Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Le Centre Georges Pompidou

When people talk about art galleries in Paris, Le Louvre is always mentioned, followed closely by Le Musee d'Orsay. These two galleries attract millions of international tourists wanting to see Mona Lisa's smile, Gauguin's Tahitian Women, works by van Gogh, Degas, Caravaggio, Delacroix, Ingres, Renoir, Monet, Vermeer, just to name a few. However, where do you go to see celebrated modern art (art of the 20th century, post WWI) in Paris? Where can you see the works of Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, etc.? Hidden amoungst the Haussman-styled apartment buildings in the 4th arrondissement of Paris (Paris is broken up into 20 administrative districts know as arrondissements, each with their own mayor and council) is Le Centre Georges Pompidou. (The forecourt of the centre is also a fantastic place to see street performers of all shapes and sizes - musicians, actors, mimists, people trying to make a few extra euros by exhibiting some unusual talent of theirs). 

The exterior of the building appears to be somewhat of an eye-sore in contrast with the neighbourhood which surrounds it. In a very 'un-Parisian' manner, the original buildings on the site were demolished in the 1960s to make way for this 'hideous' structure (Paris usually has a great reputation for retaining and transforming existing structures, which as allowed to city to retain its old-world charm - the Louvre Museum was originally a royal palace and the Musee d'Orsay is a converted railway station. I also applaud the decision of the Parisian government to create a new suburb on the outskirts of Paris, known as Le Defense, to accommodate the Parisian business district, rather than demolishing existing buildings, as has occurred in many capitals around the world, to make way for corporate high-rises).  Steering away from tradition, is Le Centre Georges Pompidou. The steel frame, the glass facades, the coloured pipes and the tres moderne look of the site ensures that no passerby misses it (and has also become a topic of heated criticisms with many Parisians).

As you can see from the photos above, the view from the top floors of Le Centre Georges Pompidou is amazing. Seeing the rooftops of Paris is truly a unique experience. The colours, the textures, the design of the structures, just thinking about all those hundreds of thousands of people who inhabit this unique city. All those individuals who glance through those little windows to see life in Paris unfolding day by day.

Ok, so the main reason people go to the Centre Georges Pompidou isn't to criticised the bad town planning/architectural decisions of the then French President Georges Pompidou, nor to be bewildered by the beauty of the panoramic views, but rather to appreciate the amazing art which is on display in the light-filled, warehouse inspired, gallery spaces. The Centre hosts many temporary exhibitions throughout the year, but it's their permanent collect of Fauvist, Cubist, Expressionist, Surrealist (to name a few) works which I found absolutely amazing, especially in comparison to the collections of many of the large, state-run galleries in Sydney. Le Musee d'Arte Moderne in the 16 arrodissement - just up the road from where I was living and which I frequented regularly - also has a great collection of modern art, it is no where near as impressive, in quality and quantity, as the exhibits at the Pompidou Centre. All the big names of 20th century art are there - everywhere you turn you see art works you've read about and the closest you came to seeing them was on the pages of a poorly printed high school textbook (or a better printed and much more pricey university textbook).

As you gather, if you're an art-buff, an admirer of modern art, or a art history student seeking cultural gratification in such a culturally rich city as Paris (I put my hand up here), then Le Centre Georges Pompidou is a must on your next visit to Paris.

- The Centre is located on the opposite side of Les Halles to Le Louvre, and take one of the many metro lines which intersect at Les Halles/Chatelet and exit here.

Photographs from my personal collection

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