des arts asiatiques, faire du musée un acteur de la valorisation des arts asiatiques dans le sud de la France, aider les musées partenaires à identifier leurs œuvres asiatiques, lancer une baisse du bilan carbone de la programmation d’expositions du musée (90% de la scénographie est récupérée). Cette exposition est riche en enjeux et constitue le premier volume d’une série d’expositions qui vont explorer les collections asiatiques présentes sur le territoire.

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© Musée départemental des arts asiatiques de Nice

To begin, could you describe your background? Why this specialization in Asian arts?

I studied art history and archaeology at the University of Paris Sorbonne, Chinese at INALCO, and history at EHESS. After a first year of thesis in anthropology at EHESS, I was accepted in the Talents preparatory program of the Institut National du Patrimoine (INP) and I was, in the process, laureate of the heritage competition, which allowed me to join the INP and to benefit from 18 months of training. I then directed the musée archéologique d’Oise, then I was in charge of the collection at the musée national des arts asiatiques - Guimet. Four years ago, I joined the teams of the département d’Alpes-Maritimes and was entrusted with the direction of the musée départmental des arts asiatiques and the departmental cultural space Lympia in Nice. The museum is the institution where I exploit the knowledge I have accumulated on Asian arts during my career, the Lympia space is a place where I put into practice my know-how in the organization of exhibitions.

I have indeed a strong specialization in Asian arts which comes from a curiosity about my own origins since my mother is Chinese from Singapore. My dual background in art and languages eventually led me to the museum world, without it being really calculated, because in the beginning - and this is the reason why I came to France (I grew up in New Caledonia) - I simply wanted to be an archaeologist.

Asie sans réserves is an answer to a question we are asked almost every day at the museum: what do you have in the storerooms? In the common opinion, treasures are hidden there, whereas in reality, museums exhibit their masterpieces as much as possible to be as attractive as possible. The storage of the musée départemental des arts asiatiques was the starting point of this project, which has all the more meaning this year because of the 25th anniversary of the institution. And by extension, my interest was drawn to the Asian works kept in the storage of other museums in the Alpes-Maritimes region, to show that the history of local heritage also includes a part of Asia, in places that one would not expect. Seven institutions, including the Côte d'Azur University, the musée Matisse and the Château de la Napoule, participated in this project.  


The objectives of this exhibition are numerous: to share the challenges of conservation in a museum, to show that a collection lives thanks to acquisitions, to follow the evolution over 25 years of the collection of the musée départemental des arts asiatiques, to make the museum an actor in the valorization of Asian arts in the South of France, to help partner museums to identify their Asian works, to launch a reduction of the carbon footprint of the museum's exhibition program (90% of the scenography is reused). This exhibition is rich in stakes and constitutes the first volume of a series of exhibitions that will explore the Asian collections present in the region.

Could you describe your role as director of the Musée départemental in Nice? How does one prepare such an exhibition?

A museum director is nothing without his team and I am fortunate to work with competent and motivated agents who have been following the development of the institution we are lucky enough to serve for the past four years. On a daily basis, I bring an expertise in Asian arts, but most of the work is administrative, budgetary and managerial. The exhibitions are of course the showcase of the museum, but running a museum is much more than that: maintenance, repair, anticipation, restocking, completion, and so on. If the recent success of the exhibition Hokusai - Journey to the foot of Mount Fuji was a highlight for the institution, I am also proud of the installation of a turnstile to allow strollers to pass, the installation of bicycle parking hoops to obtain a label of bicycle tourism, the switch to LED lighting in the museum to reduce energy consumption, etc.


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Given that two thirds of the works exhibited in Asie sans réserves came from the museum's storage, I challenged the collections management to create the exhibition with material recovered from previous exhibitions, based on a route and plans that I had drawn up. The team restored furniture, reused frames, created the base for the works, etc. And since I like to complicate their work and mine, I contacted colleagues working in institutions where I knew or suspected the presence of Asian art. The colleagues were really great and came out to support the initiative. I am grateful to them for that, they made it easy. Then it was time to do the numerous administrative steps, to conceive and write the content, to decline this content for the different supports, to work with a colleague on the graphic identity, to make the orders, etc. In short, making the exhibition. My team and I are beginning to master the subject as we have done more than 20 exhibitions in four years. Each project has its specificities but the mechanics remain the same.

What is the main work of the exhibition?

Jayashree Chakravarty's Growing Creeper, donated in 2016 by the Indian artist as a thank you for her first exhibition in France, which has been in storage for 7 years, is really strong visually and also shows the special relationship that exists between the museum and contemporary Asian creation since its opening.

Purchased from Gregg Baker last December, the Japanese screen with crane, minogame turtle and pine tree motifs, dating from the 17th century, is also quite emblematic of the museum's ambitious acquisition policy over the past three years.


Screen with motifs of cranes and minogamous turtles among the pines, Japan, 17th century, ink and colors on gold leaf / © : Gregg Baker Asian Art

The Noh theater costume, dated from the end of the 18th century, of which a detail is used on the poster of the exhibition, is of an incredible freshness and modernity.

As for our partners, the ceramic cushion in the shape of a child lent by the musée Matisse is quite atypical, and has a very strong link with Henri Matisse who bought it in 1919 and loved it.

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Growing Creeper, Jayashree Chakravarty /

© départemental des arts asiatiques de Nice

Noh theater costume / © Image art

Your latest artistic crush ?

The artistic universe of Li Chevalier and the digital shanshui of Yang Yongliang, without hesitation. I was lucky enough to be able to exhibit works by these artists in an exhibition called Landscapes of the Soul which took place at the musée départemental d’arts asiatiques from November 2021 to February 2022.


What is your favorite museum ?

Apart from the musée départemental d’arts asiatiques which is a real jewel designed by Kenzo Tange, the first Japanese Pritzker prize, three institutions come to mind: the Louvre-Lens for its Gallery of Time, the musée départemental de Préhistoire of Île-de-France (Nemours) for the vision of its architect, Roland Simounet, and the Chave gallery (Vence) for its history and unusual taste.


Is there a particular work that inspires you ?

Joseph Kessel ou Sur la piste du lion, the biography of Joseph Kessel by Yves Courrière. A book that marked my childhood.


Rather than a work of art that inspires me, the library of the musée national des arts asiatiques - Guimet. A place where I grew up intellectually.

Could we know more about your projects ? What subject would you like to work on for a future exhibition?

The projects I am currently working on with their curators are the next exhibition at the musée départemental d’arts asiatiques: Tattoos of the Floating World, the Imagined Body in Japan (July-December 2023) and the one at the Departmental Cultural Space Lympia: Vasarely, from programmatic art to digital (June-October 2023).


One day I would like to do an exhibition on John Cage and Asia and I would dream of working with Fabienne Verdier


For more information :

Press release of the exhibition:  HERE

Musée départemental des arts asiatiques in Nice: Discover

Joseph Kessel ou Sur la piste du lion, Yves Courrière: Discover

The Louvre-Lens: Discover

Musée départemental de Préhistoire d’Ile-de-France: Discover

The Chave Gallery: Discover

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