This modern centre of art and culture was strongly desired by Georges Pompidou, President of the French Republic from 1969 to 1974. The building is set in a magnificent urban context, in the Marais, an old and historic district of Paris, and was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the English architect Richard Rogers.
Many citizens criticised the decision to place the Centre Pompidou, a building with modern architecture covered in coloured pipes, conduits, electric cables and visible air vents, in the midst of elegant and stately 19th-century buildings. This unconventional innovation was intended to create in the heart of Paris a cultural centre with a multidisciplinary focus, entirely dedicated to modern art.
The reason? To interrupt the decline of Paris in the international art scene and give it a leading role in the panorama dominated by New York. President Pompidou’s aim was precisely to ‘modernise’ the culture of Paris and project it into a new era, favouring the expression of new art forms and creating easier access to modern art for the general public, which is too often incomprehensible to many.
Even if you are not entirely interested in modern art, we recommend a visit to the Centre Pompidou in any case: from the terrace on the sixth floor, there is an unparalleled view of the famous and romantic roofs of Paris.
The Centre Pompidou, inaugurated in 1977, is widely considered one of the most iconic buildings in Paris and one of the most visited places in the city.
Designed by Renzo Piano, Gianfranco Franchini and Richard Rogers, almost unknown young architects at the time, the Pompidou Centre was an absolutely revolutionary and non-conformist gamble, with an appearance very far removed from the classic museum centres.
Recognisable from a distance by its unusual and bizarre aesthetics, the building was conceived as a kind of giant machine, showing its internal skeleton, instead of hiding it: in fact, the building highlights the load-bearing structure, the main escalators, the ducts for the systems which, brought outward like a kind of coat, are emphasised by the bright colours and become the main aesthetic elements of the building. Even the choice of colours is not random. In fact, each hue distinguishes a different content of the pipes: blue was used for the air, green for the liquids, yellow for the electrical cables and red for the communication routes.
The construction of the Centre Pompidou was one of the greatest architectural gambles in recent history, a gamble won thanks to the daring and courage of its creators.
Beloved by Parisians, the Beaubourg, as it is affectionately called, is much more than a museum, it is a cultural institution in the name of multidisciplinarity.
The building houses the Musée National d’Art Moderne : more than 100,000 works from 1905 to the present day are exhibited here. It represents the most important collection of modern art in Europe: it holds some of the most famous works of Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Abstractionism, Neorealism, Pop Art, Minimalism and Monochromatism.
If you are short of time, we have collected the most important works for you to admire during your visit.
This is perhaps one of Vassily Kandinsky’s most famous paintings, considered by critics to be the manifesto of his conception of art: the geometric abstraction creates a magnificent balance between elements that are opposite and complementary at the same time.
Kandinsky thought that there was a correspondence between the harmony of colours and that of musical sounds and attempted to attribute a musical timbre to each colour: yellow as bright as the trumpet, red as passionate as the tuba, blue as soothing as the sound of a flute.
The figure of Harlequin as a traditional mask, has for Picasso a strong enigmatic connotation, half creative demiurge, half destructive devil embodying two opposing forces, good and evil.
During his artistic evolution, the Spanish artist in fact developed a true obsession with the magical-sacred qualities of Harlequin’s clothes, often going so far as to dress in a striped shirt, a sort of modern transfiguration of Harlequin’s chequered garment.
The Russian painter returns to a theme dear to him, the wedding, represented by two newlyweds dancing and celebrating their love above a rooster, symbolising the morning song and a new day.
The painting is rich in symbolism: the child represents the future union, the village and the hut in the background symbolise simple everyday life, the blazing sun the faith that drives away darkness, the violin embodies the symphony of life based on mutual gift.
A masterpiece of abstract painting, Udnie manages to combine Cubist decomposition of volumes into planes with Futurist enthusiasm for movement, becoming a kind of conceptual synthesis of the most innovative pictorial currents of the early 20th century.
The painting was inspired by a dance performance the French painter had witnessed on the boat trip to New York: Polish-born actress Stacia Napierkowska was performing.
A leading exponent of the artistic current of metaphysical painting, Giorgio De Chirico in this work depicts a seated, armless, headless mannequin. This enigmatic painting symbolises the artist’s incompleteness, locked in a metaphysical interior, with symbolic figures and objects confined in enclosed spaces.
According to one possible interpretation, the figure with closed eyes, moustache and goatee would represent his father Evaristo De Chirico, who died in 1905, while the armless and headless mannequin could symbolise the spirit of modern times.
Painted in 1940 by Henri Matisse, one of the most important artists of the Fauvism artistic current and of the entire 20th century, this work has the decorative embroidery of the blouse as its true subject and not the model, Micheline Payot.
