Europe is a museum hub. In every city and town, there will be at least three museums, a few art galleries and one pinacotheca – essentially a picture gallery which has the same connotation as art galleries; just wanted to throw this in because it sounded sophistiqué. My first checkpoint in Paris is the esteemed Louvre but the unsuspecting complex that whisks my heart away is the Centre Georges Pompidou or Pompidou Centre located near Marais.
From the outside, this building stands like an ulcer amidst Marais-Parisian houses. Designed by the Italian architect, Renzo Piano and American couple, Richard and Su Rogers, this building is deliberately inside out. Like an exposed skeleton, the escalator is situated outside of the building to facilitate the maximum usage of museum space on the inside. When it was completed in 1977, this building turned “the architecture world upside down” due to its revolutionary visionary influenced by the high-tech movement that defines architecture during this period. Standing aloofly today, the Pompidou Centre is a normal, almost bland design as we have gotten used to contemporary buildings that are more ambitious and abstract. Yet, with the history that surrounds this center and having been named after former French President, Georges Pompidou – the building’s resume inspires further veneration as it houses the largest collection of modern art in Europe, rivaled only by MoMA in NYC. Even the elements of the building are conspicuously color coded: green for plumbing, blue for climate control, yellow for electrical wires and red for circulation elements and safety devices.
The concept behind this center was a fundamental instinct to transform art galleries from a sterile, cold and upper-class ambience into one that is opened to anyone and everyone desiring social and cultural exchange. With its open approach to exhibition areas and an emphasis in freedom of movement and flow, Centre Georges Pompidou did just that. Flanked by the Beaubourg Plaza right outside, visitors are able to see the entire transparent box and actively engage with what is going on inside the gallery. The plaza is where people rendezvous as well as buskers reveal their talent, children frolick and the rest idle around. Surrounded by cafes in the afternoon and pubs at night, the area has become a focal point for the public.
The true magic of course, happens on the inside. With the tubular steel columns and an outdoor escalator ride up, the art experience has inherently begin. Level 4 showcases art works of the 1960s whereas level 5 harried works from 1905 to 1960. With over 50,000 artworks by 5,000 artists, only 600 are displayed at any given time. The movements of contemporary art from Dadaism, Fauvism to Cubism and Surrealism and works by Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Miro and Duchamp can all be found inside this wonderland. Having spent 3 hours in 2 levels of permanent and temporary exhibitions, my mind is a maze of colors, abstract materials and incomprehensive meanings derived from art appreciation. Truly, the experience here is phenomenal; art in its multitudinous form has engaged the audience fully, unequivocally and relentlessly. It is unsurprising that this art hub attracts 7 million visitors a year.
The spacious corridor and high ceilings with walls that sequester one artist from another allows visitors to fully commit to one artwork at a time. Sensory overload has always been a problem of galleries where art-goers struggle to choose which artwork to approach and absorb first. In the Pompidou though, the precise arrangements are made in such a way that one follows the tranquil flow of art; there is no dizzying turn of the head from one wall to another nor does one obsess excessively over a missing turn into a room.
The Pompidou Centre will always remain a favorite and I daresay, you have not truly seen Paris if you do not include this in your itinerary. But of course, if you are allergic to contemporary art, then this, is not the place for you.