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Paris to get primitive-art museum

Musee du Quai Branly, set to open in 2006, will rise in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

September 29, 2004|Kate Brumback | Associated Press

PARIS — Burnishing its reputation as a culture capital, Paris is getting a new museum, an elegant elongated building near the Eiffel Tower for France's large and until now scattered collection of primitive art.

The $263-million Musee du Quai Branly, which builders are racing to complete for its February 2006 opening, is President Jacques Chirac's pet project. The fan and defender of indigenous cultures is following the footsteps of other French leaders in leaving his imprint on the City of Light.

Shortly after his election in 1995, Chirac asked his ministers for ideas for his legacy, and their brainstorming gave birth to the Quai Branly project, said Stephane Martin, the museum's president.

Chirac said in June, when he welcomed American Indians to his Elysee Palace, that "in these times of violence, arrogance, intolerance and fanaticism," the museum would show "France's faith in the virtues of cultural diversity and dialogue."

Much of the French state collection of nearly 300,000 pieces of indigenous non-Western art was brought back from Africa, Oceania, Asia and the Americas by colonizers and scientific research missions. It includes such diverse items as Indonesian jewelry and bows and arrows, to African figurines, and household items such as Mayan pottery. The Quai Branly will combine collections currently housed at the museums of Mankind and of African and Oceanic Arts and at the Louvre, which lacks space to exhibit all its pieces.

"The public -- French and international, and particularly the representatives of the countries of origin -- wants to have access to these collections," Martin said. "So we had to imagine a museum in which the collection would be much more accessible."

Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the long fluid building is being raised on piles, with a partly wood-covered exterior that seems more in keeping with California than Paris. Nouvel designed the building to look like the elongated shadow of the Eiffel Tower, which is just a few minutes walk away.

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