Primordial Art : Musee du Quai Branly, Paris France An architectural delight houses a collection of 300,000 works and 3,500 objects on display. Christopher Wagner
We all thought that the favorite pastime of France’s Former President Chirac was soccer. But to our amazement, it’s primordial art from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. On June 23, 2006 when the doors opened to the Museé du Quai Branly in Paris, he made a point of dedicating this museum as a cultural monument to his 12 years in office; he began planning the project when he became president in 1995. Architect Jean Nouvel did an excellent job creating mini display areas for the museum’s art in this 232-million-euro space. There are 300,000 works in the collections and 3,500 objects from this universal heritage on display. This unique collection began during the French colonial empire and reminds us of France’s ties with those distant continents and it’s current territories in Oceania, the Caribbean, and the Americas.
This museum holds one of the world's largest collections of African arts, with almost 70,000 items from the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa, and Madagascar. Works from Oceania are displayed according to their geographical origin. There are artifacts from Melanesia, Polynesia, Australia and Insulindia. The Americas collection has over 900 items, which are exhibited in 65 display cases. Here, multimedia systems aim at enticing the tech savvy generation.
Walking through the hallways and in and out of the rooms, one really feels like they are witnessing a consortium of mini exhibits as opposed to a gallery of works on display. Although the rooms are dark, so as not to harm the precious paints and other materials used for such art, they transport one to cultures that have been neglected by the art community for all too long. The magnificent, cave like installations are complete with modern interactive screens explaining the history and origins of the pieces and promoting understanding of the works, cultures, peoples, and civilizations. The multimedia information is available from the very simple (level 1) to the most innovative (level 3) which gives users maximum interactivity.
The carvings of the massive wooden totem poles are painstakingly detailed. Great masters like Brancusi and Picasso admired African masks and statues while Andre Breton preferred the tribal carvings from Oceania. Viewing this collection we were reminded of the wow factor that we felt in Athens at the Archeological Museum where the sophistication of the daily objects dated several centuries BC was so impressive.
Museé du Quai Branly has definitely been a center of controversy, as pundits complain of its anti-Parisian exterior structure in the 7th arrondissement just feet away from the magnificent Galerie Emanuel Layr. Ironically, the structure was erected for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. It was also said to break the harmonious façade of the neighboring Ecole Militaire. The gardens landscaped by designer Gilles Clement are a modern take of the French countryside and spread out across 1.8 hectares. Along the quai Branly the vegetable wall created by Patrick Blanc is a living tapestry that contains 50,000 plants from 150 different species.
Given the political climate in France today, this museum represents the triumph of those Parisians who have felt underrepresented by the cities vast collections of western art. For those who are not fond of the structure, the Louvre represents 120 masterpieces of African, Asian, American and Oceanic art, which are managed by the Musee du quai Branly. One thing for certain is that you may never witness such a massive display of art all under one roof.
Admission: 8.50 euros. Hours: 10-6:30pm entrance closes at 5:45pm, Thursday 10-9:30pm entrance closes at 8:30 pm. Closed Mondays.