France Honors Elizabeth Diller and Rajendra Roy

France Honors Elizabeth Diller and Rajendra Roy

On April 27, 2023, Elizabeth Diller, a founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Rajendra Roy, Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at The Museum of Modern Art, were each awarded with the insignia of Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by Gaëtan Bruel, Cultural Counselor of France to the United States and Director of Villa Albertine, at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York.

The Cultural Counselor began by presenting the insignia to Arianna Bocco

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening, 

I am Gaëtan Bruel, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy and Director of Villa Albertine, and it is my great pleasure to welcome you to Villa Albertine this evening, as we honor Ms. Elizabeth Diller, architect and a founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Mr. Rajendra Roy, Chief Curator of Film at The Museum of Modern Art.  

Dear Raj and Liz, tonight, France has the rare privilege of bestowing upon each of you the insignia of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. This Order was established in 1957 by the first French Minister of Culture, André Malraux, to reward those who have made significant contributions to furthering the arts, literature and culture in France and throughout the world. There are just a few Chevaliers in the United States ; you are about to become two of them. 

Why celebrate the two of you together? Perhaps because architecture and cinema were meant to come together tonight. Because we admire both of you, and we wanted you and your respective colleagues and friends to experience this unique moment all together. Because you have a museum in common, a museum that we love and cherish. 

Glenn Lowry, the director of this museum, has honored us by being here tonight. Before I give him the floor to say a few words, I would like to add a quick third celebration to this double ceremony. 

For those who know Glenn personally, you know that he is almost French. His command of French is exceptional ; his understanding of France and the francophone world – not only the artistic scene – is unparalleled ; and as recently as this morning, he chaired the jury of Villa Albertine, selecting the 70 artists and thinkers we will welcome from France and beyond for residencies across the U.S. next year.  

During the pandemic, Glenn felt that being almost French was not enough, and that it would be nice to become a French citizen. It would actually make a lot of sense, also to reconnect with his French origins, on his mother side. With all these credentials and achievements, France had no choice but to acknowledge his Frenchness. Still, the ultimate test has to be taken: the French bureaucracy. Many have failed here. But Glenn showed again how French he was, in navigating a two-year process with patience and abnegation. Last month, Glenn Lowry officially became a French citizen, and I can only say that I’m proud that for the first time in history, a Frenchman is running the Museum of Modern Art! 

Glenn, I don’t have any medal for you today, you already got your French passport, and you are an Officier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (one of the very few above Chevalier), but please allow me to give you a life-long membership card to the Albertine Bookstore as a tiny mark of our enormous admiration and gratitude, and to celebrate your French citizenship. 

Glenn Lowry, David Rockefeller Director of The Museum of Modern Art, thanked the Cultural Counselor for his remarks, and expressed his admiration for the respective accomplishments of Elizabeth Diller and Rajendra Roy, before giving the floor back to Mr. Bruel.

Thank you, Glenn, for those wonderful words. It is now time to proceed to the formal Arts & Letters ceremony. Liz, I’m now inviting you to join me on the stage. 


Dear Elizabeth Diller, 

To say that you are an accomplished architect would be a gross simplification of both the depth and breadth of your work. A better description may be found in the words of Cathleen McGuigan, who described you as a “first-class provocateur” with an “inventive, renegade, risk-taking spirit [that] pervades everything you do.” It is true–you have built your career on your natural inclination to push boundaries. This inclination toward experimentation drives you to question the traditional conception of architecture, as well as its relationship with both art and performance. It is this revolutionary spirit that we gather to celebrate this evening. 

In 1981, you co-founded Diller Scofidio + Renfro alongside Ricardo Scofidio. From its beginning, DS+R has been a design studio dedicated to the exploration of space through architecture, urban design, installation art, multi-media performance, digital media, and print. To borrow your own words, the practice was founded with the goal of “observ[ing] the ordinary” and “question[ing] conventions of space.” You stand firm on the opinion that “anything is architecture,” a point that you have proven time and time again. In fact, one of DS+R’s first architectural structures, Blur Building, put forward a subversion of traditional architectural elements, as it was composed primarily of fog! I cannot think of a better example of the love of experimentation that lies at the core of DS+R. 

In 1999, you and Ric became the first ever architects to be awarded the MacArthur “Genius Grant.” In the years since, that sense of genius has grown and evolved, changing the face of the urban landscape both here in New York and across the world. You have set your sights on rethinking the cultural institution, from museums to performing arts centers, from university facilities to public parks, both in a way that maximizes public engagement, and creates space for art to be seen and experienced by all. This is a mission that is particularly precious to us here at Villa Albertine, and we have been honored to witness the cultural movements that have been inspired and encouraged by these spaces. From your work on the High Line alongside Ric and the studio’s massive undertaking on Lincoln Center, to your leadership on DS+R’s expansion of MoMA and conception of a new institution, the Shed, your contributions to New York have made a profound impact on the way that locals and visitors alike engage with art and with the city itself. 

