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France moves to protect Picasso legacy
PARIS (AP) — France tackled the fractious legacy of Pablo Picasso on two fronts Tuesday, firing the director of the shuttered museum dedicated to the artist and recommending state protection for the studio where he painted "Guernica."
The reopening of the museum, closed for the past five years for renovations, has been pushed back until September. France's Culture Ministry said Anne Baldassari, who led the renovations and has been head of the museum for a decade, was dismissed because of the need to "reopen under the best conditions, protect the employees and restore confidence between the museum and its partners."
Claude Picasso, the painter's son, spoke out this month to denounce delays in reopening the museum, one of the premier art attractions in Paris.
The 52-million-euro (about $72-million) renovation of the Hotel de Sale, in the celebrated Marais district, is set to double the possible number of visitors and allow for the presentation of 400 artworks in 37 rooms, the ministry said.
Speaking to Le Figaro earlier this month, Claude Picasso said Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti had told him that troubles getting security guards in place, as required under French regulations, were behind the delay. Picasso said he had the impression France "doesn't care" about his father.
Filippetti's ministry then lashed out in a statement at "erroneous" media reports about the delay, and called on "everyone to get past personal interests" and be enthusiastic about the upcoming reopening.
"No polemic will sway the state from its mission" to protect and display national heritage, and to ensure proper workplace conditions and completion of the renovation, the statement said.
The museum's beauty and rich collections, it said, will "in no way suffer from an opening in September."
The other controversy centers on the fate of a Left Bank studio where Picasso lived and worked for 19 years, and painted his famed anti-war opus "Guernica" in 1937. A historic preservation panel on Tuesday recommended putting the site under its auspices.
As with many of the Cubist great's works, little is as it first appears.
A legal group has owned the 17th-century manor containing the studio since before Picasso worked there, and now wants to renovate it — perhaps as a luxury hotel.
Some high-profile art lovers are up in arms and say the studio deserves state protection from re-development. The case has raised questions about whether the birthplaces of great art — not just the works — deserve state protection from re-development as part of national heritage.
The Culture Ministry last year ordered a one-year pause to any development while officials consider the implications. That expires in July.
The panel meeting Tuesday favored putting it on a national register of historic sites, Filippetti said in a tweet that began with the words "Very good news!" That could make any redevelopment more costly and time-consuming at the least.
A group of artists and actors including Britain's Charlotte Rampling had signed a petition decrying any possible redevelopment.
Pablo Picasso spent 19 years living and working in the Hotel de Savoie, as the manor is known.
The redevelopment would "in no way impact the historic character of the building," said Alexandra Romano, a spokeswoman for the site's owners. She declined to specify the "several" development plans being considered, adding, "This battle doesn't honor the legacy of 'Guernica'."
Alain Casabona, an official at the state-backed National Committee for Arts Education, says the owners want to make the building a hotel. The committee enjoyed free office space in the studio for a decade.
Casabona was quoted in Le Parisien newspaper as suggesting that the birthplace of "Guernica" might become a "jacuzzi suite." He later told The Associated Press he was being provocative with that remark.
Two French cultural officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said the studio bears no visible traces of Picasso's presence. One noted that the artist was evicted in 1955 for not paying his rent.
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant contributed from Paris.
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