Bruno Meunier and his “lights” to conquer the world


meHe treated himself to a beautiful gas business! To accommodate the Dutch version of “Ateliers des Lumières,” Bruno Monnier invests, on April 22nd, a large industrial building, all in brick, in the west of Amsterdam. In this former factory, called Westergas, established in 1885 to produce the fuel that fuels the heating and lighting network in the capital of the Netherlands, the head of Culturespaces has chosen to create his last center for digital art that offers visitors an immersion in the paintings of the great painters.

Dubbed The Factory of Lights (in French, not Dutch!), the venue will broadcast four shows, seven days a week, offering immersion in paintings by Gustav Klimt and Friedenreich Hundertwasser, but also animated films by two young creative studios, a Turkish one (Nohlab), The other is French (SpectreLab). Internally, they say, they are “lucky magic” programs, because they have gathered a million spectators, on average, in every place where they have been shown up to then.

Read alsoParis: Klimt, the full face of “Ateliers des Lumières”

Culturespaces was founded in 1990, and a turning point began in 2022. The company was not renewed in the management of the old Orange Theater nor in the Theater of the Squares or the Maison Carrée in Nîmes. But it is accelerating its international development. Its Chairman and CEO, Bruno Meunier, is preparing to open two new locations: in Seoul in June and New York in early September. Culturespaces plans to open three to four new “enlightenment” art centers each year in 2023 and 2024. The group is already looking to Germany. But not only ! “The goal is to be present in five years in all the major political or economic capitals of Europe and in many locations in the United States,” continues Bruno Meunier. After Dortmund and Hamburg, next year, the businessman says he plans to establish in Brussels, Berlin, Chicago and even Los Angeles.

Going internationally

This development outside our borders, which began in 2018 with the establishment of two branches under the franchise, in Dubai and Jeju (South Korea), coincides with a change in shareholding. This company of 400 employees, which, in the last financial year, achieved sales of more than 45 million euros, saw at the beginning of 2022, its majority shareholder, the Engie Group, the resale of its shares (86% of the capital) to two. Mutual Funds, IDI Groups and Chevrillon. “We are about to write a new chapter,” explains the entrepreneur, who graduated in the late 1970s from the Paris Institute of Political Studies and then from HEC.

Having started at a large communications agency, Bruno Meunier joined the Cabinet at the Ministry of Culture between 1986 and 1988. He founded Culturespaces in 1990. The company first specialized in the management of heritage sites (Musée Jacquemart-André and Villa Ephrussi on behalf of the Institut de France Hôtel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence, Château des Baux-de-Provence, but also as the Palais des Papes in Avignon or the Maillol Museum in Paris…), similar to the English National Trust.

It all starts in Les Baux-de-Provence

The Cultural Atelier (then a subsidiary of the Havas Group) began producing its own exhibitions in the early 2000s. These shows have been openly inspired by the immersive attractions of American theme parks offering escape games and role-playing games in historical places including is responsible for. Much to the chagrin of the world of culture.

In 2012 Bruno Meunier demonstrated a new type of sound and light show at the Baux-de-Provence quarry. Using the limestone walls of this imposing location as a giant cinema screen, it presents a stunning performance by Italian digital artist Gianfranco Ianuzzi. There are theatrical paintings by Gauguin and Van Gogh on an audio track that combines some classic songs. This attraction rejuvenates the “Cathedral of Images”, which was created in 1975 in the same place by “pioneer” Albert Plessy.

Halfway between slide shows of last year and VR rides today, this show, renamed “Carrières de lumière”, is the subject of careful communication and attracts nearly 240,000 people right from the start. First summer (700,000 tickets sold each year today). Here again, the museum world is suffocating in this way of displaying paintings without an explanatory cartel or audio commentary. Worse…by cropping out certain images and inserting animated sequences.

recipe for success

“Our bias is emotion. Our films don’t explain the works, they don’t say when or how they were made. They are content to drown the spectators in it,” admits Gianfranco Ianuzzi. Bruno Meunier supposes that he wants to reach the general public in this way other than by educational discourse. “My goal is to bring in those who do not come to the museum, that is, more than 75% of the population. However, these people do not want to hear boring speech,” he boldly summarizes.

In 2018, he rejected the formula in Paris by setting up a former foundry at 11And The smaller sister metropolitan area of ​​this primary “Carrières des Lumières”. The audience flocks in droves (1.5 million tickets sold out in the first year) to discover, in addition to the world of Klimt, the world of Picasso, Dali or Gaudí. The Parisian “Atelier” is currently broadcasting a show in the form of a journey through Paul Cézanne’s paintings while waiting for a new show on Chagall in 2023.

