The Centre Pompidou opened in 1977, but it was born out of a desire by Georges Pompidou in the late 1960s. The then French President had the great goal of creating an arts center dedicated to all forms of visual culture in the heart of Paris. And today, the Centre Pompidou is home to the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe!
In addition to the several dozen permanent and temporary exhibitions throughout the building, the Centre Pompidou offers a wide cultural program throughout the year. Some examples are music, theater, and dance shows, cinema cycles, conferences, and even activities for the youngest!
So, do you want to know more about the Centre Pompidou: Best Tips For Visiting In 2023? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of the Centre Pompidou
- What to See at the Centre Pompidou
- “Le magasin de Ben”, by Benjamin Vautier (4th Floor, Room 3)
- “Salon Agam”, by Yaacov Agam (4th Floor, Room 10)
- “Manège de cochons”, by Robert Delaunay (5th Floor, Room 11)
- “Mit dem schwarzen Bogen”, by Vassily Kandinsky (5th Floor, Room 14)
- “Fontaine”, by Marcel Duchamp (5th Floor, Room 19)
- “SE 71, L’Arbre, grande éponge bleue”, by Yves Klein (5th Floor, Room 28)
- “Made in Japan – La grande odalisque”, by Martial Raysse (5th Floor, Room 32)
- “La Blouse roumaine”, by Henri Matisse (6th Floor, Gallery 1)
- Practical Guide to the Centre Pompidou
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Brief History of the Centre Pompidou
As I mentioned in the introduction, the idea for the creation of the Centre Pompidou came from Georges Pompidou himself. The former Prime Minister (1962-68) and President of France (1969-74) organized an international competition for the design of the building and the winners were architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers.
Despite initial criticism at the time of its opening, the Centre Pompidou ended up becoming one of the most iconic monuments of the 20th century in the city of Paris. And its panoramic views over the French capital have turned it into an alternative viewpoint to admire other monuments such as the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, or the Opera Garnier!
The National Museum of Modern Art ended up making the Centre Pompidou a place where the greatest representative figures of modern and contemporary art are gathered, as well as the movements and artistic currents that founded Art History in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Located in the 4e arrondissement, the Centre Pompidou is ideally located for those visiting Paris. About 450 meters away, you have one of the main stations in the city: “Châtelet-Les Halles”, where the RER A and B trains pass, as well as metro lines 1, 14, 7, 11, and 14! Other than that, you can choose the metro stations “Rambuteau” (line 11) and “Hôtel de Ville” (lines 1 and 11), or bus numbers 29, 38, 47, and 75.
What to See at the Centre Pompidou
The collections of modern and contemporary art at the Centre Pompidou comprise around 120 thousand works of art, constituting an impressive worldwide reference with regard to art created in the 20th and 21st centuries. However, the building of the Centre Pompidou does not only include the Musée national d’art moderne, and its eight floors are distributed as follows:
- Performances and conference areas, Cinema 2, Exhibition gallery, and Studio 13/16 (on level -1)
- Ticket offices, Information, Group reception, and Children workshops (on the ground floor)
- Exhibition galleries, Children Gallery, Cinema 1 and Library (Bibliothèque publique d’information or BPI – access via Rue Beaubourg) (on level 1)
- Library (BPI) (on the second floor)
- Library (BPI), Bibliothèque Kandinsky and Cabinet d’art graphique (on level 3 – the latter are reserved access)
- Musée national d’art moderne – Contemporary Collections and Exhibition galleries (on the fourth floor – museum exit)
- Musée national d’art moderne – Modern Collections (on level 5 – museum entrance)
- Exhibition galleries (on the top floor)
“Le magasin de Ben”, by Benjamin Vautier (4th Floor, Room 3)
Benjamin Vautier (or Ben Vautier) is a French artist born in Naples. In 1958, he opened a shop in Nice, where he bought and sold second-hand products. Interestingly, the store’s original location is now just minutes from the Musée d’art moderne et d’art contemporain (MAMAC).
Based on the idea that “everything is art” and very inspired by the Dada art of Marcel Duchamp, Vautier transformed his shop into an artistic installation and called it “Le Laboratoire 32” and, later, “La galerie Ben doute de tout”.