What is perhaps most impressive and inspiring about your work is that it is marvelously interdisciplinary and ceaselessly diverse. Beyond creating cultural space, you yourself contribute to filling that space. France has been fortunate to welcome over twenty exhibitions and commissioned works into our cultural institutions since the early 90’s, including Bad Press at the Centre d’Art Contemporain de Castres in 1993, multiple installations at the Fondation Cartier Pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris starting in 1999, and Cartier and Islamic Art at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs just last year. And despite the enormous success of DS+R’s architectural works, you and your firm continue to devote your time and attention to the research, curation, production, and design of immersive multimedia works and performances—work that reaches not only creative professionals but also the larger community. Your 2018 project, The Mile-Long Opera, for example, provided an opportunity for the public to unite with 1,000 singers distributed along the length of the High Line to consider the speed of change of the contemporary city and the ways in which we are interconnected as fellow inhabitants of an urban space. As exemplified by this project and countless others, it is the signature Liz Diller ability to marry design, performance, and media in increasingly thought-provoking ways that merits your being recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” not just once, but twice– the only architect to have ever done so. 

Thank you, Liz, for your dedication to the furthering of art and culture across the globe. We look forward to seeing DS+R’s future projects, including your first architectural work in France, the redevelopment of the PRD Montparnasse tower complex in Paris, not to mention numerous other projects across Europe, Asia, and North and South America. On a more personal note, I have been very lucky to count on your friendship and sharp eye on the NY food scene.  

Elizabeth Diller, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous faisons Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.

I’m now inviting Raj to join me on stage for the final part of this ceremony. 

Dear Rajendra Roy, 

When we consider your steadfast dedication to French, Francophone, and global cinema, we cannot help but wonder when this passion first took root, and when you realized that it would fuel a life-long career – perhaps in the streets of the Latin Quarter in Paris during your time at the Sorbonne, perhaps even earlier during your undergraduate studies at the University of California, San Diego. 

Something sure is that your curiosity and passion for French culture is reflected in all your extraordinary endeavors to bring French cinema to wider audiences – be it from your career beginnings in the Film and Media Arts Program at the Guggenheim Museum, to your current role as the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at MoMA.  

Throughout the 15 plus years that you have spent at MoMA, you have contributed to the transformation of one of the most prestigious art institutions in the world, into a platform for French filmmakers to display their work and explore new ideas, all the while consistently giving French features a place in the museum’s library of over 30,000 films (thirty thousand films). 

By thoughtfully and consistently presenting a selection of classic and unconventional international films in U.S. cinemas for the annual MoMA Presents series, you have introduced American audiences to some of the finest cinematic works from French minds, such as Jean Luc Goddard’s English-language, Sympathy of the Devil, and Mati Diop’s Atlantique, which was filmed in French and Wolof.    

As a true French cinephile, your reverence for the legacy of our country’s cinema is most evident by the exhibitions of French films that you have overseen at MoMA, most notably the 2016 “Gaumont: Cinema pour tout le monde” series, in honor of the film company’s 120th anniversary. This retrospective, which featured a mix of Gaumont-produced films and other French cinematic treasures truly celebrated the history of this pioneering institution.   

Always seeking to expand creative barriers and champion new talent, through your role as a member of the selection committee for the New Directors/New Films Festival, jointly presented by MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center, you have cast a spotlight on some of the most promising French directors, including Camille Vidal-Naquet, Karim Moussaoui, and Emmanuel Gras. 

What is most impressive and inspiring about your career path and relationship with France is the wonderful collaborations and friendships you have forged along the way, especially with our dear Agnès Varda. Rosalie, Agnès’ daughter, who traveled from Paris to be with us tonight, has noted the beautiful way in which your relationship and support for Agnès Varda’s  work evolved from facilitating MoMA’s purchase of her installation, Le tryptique de Noirnoutier, and her film Visage Villages – which was eventually shortlisted for the 2017 Oscars in the Documentary film category –  to attending the Berlin International Film Festival to support her last documentary film, Agnes par Varda.  Rosalie fondly describes you as a friend of France, an ardent cinephile, and most importantly a part of Agnes’ and her American family.  Agnès Varda was truly touched by the decision to enter Visage Villages into MoMA’s film collection – an institution that she adored and visited every time she came to New York.  

The indelible imprint you have already made and the respect that that you have earned within the international film community extends beyond your role at MoMa and is apparent in the distinguished memberships that you hold in the National Film Preservation Board, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the International Film Executive Committee.  

Finally, it’s also the friend of Villa Albertine that we are proud to honor tonight, as you have been a clear inspiration for the 20 plus filmmakers we have already welcomed as part of our artist residency program. 

As Agnès Varda would have loved to film this moment–She is watching us anyway–it is now my honor and great pleasure to invite Rosalie Varda to join me on the stage, to assist me with the conferral of the insignia. 

Rajendra Roy, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous faisons Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.