Why is the Pompidou Coming to Jersey City?

Four story brick building as rendered

Conceptual rendering of the Center Pompidou x Jersey City.
Art: courtesy of the OMA

It’s no surprise that the Center Pompidou – Paris’ main museum of modern art – is opening an American exhibition space, as officials announced in early June. The global expansion of the Guggenheim, despite some setbacks, has made Bilbao, a city that was not at all a cultural magnet, a destination, and the Pompidou already has three outposts outside of France. Yet the art and real estate worlds collectively overlapped when the museum announced its choice of location: Jersey City, the second-largest city in the 47th largest state, a place whose main draw is the PATH train that allows you to escape it. (The museum, in fact, will be right next to the Journal Square PATH stop.) Taylor pork roll and do their own double take.

The Pompidou will join another nearby modern art center, Mana Contemporary. But together, a few museums hardly form a global arts district. What attracted the Pompidou to the Garden State? Free space and funding, mostly (and that 15-minute ride to Manhattan). In fact, the museum accepted the view of the invisible four-story warehouse space after a French cultural attaché visited the site once to seal the deal.

For Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, the museum outpost is a “game changer” in his plan to attract wealthy New Yorkers to the city. In Journal Square, an industrial area that was once the center of town, the museum will rise close to the Kushner’s new luxury skyscrapers as well as major projects, according to the mayor, of Silverstein Properties and Spitzer Enterprises, the real estate company of former New New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Google Earth rendering of future developments in Journal Square.
Photo: Courtesy of CityRealty

The Pompidou satellite is the culmination of three years of research for an artistic partner to take up the historical torch Roadside building. When the city bought the building for $ 9 million in 2018, authorities halted its conversion to a residential skyscraper and promised it would house a museum and community center. The Fulop administration hired architectural firm OMA to conduct its search for a cultural institution, while the mayor personally reached out to artist friends like Rashid Johnson and Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS, from Jersey City, for advice on navigating the politics of the art world. Several museums were interested, including the Guggenheim, including two people familiar with the application said they wanted to transform the space into an audiovisual recording studio. But Pompidou’s track record of creating satellite locations and the possibility of Jersey City hosting the museum’s first North American outpost won over city administrators.

In exchange for access to expertise and to the 120,000 works of Pompidou, the city has undertaken to assume renovation costs that can exceed $ 40 million. He is also at the mercy of an additional $ 6 million over his five-year contract to cover project development, branding, educational programming and the organization of exhibitions. Fulop told Curbed his administration is also looking to buy an attached property, which could roughly double the size of the Pompidou. No cost has been indicated for the proposed expansion.

But some longtime residents and local lawmakers balked at the price. “Everyone agrees that the Pompidou are an extraordinary asset to Jersey City,” said Rolando Navarro, city councilor. “But we just took a tax on homeowners because we didn’t have the money to fund schools. How then can we bring more financial debt to a museum table? He, like other city officials, only heard the news through a ad At New York Time. For Navarro, the decision to announce the new museum without any discussion with city council seemed like a tactic to gain public support for the project before its costs could be examined.

Having lived in Journal Square in the early 2000s, artist Amy Wilson remembers when she could rent a two-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood for $ 800 a month. These days, she said, similar apartments are listed for almost $ 3,000. According to census data, rents in Jersey City increased nearly 15% between 2013 and 2018. Many of Jersey City’s larger developments lack affordable housing, but the cost of living has increased dramatically over the past decade. last decade.

“As someone who has lived in this city for 24 years, it is incredibly frustrating to see the city constantly building itself to attract new residents without meeting the needs of people already here,” Wilson said. She recalled that last summer, during the pandemic, many elderly people in the city gathered in an empty plaza in Journal Square because they did not have air conditioning. “But there were no benches they could sit on because the city is worried about the homeless,” she said.

Affordable housing activist and reverend of a local church Willard Ashley added, “We’re not against art. Many struggle to understand spending in the COVID-19 era. All long-term residents ask, regardless of political orientation, please explain. “

In response to the reluctance of costs, Fulop said he expects the state’s Economic Development Authority to contribute nearly $ 15 million, with other funds coming from philanthropists and developers. The mayor also hopes to negotiate more deals with developers to build more affordable housing in the area.

But not everyone bites. A representative of the Kushner Companies said he currently has no plans to donate money to Project Pompidou; it has already contributed to the $ 72 million renovation of historic Loew’s Theater, which the city plans to convert to a 3,300-seat venue.

For many longtime residents, the rise of luxury developments and the Pompidou news signal a big shift from Journal Square’s character as a diverse hub of the working class. Artists like Wilson are waiting to see how the Pompidou will work with existing residents – and whether the French museum decides to renew its lease.

Mathieu Potte-Bonneville, director of the arts and culture department at Pompidou, told Curbed that the institution hopes to stay in the city permanently and develop programming that matches the community. The museum also plans to hire a local team to manage its galleries to ensure the projects work within the context of Jersey City.

The model that everyone is looking for is not as far as Bilbao and closer to home; as locals and officials told Curbed, they wonder if Jersey City Pompidou can become an economic engine for Journal Square in the same way MoMA PS1 did for Queens. “We hope to have the Pompidou effect,” Fulop said. “In Manhattan, everything is already developed, but it does not exist here. It’s pretty much a blank canvas.

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