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Paris Eyesore or Eyecandy?

Last night the doors of the Centre Pompidou were open after hours for the “vernissage” (opening) by invitation only of the newest exhibit, “Les Peintres de la Vie Moderne” — works from the collection of contemporary photographs from the Caisse des Dépôts donated in 2006.

Almost all of the 680 works are on show (much to my dismay). Here is a collection created between 1991 and 2003 through direct acquisitions made by the selection committee, by commissions and by assistance in producing the work. Set up by an institution “whose public aims are closely linked with land development and long-term improvement strategies,” the Caisse des Dépôts’s collection is considered a “reflection of contemporary society, its transformations and its issues.”

Much of it is surprisingly innovative and intriguing, but most of it, whether one can appreciate the works or not, has been crammed into a small space, each piece hung within a few centimeters of one another, with what seemed like little rhyme or reason, so that no one photo could be focused on without distraction from the others.

It was a rare moment to catch a photo of the lobby of the Centre Pompidou completely void of humanity. It was a brainchild of President Georges Pompidou, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, that first opened its doors to the public in 1977. It is one of the most visited attractions in France with about 6 million people who pass through its doors each year — a total of over 150 million visitors over the last 29 years, even though it was closed for two years for massive renovation reopening on the millennium.

The Centre Pompidou houses one of the most collection of modern and contemporary art in the world, including a vast public reference library of general documentation on 20th century art. It is regularly criticized for its rebellious architecture, standing like a brightly-colored Lego toy in the middle of what is one of the oldest parts of the city. The average Parisian or visitor is known to question its harmony, or lack of, with the city of Paris and architects have held forums to debate its virtues, or lack of.

Recently I received an email from James Humberd, author of “Invitation to France” who remarked: “Two different years we visited inside the Pompidou Center in Paris. It makes less sense inside than out. It had been reported by the Office of Tourism that the Pompidou is the most popular tourist attraction in the city of Paris. I found that hard to believe, so on three different visits (we’ve visited Paris 9 different years) I conducted a poll of my own. The people I talked to, members of tour groups from several countries, said they were not here by choice, but since this is where the tour bus dropped them, what option did they have?. The tour guides figured that people are reluctant to complain when they have been dropped at an art museum that has been (mis)represented as a top tourist destination.”

According to Kelby Carr at, the top 6 Paris attractions are, as visited annually:

1) Eiffel Tower: 6.2 million visitors
2) Le Louvre: 5.7 million visitors
3) Centre Pompidou: 5.5 million visitors
4) Cite des Sciences at de l’Industrie: 2.5 million visitors
5) Musée d’Orsay: 2.1 million visitors
6) Arc de Triomphe: 1.4 million visitors

Mr. Humberd, we’re not sure where you heard it was the MOST visited, since everyone knows the Eiffel Tower is the number one destination, but I must agree, 3rd place isn’t too shabby. And while tour buses do go there, they go to the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, and the Ar

c de Triomphe, too, whether the passengers want to or not.

Do you know the story about how the Eiffel Tower was met with resistance from the public when it was built, with many calling it an eyesore (novelist Guy de Maupassant ate at a restaurant at the tower regularly, because it was the one place in Paris he was sure he wouldn’t see it!)?…and look how our opinion has changed in 100 years!

I’m one of those nuts that LOVES the Centre Pompidou, for all its color and rebellious nature, for its confidence and boldness in support of contemporary art, for its place on the horizon of a city often thought of as a museum itself. Lucky me, it’s just a 15 minute walk from home, its doors open everyday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (except for Tuesdays and May 1st) to enjoy inside or out whenever I fancy. Guess that makes me one (or a a few) of the happier 5.5. million who cross its threshold every year.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. The Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group NOW meets in a new Marais location every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.! Visit for more information.

P.P.S. Be sure to also put the 5th edition of La Nuit Blanche 2006 on your calendar for October 7th and visit the six neighborhoods highlighted this year: Quartier Goutte d’Or, Quartier Centre Marais, Quartier Bercy Tolbiac, Quartier Champs-Elyses Concorde, Quartier Beaugrenelle and Quartier Carpentier. See for more information.


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