Technological know-how

“The concept seems simple, but the technical aspects of the installations are not at all,” said Gianfranco Ianuzzi, who produces Culturespaces every year. “First you have to write a story without words, convert the still images into animated sequences and do it accurately enough so that the projected images don’t lose quality,” says the company’s art director, out of Venice.

To do this, it is necessary to install more than 200 coordinating machines (laser projectors, amplifiers). “Only our French team is able to do this,” insists Bruno Meunier, who states that, so far, he has not found any external service provider capable of understanding communications that are adapted to this task.

“Finally, the music accompanying each show plays an essential role in the emotional journey our work provides,” adds Anna Dependetti, former curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London who joined Culturespaces in 2020 to become exhibition director. It is Gianfranco Ianuzzi, once again, who selects the playlist and, if necessary, replays some tunes to “stick” to the atmosphere he intends to provide for his film.

From Bordeaux to New York

In the spring of 2020, Bruno Meunier inaugurated the largest exhibition space in Bordeaux (almost 13,000 square metres) in the heart of the city’s former submarine base. Then he considered a residence on the other side of the Atlantic so as not to allow the competitor that had begun to appear (LightHouse) to develop there. He plans first to land in Minneapolis. Associated with IMG-Endeavour, a giant of the American cultural sector, organizer of both great exhibitions (“Tutankhamun, the treasure of the pharaoh”…) and the Frieze Festival, he finally decided to open a groundbreaking exhibition in Manhattan. He says he is investing $22 million in the project.

The pandemic will postpone this project. Currently under construction, the Hall of Lights will open its doors on September 8th on Chambers Street. It will be 3000 square meters, located in a sheltered building, opposite New York City Hall. “The place, like all the sites we settle in, is steeped in history, because it was the headquarters of the Irish Immigrant Bank,” Anna Dependetti says. “And that doesn’t make our job any easier because we have to do a lot of development work,” Bruno Meunier slips. This eighth exhibition venue, for Culturespaces, will allow the group to schedule the Klimt exhibition again in the fall.

profitable system

The New York Art Center should enable the group to consume the animation produced more quickly (14 so far) with an average of €500,000. A tight budget in the cultural field. Bruno Meunier, who mentions the high budgets of major painting fairs across Europe, insists, “One advantage of digital technology is to allow us to organize shows at a lower cost.”

“On average, it takes more than a million today to organize a classic exhibition,” he says. But the amounts are sometimes higher, such as the display of 200 paintings from the Morozov collection at the Louis Vuitton Foundation this winter,” he continues. It is rumored, in fact, that the note would have exceeded 12 million euros. Inflation has its origin in the fact that even when it is loaned for free Among museums, artworks on display all over the world need to be insured for exorbitant amounts. Transfer rates are also exorbitant. It is not uncommon for organizers of major recalls to have to pay for expensive restorations.

Read alsoThe War in Ukraine: What Future for the Morozov Group at the Vuitton Foundation?

Is this why Bruno Meunier copied today after being criticized? The Louvre, for two years in co-production with the Grand Palais, is planning an immersive trip around Mona Lisa. This film is showing at the Palais de la Bourse in Marseille (until August 21). “We can clearly see that due to the pandemic, and what is more, with the war in Ukraine, institutions are becoming more reluctant to distribute their business. Therefore, our alternative is the right choice,” insists Bruno Meunier, who nevertheless realizes that obstacles still exist in This activity.

Read alsoDive into the painting!

“Not all works easily lend themselves to such a transformation on the big screen. Those on a white background resonate light a lot. However, the secret of our shows is to bathe the spectators in relative darkness. So we can’t handle the drawing, except to adjust the storyboard”, Gianfranco Januzzi slips. A change that is not always authorized by the artist rights holders. Especially since these animations also lead to reworking of the paintings. some thing. The fund that manages Matisse’s moral rights has asked Culturespaces to stop running a show featuring this artist’s paintings.

This does not prevent Bruno Meunier from maintaining confidence in his model. In June, his right-hand man, Gianfranco Ianuzzi, will test out at the Kadokawa Museum (Japan), which will open one hour from Tokyo in 2020, a modification to display to Van Gogh: “in a smaller form,” he identifies. “The museum market must be taken into account,” justifies Bruno Meunier, who assigned his son the task of compiling a catalog of digital works likely to be distributed in these institutions. “We have created a subsidiary for this purpose, Culturespaces digital, which has so far acquired about ten programs for this purpose,” assures Grégoire Monnier. Which, two years ago, brought down the world of M&A to dedicate itself to growing the family group.


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