New Centre Pompidou museum chief in French nepotism row

PARIS (Reuters) - The naming of a political insider with no art background to run Paris's Centre Pompidou modern art museum has triggered charges that France's credibility in the world of culture will suffer as a result of nepotism.

The row is particularly embarrassing for President Francois Hollande, who promised on entering power in 2012 to wind down France's longstanding elite networks and appoint on pure merit.

Serges Lasvignes, 61, a top civil servant who since 2006 has overseen the work of the prime minister's office, was on Wednesday nominated president of the museum, whose modern art collection is the world's second-largest behind New York's MOMA.

Questioning Lasvignes' lack of arts experience, prestigious art magazine "Connaissance des Arts" asked whether it was a justified choice. "Or rather, given the little regard which Francois Hollande appears to have for culture, is it about playing musical chairs with a top civil servant to put someone else in his place?" it said.

The magazine was referring to a wider reshuffle of top jobs in the current administration in which a senior aide of former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, a long-time Hollande ally, is expected to get a senior post.

Former Culture Minister Aurelie Filipetti, who lost her job last August after opposing Hollande publicly over his economic policy, said more transparency was merited.

"The key to avoiding these types of controversy is a system of procedures," Filipetti told RTL radio. "We need procedures, to appeal for candidates, to present a plan. We've gone back to a practice for which we've been criticissed."

Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll defended the move, saying Lasvignes' qualities as an administrator were "absolutely compatible with the (museum's) future challenges".

The Centre Pompidou had increased attendance levels during the two terms of Alain Seban, now to be replaced by Lasvignes.

The controversy comes on the heels of another embarassing flap in the French art world, the repeated delays in re-opening the Picasso Museum in Paris after a turbulent period of public squabbling and the ouster of the museum's president.

That museum finally opened in October.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.