In fact, throughout his artistic evolution, Matisse cultivated a great love for fabrics of all kinds and this painting is inspired by the collection of traditional Romanian shirts that his great friend and painter Theodor Palladi had given him. Matisse used to make his models wear them, thus emphasising the graphic beauty of the embroidery.
Created in 1938 by Frida Kahlo, this unmissable self-portrait was the first work by a Mexican artist to be acquired by an international museum.
Having become a worldwide icon of an independent and revolutionary woman, Frida Kahlo used to mix different genres and techniques. In fact, the work consists of a pictorial part on an aluminium plate and a frame painted on glass with colourful flowers and birds.
Otto Dix was a leading exponent of the New Objectivity movement and his works were criticised and censored by the Nazi government, which repeatedly prevented them from being exhibited.
The painting depicts the German journalist Sylvia von Harden, caught on a break at the Romanische Café: with her very short hair, a cigarette in one hand and a drink in front of her, the subject symbolises the emancipation of women after the First World War.
Man Ray is considered one of the pioneers of photography and one of the most revolutionary experimenters of Dada art and Surrealism. His shots changed the history of 20th century photography.
The strength of this work is unleashed in the irreverent choice to transform the female figure into a musical instrument with a human form, using the graphic sign of two violin effs on the body.
The French model Alice Prin, portrayed in the photograph, was also known as Kiki De Montparnasse, and was his muse and lover for many years.
Designed to embellish President Pompidou’s private flats at the Elysée Palace, the antechamber was created by Yaacov Agam, a specialist in kinetic art.
On his arrival at the palace in ’69, President Pompidou, a great lover of modern and contemporary art, wanted to overturn the traditional furnishings of the salons, giving space and a voice to the architects and designers most in vogue at the time.
One of the most controversial and irreverent works on display at the Centre Pompidou is certainly the provocative urinal by Marcel Duchamp, the father of modern art.
Theready-made work is nothing more than an everyday object, in this case an ordinary white ceramic urinal, which is transformed into a work of art the moment the artist identifies it as such.
Purchased in a sanitaryware shop, the artist simply turned the urinal upside down and signed it with the pseudonym R. Mutt, in order to present it to the commission of the New York Independent Artists’ Salon, which, however, refused to exhibit it.
The Centre Pompidou is not just a museum: it is a multi-purpose centre where you can spend a whole day. After admiring the artists’ works, taking part in guided tours and workshops, watching a film and listening to music, you can linger in the library, browse in the wonderful boutique, admire the rooftops of Paris from the terrace and even have lunch at Le Georges restaurant.
Here you will find the cinema, with temporary performances that change monthly, the performance and concert hall and various thematic areas dedicated to study and research.
On the ground floor you will find the boutiques, the bookshop and the classrooms where the art workshops for adults and children take place, which change cyclically: these are places designed to develop and unleash creativity.
The first floor houses the library, some exhibition rooms for temporary exhibitions, a café, a cinema room and a space dedicated to exhibitions and workshops for children.
This floor is entirely occupied by the public library, which offers reading and working spaces, encyclopaedic collections on all media for on-site consultation, and cultural activities organised within the Centre Pompidou.
As the research and documentation centre of the National Museum of Modern Art, the Kandinsky Library acquires, preserves and makes available to a dedicated public one of the most important book, documentary and archive collections devoted to 20th and 21st century art.
With more than 100,000 works by as many as 6000 artists, the centre is a mine of treasures and masterpieces spanning and displaying the main currents of modern art, occupying two floors of the building.
This section of the museum houses works produced from 1960 to the present day. Great space is also devoted to other artistic genres such as sculpture, photography, design, installations and illustrations.
The most important collection is certainly that of Matisse with no less than 245 works, but Picasso, Dali, Miró, Max Ernst and Braque are also present.
Also noteworthy is a conspicuous collection of Kandinsky with over 700 works, illustrating the evolution of the Moscow artist during his production.
Here you will find the numerous temporary exhibitions that are set up and changed cyclically, with a busy annual programme.
Also on this floor is the Le George restaurant, surrounded by a wonderful terrace. Even if you are not a fan of modern art, we recommend you admire this building with its unmistakable silhouette.
Moreover, around the centre, you can enjoy a truly unique atmosphere with street artists, mimes, jugglers, students drawing and travelling musicians. Don’t miss the nearby Place Igor Stravinsky, where colourful and imaginative mechanical sculptures move in the centre of a large fountain.
The Centre Pompidou is located in the heart of the Marais, a charming neighbourhood in the centre, just a 10-minute walk from Notre-Dame and the liveliest areas of Paris. The museum is easily accessible by public transport.
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