TALK: Mélanie Bouteloup, Director of Bétonsalon, Paris.

Kayla Elderton | DECember 20, 2016

Mélanie Bouteloup. Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Center, 2016. Photo: Cassidy Miller.

SFU Galleries invited Mélanie Bouteloup, Director of Bétonsalon and Villa Vassilieff to visit Vancouver and speak publicly about the Paris centre’s expansion and direction since its inception. In Bouteloup’s October 14, 2016 talk, she was quick to distinguish that an art centre within a university, is a foreign concept throughout France, contrary to our Canadian perspective.  Bétonsalon, co-founded by Bouteloup, is part of the Université Paris Diderot (Paris 7) campus and works to “question normalized forms of production, classification and distribution of knowledge” [1]. Bouteloup noted that the centre initially challenged the university’s students and faculty, but over the years they have learned to engage and collaborate in unexpected ways. Paris 7 offers a broad range of programs, excluding contemporary arts. This cultivates a unique opportunity for Bétonsalon to work with other disciplines and ways of thinking in a contemporary art context. One example of collaboration would be their project Parties Prenantes, which was conceived by Bouteloup and Paris 7 students. This project allows professors, students, artists, neighbours and passers-by to collaborate together through methodologies such as sociology, anthropology and journalism [1]. Parties Prenantes focuses on processes of collaboration rather than on the production of objects [1].

Most recently they have opened a new location for research and programming called Villa Vassilieff.  A site that was previously Marie Vassilieff’s studio, later turned academy. Marie Vassilieff was a Russian painter who moved to Paris in 1905 and began to practice as a student under Matisse [3]. Vassilieff was an avid part of the Montparnasse community, especially during WWI when she set up a canteen to help financially struggling artists and academics [3]. Between 1951 and 1963 Marc Vaux transformed the space into Musée du Montparnasse, which later changed to Annick Le Moine’s and then Charles Sablon’s gallery before returning to the Musée du Montparnasse from 2000 to 2013 [2]. In 2015 Bétonsalon took over the space, which is now known as Villa Vassilieff, and has a mandate to "reconnect with [its] history by inviting artists and researchers to look at past and present resources of Montparnasse from a contemporary perspective" [2]. It is also used as a “place for working and living, where to stimulate the blossoming of ideas, encounters and the sharing of knowledge" [2]. This path is made possible through the Pernod Ricard Fellowship which was created to help fund four inter­na­tional artists, cura­tors and researchers in res­i­dence every year [2].

Bertrand Prevost, Marc Vaux Archive, 2015 (c) Centre Pompidou - Mnam - Bibliotheque Kandinsky     

Their most recent research project Who Was Marc Vaux? explores an archive of glass negatives housed in the Centre Pompidou that were taken by Marc Vaux of “more than 6000 artists who were active in Paris between the early 1920s and the end of the 1960s” and their workspaces [2].  Marc Vaux was a French photographer, who died in 1971. His archive is a testament to the importance of documentation but “despite of the rich­ness of his archive, Marc Vaux remained a sec­ondary char­acter of art his­tory” [2]. Villa Vassilieff has been working alongside National Museum of Modern Art in Paris to recuperate these photographs and gather information about the artists, their works and their lives in Paris.

Villa Vassilieff collaborated on an exhibition entitled Groupe Mobile: Retracing The Social Life of Artworks Through Photography in which they connected their research on the Marc Vaux archive with contemporary artworks in the unique setting of Villa Vassilieff. Bouteloup expressed the significance of France’s current political struggles, including the refugee crisis, mass immigration and the racism that has followed, to the contextualization of this exhibition. The archive of Marc Vaux, which is filled with international artists who were inspired to move to Paris for its diversity and liberalism in the period he photographed, served as an ideological juxtaposition to the xenophobia of these times.

Bétonsalon and Villa Vassilieff work towards creating spaces where new artistic and social methods can be explored through unconventional discourses. Their research engages the importance of historical moments and movements in relation to the contemporary. Through their programming they encourage participants to consider new ways of seeing and relating to the traditional and non-traditional. Just like Bétonsalon and Villa Vassilieff, SFU Galleries also values experimental programs that critically engage the community. As a current student at the School of Contemporary Art and a co-op student at SFU Galleries, I feel grateful for the opportunity to engage beyond the institutional sphere of the university. The SCA Visual Art students get the unique ability to curate and show their work at the Audain Gallery in third and fourth year. As well as participate in the AVAIR program (Audain Visual Artist in Residency), which invites international artists to work and research alongside students and faculty. As Melanie Bouteloup stated, Bétonsalon has been discovering what their relationship with Paris 7 looks like, and through experimentation they have been able to create new and formative programming engaging the university and beyond.

Works Cited

[1] Bétonsalon - Centre d'art et de recherche. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2016, from

[2] Villa Vassilieff. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2016, from

[3] Whitford Fine Art. (n.d.). Retrieved November 9, 2016, from

For more information on this event click here.

<< Previous Blog | Back to 2016 | Next Blog >>