The Palais de Tokyo

photo: palais de tokyo, from avenue new york

The Seine-side view of the Palais de Tokyo, on the former location of a soap factory.

Two Views of Modern Art

Paris:- Wednesday, 30. January 2002:- I am probably wrong, but it is just possible that the Ministry of Culture's answer to the wildcat 'art squats' around the city, is the reopening of the 'national' half of the Palais de Tokyo for the purpose of showing off contemporary art in action, as in "See 'live' art happening right here!"

The announcement for this appeared some time ago in the 'coming events' for Paris, published every month by the city. The confusing part was listing the event under 'Closing/Opening,' saying it was an 'important event' but giving only one date for it, Friday, 18. January. The 'open' time of noon to midnight seemed strange too.

Shortly afterwards, there was a report on TV-news about it - fine and odd images, but what IS it? - andphoto: contemporary art then Le Parisien added its bit five days later by saying 4500 curious visitors has passed through it six hours before its midnight closing time on 'closing/opening' day.

An introduction to 'contemporary art' in the Palais de Tokyo.

Was it a one-day event, I wondered. The city's own magazine, 'Paris - Le Journal,' hasn't mentioned it in its issues for December and January. This may be because its own museum of Modern Art occupies the Palais de Tokyo too. Who is who here, and what's going on?

The most attractive approach to the Palais de Tokyo is from the Avenue de New York beside the Seine, but the incessant traffic is a harassment to sensible souls. Instead, I chose to arrive by way of the Avenue du Président Wilson from Trocadéro.

This presents the lesser facade of the Palais de Tokyo. But it seems pretty clear from the posters on view that the left, or easterly wing, is Paris' Modern Art museum.

The posters for the right wing, the west side, are - simply - unreadable. These actually look like the 'designs' made with computer print-outs 20 years ago.

The entry doors are small. The ones for the Modern Art museum look much more open that the same-sized ones for the - for the 'Palais de Tokyo.' Its doors look like you have to sidle up and whisper, "Joe sent me."

I squeeze myself in through the half-round door, not knowing whether to push or pull it, and find myself inside a high-ceilinged, partly-empty, mostly-unfinished, nearly-all-concrete warehouse, or hanger-like space. 'I wonder what they've done with the huge generators,' I wonder.

Luckily I spot a pile of free brochures and pick one up without looking at it - there will be time later to fill in the blanks I think.

To my left there is a museum boutique, behind a chicken-wire enclosure. Almost straight ahead therephoto: palais cafeteria is more chicken-wire, and visitors are handing over entry tickets they've gotten from a small mobile-marché-type caravan parked to my right. Beside the entry there is a two-story mural, of the 'put-everything-in' variety.

The cafeteria in the Palais.

There are also two guys sitting at a plain table with an iMac on it, further to the right of the caravan. Beyond are more high ceilings, more wire cages, and a long semi-mediaeval hall, that seems to be a picnic area inside a defrocked industrial-era church.

Far away, through several chicken-wire enclosures, I can see paying visitors wandering around, looking like they are wondering where the generators have gone too.

To me, it looks like an 'art squat' inside an open, reinforced-concrete warehouse. I am not definitely sure it is worth the 5euro 3 sign entry fee as long as the 'art squat' on the Rue de Rivoli is still free.

According to Le Parisien, this 5000 square-metre art space has been deliberately left 'in the raw' and visitors can be 'comfortably' installed in this 'charming' place, somewhat between a rock festival and a Moroccan 'souk.' It is even 'trés sympa, trés gai!!' - with its entry area,photo: free entry ticket, mus art modern somewhere 'between a white sculpture and a prison wall,' according to the paper's report.

My first 'free-for-nothing' entry ticket.

The Ministry of Culture's mission here - it has made an 'audacious choice,' it claims this is not an accident - is to offer this space for the creation of contemporary art, sort of to prove to the large art world that France has the nerve to do this - and to escape the limits of traditional exhibitions, by offering the public the chance to accompany the artists with their adventures, 'live' as it were.

After a fair bit of rooting around, I learn that the city and the state do share this Palais de Tokyo. It was built for a International Exposition of Arts and Technology in 1937, on the site of an orphanage set up by Marie de Médicis in 1615, which cleverly had a soap factory to keep the little waifs busy. Another bright idea was to associate this with the Louvre's branch of the Gobelins tapestry works - which caused Louis XIII to buy the whole thing in 1626.

Most of the very fancy tapestries at Versailles, in the Louvre, at Marly and the Trianon were made here. After some ups and downs the site became a military depot which was enlarged in 1840 and burned down in 1855, restored a year later, and incinerated again in WWI. The architects Dondel, Aubert, Viard and Dastugue, designed the present building.

It may be called the 'Palais de Tokyo' because its riverside street, dating back to 1572, was namedphoto: palais tokyo exterior, nad 'Tokio' from 1918 until 1945, when it was changed to the Avenue de New York. Before 'Tokio,' it was named after Napoléon's General Billy, who had the bad luck to be killed at the battle of Iéna.

Old mixes with new in the courtyard of the museum.

I have no idea at all what went on in the state's half of the Palais de Tokyo before last Friday, 18. January, but the city began its modern art activities in its half in 1961.

Getting in to see its permanent collection of 'modern art' is easy and free. Since its notion of modernism is represented by works done around and after 1900, it features the 'avant garde' of the fauves, cubism, dada, surrealism and the 'Ecole de Paris' - with works by Matisse, Vlaminck, Derain, Dufy, Braque, Picasso, Gris, Lipchitz, Llohe, Picabia, Ernest, Delauney, Léger, Modigliani, Zadkine, Soutine, Pascin - Pascin!

For a 'failed' painter Pascin isn't too shabby. The names above are represented with a few works each, including some major ones, in the first seven sections.

The following seven sections, starting with 'Nouveau Réalisme' and leading up to the 1990's - without any specific 'name' - are what are really considered 'modern' - as in, without graspable major ideas, done with spotty execution, and finally drifting off into 'installations,' 'projections' and 'arty' things done with video.

Delauney's 'Tour Eiffel' and Modigliani's 'Femme aux Yeux Bleus' are worth far more than the entry price of nothing, especially when they are near Soutine's 'La Femme en Rouge' and Dufy's '30 Ans' or 'La Vie en Rose.' Van Dongen's 'Femme aux Chrysanthèmes' or 'La Sphinx' is worth a detour too.

Paris' Musée d'Art Moderne also has frequent temporary exhibitions, with about sixphoto: view from palais, pont debilly, eiffel tower separate shows this year - finishing off with a retrospective of Francis Picabia's works at the end of this year.

This museum has the usual shop and a cafeteria, with windows overlooking the space between the two wings of the Palais de Tokyo, with a view of the Pont Debilly and the Tour Eiffel.

Skateboarders who may be less ambitious than their cousins at Trocadéro whiz around the museum's courtyard, without seriously disturbing other loungers and people 'just hanging out.'

Today there have been no lines to get into either of these modern art houses, but it may be the 'off' season. Neither has had many viewers inside either.

Palais de Tokyo, site of contemporary art creation, 13. Avenue du Président Wilson, Paris 16. Métro: Iéna. Open Tuesday to Sunday, from noon to midnight. Entry: 3 or 5euro 3 sign. InfoTel.: 01 47 23 54 01.

Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 11. Avenue du Président Wilson, Paris 16. Métro: Iéna. Open Tuesday to Friday, from 10:00 17:30 and on weekends from 10:00 to 18:45. Free entry for the permanent collection. InfoTel.: 01 53 67 40 00.

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