In the following years, the place became a social space for new artists to promote and discuss their art. In 1972, Ben Vautier dismantled the shop and sold it to the Centre Pompidou, where he installed it five years later.
“Salon Agam”, by Yaacov Agam (4th Floor, Room 10)
This art installation is popularly called the “Salon Agam”, but its original name is much more extensive: “Layout of the antechamber to the private apartments of the Elysée Palace for President Georges Pompidou”.
As you can see from the title, the light layout was produced for the official residence of the President of the French Republic, after a commission made by him in 1971. Yaacov Agam prepared this installation in three dimensions between 1972-74, having finished after Georges Pompidou‘s death.
In this kind of lounge with three walls and a roof, Yaacov Agam installed six sliding panels that serve as doors and have the colors of the rainbow. In the center of the piece, the artist designed a stainless steel sculpture called the “Flying Triangle”, which moves and reflects the colors of the “room”.
“Manège de cochons”, by Robert Delaunay (5th Floor, Room 11)
Robert Delaunay was one of the founders of Orphism, an artistic movement that emerged in the 1910s as a transition between Cubism and Abstractionism. The other main pioneers were his wife Sonia Delaunay and Frantisek Kupka.
Delaunay created dozens of paintings where he incorporated two main characteristics of Orphism: geometric shapes and vivid colors. Some of them are on display at the Centre Pompidou, but the most famous is certainly this one from 1922.
“Carousel of Pigs” evokes the colorful, lively, and noisy environments of the amusement parks and popular fairs of that time. It’s possible to identify a top hat and a pair of black legs, in addition to the colored discs, one of Delaunay‘s favorite elements.
Finally, it’s important to highlight the figure of Tristan Tzara, poet, and founder of Dadaísm, who is easily recognized for his monocle and topper. And the fact that he’s in the foreground in the whirlwind of shapes and colors is proof of the close relationship between the Delaunay couple and Tzara‘s contemporary poetry.
“Mit dem schwarzen Bogen”, by Vassily Kandinsky (5th Floor, Room 14)
“With the black arch” (1912) is one of the many paintings by Vassily Kandinsky that are on display at the Musée nationale d’art moderne, inside the Centre Pompidou.
The Russian painter is often referred to as the pioneer of abstract art. A friend of the composer Arnold Schönberg, Vassily Kandinsky was inspired by the principle of dissonance in his musical compositions to create paintings like this one.
Basically, the dissonant musical language of one served as the basis for the abstract pictorial language of the other. For example, this work is marked by a black arch-shaped line that reaches three colored blocks. Here, there’s clearly a game of disharmonious relations between lines and colors, which aim to trigger intense sensations in the viewer.
“Fontaine”, by Marcel Duchamp (5th Floor, Room 19)
Marcel Duchamp was also a representative of an artistic movement from the beginning of the 20th century, in this case, Dadaism (or Dada). Known for creating anti-art, that is, art forms that challenge the formal definitions of “art” itself, Duchamp achieved planetary fame with his “Fontaine”.
In 1917, the artist presented the “Fountain” (a urinal) to the gallery of the Society of Independent Artists in New York. However, the exhibition’s jury declared that “it wasn’t art” and Duchamp left society.
With such a provocative creation, Marcel Duchamp launched the debate on what is considered “art”. And by taking a prefabricated object and granting it the status of a work of art, he questions not only the role of the artist in the creation of the work but also why it has to be “beautiful”, “unique”, or “handmade”.
“SE 71, L’Arbre, grande éponge bleue”, by Yves Klein (5th Floor, Room 28)
Yves Klein is another artist with several works on display at the Centre Pompidou. Founder of the New Realism artistic movement, the French painter and sculptor is known for mixing a shade of blue, which he called International Klein Blue (IKB).
“SE 71, The Tree, large blue sponge” (1962) is the largest sculpture he has ever created, 150 cm high! Unfortunately, it was also one of his last works, as Klein died that year, at only 34 years of age.
In this “tree”, the artist converted one of his favorite working tools (the sponge) into the main subject. Yves Klein had always been interested in monochromatic works, but from 1957 he started to dedicate himself entirely to his blue.
