The Centre Pompidou has inked a preliminary deal to open a new outpost in Seoul, South Korea.
While it might feel like a strange economic climate for a museum to go on a campaign of aggressive international expansion, a closer look at the deals being struck shows it to be more of an exercise in lending its prestigious brand and resources to new museum projects already in the works abroad.
On the other end of the most recent deal is the Hanwha Culture Foundation—the philanthropic arm of South Korea’s Hanwha conglomerate, which owns businesses in fields such as industrial explosives, finance, life insurance, and solar energy. Per the agreement, Hanwha will pay €20 million ($21 million) to the Pompidou in exchange for four years’ worth of licensing rights to the French museum’s trademark, according to the Korea Times.
The four-year licensing window will commence with the opening of the museum, which is currently slated for early 2025. During that same period, the Centre Pompidou will present eight monographic exhibitions assembled from works in its collection.
The museum, tentatively called Pompidou Center Hanwha Seoul, will be built in 63 Square, a western Seoul skyscraper owned and occupied by Hanwha. French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, whose other credits include design work on the Louvre and the British Museum, has been tapped to overhaul 124,000 square feet of space in the building for the venue.
Laurent Le Bon and Shin Hyunwoo, presidents of the Centre Pompidou and Hanwha Culture Foundation, respectively, signed the agreement on Sunday, March 19—though conversations about a Seoul branch go back years. In 2020, the Pompidou’s then-president Serge Lasvignes said he was “on the point of signing” an agreement with South Korea when COVID-19-related lockdowns put a pause on the deal.
Still, even though an agreement has now been reached, details regarding the Pompidou’s newest expansion plan remain cloudy.
When contacted for more information about the planned Seoul museum, including how it will be funded and what will happen after the four-year contract with Hanwha lapses, a Pompidou spokesperson simply told Artnet News that “the project is currently in progress” and that they had “no further information” to share at this time.
Similar questions surround over the Pompidou’s satellite branch in Saudi Arabia. The proposed institution, called Perspective Galleries, will be erected within a broader cultural complex planned for the ancient region of AlUla. The French institution will lend artworks to the new museum, and its in-house staff will consult on topics such as conservation and educational strategy, but it’s otherwise unclear how much say the Pompidou will have over the vision and operation of the new venue.
The Pompidou’s plan in Jersey City, for which more details are available, may provide some answers. Announced last June, the Centre Pompidou x Jersey City, as the new outpost is called, will have access to the Pompidou’s curators and collection of 120,000-some artworks, but will otherwise operate semi-independently.
Once completed, the new museums in Seoul, AlUla, and Jersey City will join the Pompidou’s growing network of satellite branches worldwide. Pompidou outposts in Brussels, Malaga, and Shanghai have all opened within the last decade.