Funding for the International Arts and Technology in modern life Exhibition in 1937 provides Paris with the opportunity to create two museums - one belonging to the City and one to the State - designed to bring together works by living artists.
Located on land formerly housing the military warehouses on the quai de Tokyo, the design selected for a double building for the Museums of Modern Art by the architects Jean-Claude Dondel, André Aubert, Paul Viard and Marcel Dastugue called “Clarté”– opens up a vast vista right down to the Seine. Two large wings extend to either side of a peristyle with clean, sober stone façades around stepped terraces. The lower forecourt with a large fountain is decorated with eight allegorical sculptures (now removed) echoing the other mythological sculptural elements: metopes on the façade, bas-relief on the base course of the terrace, decorations on the doors, a fountain, nymphs in the basin. By contrast, the interior is dictated by the most modern museum design requirements (natural zenithal or lateral light, flexible display space). The first stone of the Palais de Tokyo is laid on 5 July 1936 by the French President Albert Lebrun and the inauguration takes place on 24 May 1937.
During the Exhibition, the galleries house a variety of temporary events, but when the wing is handed back to the City of Paris in 1938, the definitive layout of the museum is far from complete.
To prevent the Palais from being requisitioned by the German authorities, the prefect for the Seine region decides in late 1940 to place the building at the disposal of Entraide des Artistes so that it can organise salons there.
Doctor Maurice Girardin’s bequest to the City of Paris means that the Petit Palais no longer has room to exhibit modern art. Work in the building focuses on opening it up and organising space for museum display purposes. From November 1956 (until 1971), the Costume Museum is temporarily installed in the cinema.The Dance by Matisse is hung between the pillars of the entrance foyer; the basement area is transformed into storerooms.
On 6 July 1961, the City of Paris Museum of Modern Art inaugurates galleries on the lower ground floor which are “open and laid out with a view to presenting a selection of works of modern and contemporary art from the City of Paris collections”. Amateur and professional Salons continue to be held at the museum, including the Paris Biennale, Salon de Mai, Salon des Réalités Nouvelles, Salon de la Jeune Peinture, etc.
On 4 June, la Fée Électricité [The Electricity Fairy] designed by Raoul Dufy for the Pavillon de l’Electricité et de la Lumière at the 1937 exhibition is installed in the former main reception hall of the international exhibition.
In January 1967, the ARC “A(nimation), R(esearch), C(onfrontation)” Section was created within the Art Moderne Museum. This initiative followed a survey to reveal the expectations of a public which was deserting traditional museums but flocking to events such as the International Youth Biennale. To be a dynamic venue for raising awareness of contemporary creation and promote radical art forms at the same time as researching the pluralism of choices, through occasional challenges – willingly delegated to an artist or a critic – and promoting cross-disciplinarity. ARC created a new relationship between Museum and artists. Its progressive, clear outward-looking approach at an international level made it an undeniable point of reference.
Further refurbishment work is undertaken when the salons are discontinued on a permanent basis. The Dance by Matisse is hung in the former screening room, and ARC moves into the first floor. The National Museum of Modern Art is transferred from the Palais de Tokyo to the Centre Georges Pompidou.
The Matisse gallery is refurbished by the architect Jean-François Bodin.
1991 and 1994
During repairs to the air conditioning system in the temporary galleries on the upper ground floor and the creation of access for visitors with disabilities supervised by the architect Jean-François Bodin, a great deal of original space is reclaimed (the entrance hall, Wilson Gallery, etc.). The acquisition in 1993 of the newly discovered incomplete version of The Dance by Matisse entails further refurbishment of the Matisse Gallery.
The architecture firm CANAL (Patrick Rubin and Annie Le Bot) is entrusted with a carrying out a survey and subsequently with the project management contract to bring the general safety arrangements at the museum in line with standards.
Spectacular work is carried out to remove asbestos from La Fée Electricité by Raoul Dufy.
The external doors are restored. The mechanisms of the monumental doors of the Museum of Modern Art created by the ironworkers Szaboa and Subes (Ingrand glass blocks and sculptures by Forestier) are also restored. This enables the metallic structure to be completely overhauled; certain corroded elements are replaced and a new patina forms on the surface which is then sealed with a thin coat of glossy wax to protect the doors.
The permanent collections are rehung
The reopening provides an opportunity to rehang works. The Cultural Affairs Division and Museum entrusts the task of reorganising the permanent collection tour to the architect Jean-François Bodin. Closed areas in the basement are also refurbished to provide the museum with a cinema to screen videos from the collection and the Boltanski Gallery is also reconfigured.
One of the highlights of autumn 2008 at the Art Moderne Museum of the City of Paris was the opening of a completely re-worked layout of its permanent collections.
This new arrangement, which has been completely redesigned and consolidated, brings together more than 500 works and for the most part is organised chronologically, punctuated by monographic series representative of the collection. It also retraces the key moments in the history of the museum since its creation in 1937 with, among other features, a room dedicated to Art Deco items and furniture. The emphasis is on the diversity of practices, with an increased number of paintings, but also sculptures and objects (decorative art and contemporary installations). Photography, video and graphic arts, together with documents and archives, some on display for the first time, complete these series.
2009: New layout of the collections
The partial reorganisation of the collections of the Art Moderne Museum of the City of Paris sheds new light on some of the great artists of the late 20th century and on more contemporary creation based around new acquisitions. Paintings from the 1980s to the current day are put into perspective: Christopher Wool, Gerhard Richter, Bridget Riley, François Morellet, etc. In a dedicated room, Jean Dupuy brings together the works of his friends, in particular those of the Fluxus movement, around his own works. Two important pieces, "Marcel" by Pierre Ardouvin and "La part maudite" (The Cursed Part) by Cerith Wyn Evans represent the early 21st century. The 2008 film "Will There Be a Sea Battle Tomorrow?" by Laurent Montaron is shown in the video room. The historical section allows visitors to gain a new understanding of the major modern movements: Fauvism, Cubism, first abstractions, 1920s and 1930s Decorative Arts, Surrealism, Paris School and masters of independent art, 1930s Figuration and New Realism.
11 avenue du Président Wilson
Tél : 01 53 67 40 00
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Late opening on Thursdays until 10pm (exhibitions only).
Permanent collection : free access
Metro Alma-Marceau or Iéna
RER C Pont de l'Alma
Bus 32, 42, 63, 72, 80, 92
Vélib' (self-service cycle hire) station: 2 rue Marceau