“Made in Japan – La grande odalisque”, by Martial Raysse (5th Floor, Room 32)
This painting was created in 1964, a year after Martial Raysse moved to Los Angeles. Inspired by North American Pop Art, the artist launched the “Made in Japan” series, where he recreated iconic paintings of art history in a Pop Art style.
In this case, he used the “Grande Odalisque” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, which is displayed at the Louvre Museum. In fact, Raysse painted another version of Ingres‘ “Odalisque”, which is called “Made in Japan” and has the dimensions of the original painting.
The gaudy colors that were used by the painter are very characteristic of the advertisements that filled large cities like Los Angeles in the 1960s. In addition, the green skin tone, the missing eye, and even the fly over the odalisque’s head are a way to ridicule her beauty.
“La Blouse roumaine”, by Henri Matisse (6th Floor, Gallery 1)
Henri Matisse was an artist who became famous for the use of bold colors and decorative patterns in his paintings, drawings, and sculptures. In addition, he was one of the leaders of Fauvism, an artistic movement that emerged in the early 20th century.
When he finished this painting in April 1940, Henri Matisse had spent about five months creating it, photographing the various stages of its production.
“The Romanian Blouse” has as its central theme the decorative embroidery of the blouse that gives it the title.
And the final product highlights the three main colors chosen by Matisse – red, white, and blue – while the details of the model were devalued.
Practical Guide to the Centre Pompidou
Visiting the Centre Pompidou without prior research can be confusing for most travelers and tourists, as it’s difficult to understand the difference between the center itself and the museum. But now that you’ve discovered the history of the Centre Pompidou (and how it’s directly linked to that of the National Museum of Modern Art), as well as some of the must-see works of art, it’s time for tips!
A complete guide to a museum wouldn’t be complete without some advice and recommendations – in addition to practical information on prices, opening times, and access. So, I want to give you three tips that will optimize your visit and help you enjoy the best that the Centre Pompidou has to offer!
1. Take Advantage of the First Sunday of the Month
The ticket to visit the Musée nationale d’art moderne has two prices: €14 (full fare) or €11 (reduced fare). You can check all the conditions for discounts and free tickets here. There are also other types of tickets, which vary depending on the temporary exhibitions or the cultural program of the Centre Pompidou.
Currently, it’s necessary to buy the ticket online, which has an additional cost of €1 (booking fee) for each entry. You can directly access Centre Pompidou‘s online ticket office here. However, access to the permanent exhibitions, the View of Paris (top floor of the building with panoramic views), and the Children’s Gallery is free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month!
2. Beware of the… Different Opening Hours
The Centre Pompidou is open every day, except on Tuesdays and May 1st. But its opening hours are quite different from other Parisian attractions. While most museums and monuments open their doors between 8 am and 10 pm, the Centre Pompidou doesn’t do it until 11 am!
Although the museum only closes at 9 pm (and physical ticket offices at 8 pm), these opening hours are confusing for most tourists – especially groups and families – who are used to visiting this type of attraction early in the morning.
3. Visit “La Fontaine Stravinsky” Too
“The Stravinsky Fountain” is a public work of art, designed in 1983 by the artist couple Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle. You can find it at Igor Stravinsky Square, on the right side of the Centre Pompidou. This large 580 m2 water basin is, of course, dedicated to Igor Stravinsky.
Within the fountain itself, there are sixteen mobile sculptures that work like water jets and represent different works by the Russian composer. Interestingly, it’s possible to identify which artist made each one: the black mechanical structures are by Tinguely and the colored statues belong to Saint Phalle.
Of the sixteen sculptures, it’s possible to identify the most important ones:
- “The Fox” – a structure by Jean Tinguely alluding to the 1916 opera
- “The Clown Hat” – created by Niki de Saint Phalle and referring to the 1911 ballet “Petrushka”
- “The Firebird” – another of the colorful statues of Niki de Saint Phalle, this one about the ballet of 1910
- “The Nightingale” – designed by Niki de Saint Phalle and which refers to the 1914 opera
- “Ragtime” – designed by Jean Tinguely in honor of the chamber music work of the same name
The idea for the theme of this fountain came from Pierre Boulez, the French composer, and conductor who founded IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique). Today, the facilities of this institute are located underground, with an area of rooms and offices directly below “The Stravinsky Fountain”.
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