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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Georges Pompidou Centre, Paris

As anyone who has ever visited will tell you, the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris
 is nearly impossible to photograph well (it's so long). Here's a remarkable shot that somehow manages to capture the "distinctive" look of the high tech architecture.
The red and white zigzag ascending the façade is a pedestrian escalator/walkway
to the top allowing visitors to avoid climbing stairs.
Virtually every major city on earth has three primary art museums. London has its Tate, the Tate Modern, and the British Museum. Washington has its National Gallery, the Smithsonian, and the Corcoran. New York has the Met, the MoMA, and the Guggenheim. Paris has the Louvre, of course, which houses it's ancient art. Then there's the Musee Orsay with the merely antique, and finally, there's the massively strange Georges Pompidou Centre for the contemporary stuff. I say massively strange as a cautious neutral comment. Named for Georges Pompidou, one of the better Presidents of modern day France, and opened by his successor, President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1977, even the French thought it was ugly at the time. But then, they said the same thing about I.M. Pei's Louvre pyramid so there's no accounting for French tastes in architecture. Of course the Pompidou Centre was designed by two Italians and a Brit, (Renzo Piano, Gianfranco Franchini, and Richard Rogers), so of course, the French wouldn't take to it immediately. National Geographic called it, "love at second sight."
The Pompidou Center interior. Be sure to brush up on your French.
The natives think that if you don't speak French, then you should.
As art museums go, the Pompidou is somewhat dated, its design aesthetics rooted in the High Tech architectural movement in the 1970s. It would be safe to say it looks like no other art museum in the world and also safe to say that's probably a good thing. In line with that, from the outside, the Pompidou is "distinctive." One might even go so far as to say it looks exactly like what it is--a museum of modern art. In theory, the Pompidou is a building turned inside out. What would normally be hidden is exposed and painted a rainbow of colors to depict their various utilitarian functions. The assumed advantage to this is that it allows the interior space a great deal of openness and functional flexibility. It does that, but also exposes a great deal of functional, industrial engineering which, were it not for the saving grace of the art it houses, would be unremittingly ugly. Inside the ambience ranges from 21st century space-age to 20th century factory hard-core harsh with the latter being the overwhelming case.
George's--breathtaking inside and out.
The rooftop restaurant is nice, gifted with floor-to-ceiling windows, a spectacular seventh story view of Paris rooftops, and a light or white color scheme. Just be careful not to spill anything. Lunch is around 20 euros per person, dinner about twice that. The cuisine is French-tourist. Likewise, the children's workshop area likes the "color" white as well with lots of soft pastel curves, shiny surfaces, and a minimalist decor. Captain Kirk's ancestors should feel right at home.

The children's area provides
a welcome relief from the
unremitting angularity
of the museum's interior.

It would be pointless for me to dwell on the art and artists of the Pompidou. Sufficient to say that their contemporary art collection of more than 5000 internationally known artists (17% percent of them women) is the largest in Europe. Only about one-fourth are French. I counted more than seventy instantly recognizable names. A special feature, a sort of ground floor annex, is the Atelier Brancusi (below) featuring a replica of the sculptor's studio as well as a surprisingly large sampling of his work. The Pompidou Centre also houses a library and IRCAM, a sound and music research center. Outside in the spacious plaza is the Stravinsky Fountain, which reflects the museum's style and character both literally and figuratively.

Atelier Brancusi--the artist's studio-workshop.

The Pompidou Centre-Metz
And, in keeping up with the British trend in farming out part of their collection to the provinces, the Pompidou Center, in 2010 opened a branch some 170 miles east of Paris in the city of Metz. The museum bears no resemblance whatsoever to its parent. Depending upon the angle, it instead appears more like a flying carpet bearing a lunchbox (above). I'll probably get hate mail in French for that.


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