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28.12.04

New Museum at the Quai Branly

As I mentioned in this post on October 13, the new Musée du Quai Branly, scheduled to open in Paris early in 2006, will house a collection of art from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. Véronique Prat's article (Quai Branly, naissance d'un musée, December 18) for Le Figaro Magazine brings us up to date on the work so far (my translation):

Right in the heart of Paris, the immense construction site on the Quai Branly is being transformed little by little into the Musée des Arts Premiers [Museum of the First Arts], whose opening is planned for 2006. With no waiting, as of today in our pages, a visit to the site and gossip on the future museum.

Musée des Arts Premiers, Quai Branly, ParisRight in the middle of the construction site of the future museum, still open to the sky, a work of art has already been installed. It is a Senegalese megalith in the shape of a lyre, carved from a beautiful red volcanic stone. Heavy at almost 6 tonnes [13,227.6 pounds] and 2.4 meters [7.87 feet]high by 1.6 meters [5.25 feet] wide, it will welcome visitors at the entrance of the Department of African Arts. For the moment, in the shelter of its wooden crate, it has the honor of being the first work from the vast collection to find its place. And with good reason: its weight and size would make it impossible to move through the completed building's doors and windows! So there it is installed in the middle of the site while around it construction of the roof and walls continues.

A small story for such a large effort. A new museum is always an event, at once grandiose and moving. Presidents of France willingly punctuate their terms of office with these grand cultural achievements: Georges Pompidou wanted the center that carries his name. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing gave his support to the Musée d'Orsay. François Mitterrand desired the Grand Louvre. And Jacques Chirac? His taste for the so-called "first" arts is well known. In museographic terms, the major act of his second term will be in effect this Musée du Quai Branly.
The competition among architects for this project was fierce, as you can imagine, drawing a field of fourteen big names, including Fanuele-Eisenman and Renzo Piano. Jean Nouvel, whose plans won, is quoted:
I wanted a building that was not immediately visible, that was not an object showing itself. On the Quai Branly side, it is protected by a wall of glass on which the shadows of the trees play. The building in 200 meters [656.2 feet] long and seems to emerge from a fairytale garden. Perched on pilings, it is nevertheless practically invisible to pedestrians, sheltered as it is in some parts in vegetation.
There will be a rooftop patio with a view, to the west, of the Eiffel Tower and Trocadéro, and across from it, the Palais de Tokyo. The collection will be drawn together from two museums, the now-closed Musée national des arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie, at the Porte Dorée, and the Ethnology Laboratory at the Musée de l'Homme. Although photography at the site is limited, the article had images (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5), and the museum has a live webcam focused on the construction site. This page and this page have some excellent images showing what the museum will look like when it is finished.

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