Architecture & sculpture

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La Villette (Paris)
La Villette (Paris)
Architect : Christian de Portzamparc
Photo : ©F. de la Mure/MAE

Since the late 19th century, French artists have played a decisive role in the development of modern painting: the work of the Impressionists, Cézanne and the Fauvists, for example, inspired the Cubist movement. The millions of art lovers flocking each year to the Louvre, the Orsay Museum, the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center and the Picasso Museum in Paris bear witness to France’s role as a centre for the arts. Over the years, Paris has exerted a strong pull over artists from all over the world such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Miró, Van Dongen, Modigliani, Soutine, Chagall, Brancusi, Giacometti, Dali and many more besides, who came to work in the studios of Montparnasse and Montmartre.

Since the 1950s, a plethora of trends and schools of painting, ranging from geometrical abstraction to pop art, have sprung up, once again revolutionizing modern art and to a large extent shifting the focus of the avant-garde from Paris to New York. French artists, in the meantime, have kept pace creatively: the work of Christian Boltanski, Daniel Buren, Pierre Soulages, César and Ipoustéguy has won international recognition and the new generation is continuing to influence the major trends in contemporary art. The French art galleries, which are concentrated in Paris, are opening up to the export market, while retaining the characteristics of small businesses. Since 2001, the international firms Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been holding auctions in France. Established in 1974, the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) has contributed to the recognition of contemporary art in France. In the context of the art market’s increasing internationalization, France plays a modest yet by no means insignificant part.

State encouragement for this creative activity is expressed first of all in art teaching and in the facilities made available to young artists: the award of grants and prestigious scholarships providing access to such institutions as the Academy of France at the Villa Medici in Rome. It is also expressed in various kinds of assistance awarded for publication or a first show to artists and professionals from all contemporary artistic disciplines by the Ministry of Culture’s Fund for the Encouragement of Creativity (FIACRE). Thirty-three contemporary art centres supported by the state organize exhibitions, residencies and public awareness campaigns as well as pursuing publishing activities. The Palais de Tokyo contemporary art centre opened in January 2002, with the aim of familiarizing the public with contemporary art forms.

Since the 1980s, state sponsorship of the arts has also included commissioning works from artists, a type of patronage that had died out, as well as a programme of major public buildings. Some of the works commissioned from contemporary artists have had a spectacular impact. Daniel Buren’s columns in the Palais Royal courtyard caused months of heated debate reminiscent of the passions stirred up a century earlier, when Rodin’s statue of Balzac was erected. In Paris alone, these new public works include Arman’s "accumulations" of clocks and suitcases in front of the Saint-Lazare railway station, César’s homage to Picasso, Jean Dubuffet’s Tour aux figures on the island of Saint-Germain, the stage curtain of the Athénée theatre painted by Jean-Pierre Chambas or Giuseppe Penone’s Arbre des voyelles in the Tuileries Gardens.

Finally, the new public buildings that have sprung up in Paris since the beginning of the 1980s are a tribute to the creativity of architects from all over the world. The Pompidou Center, for example, was designed in the 1970s by the British architect Richard Rogers and the Italian Renzo Piano. The old Orsay station in Paris, a symbol of railway architecture from the end of the 19th century, was remodelled by three French architects and an Italian to house 19th-century art and reopened as the Musée d’Orsay (Orsay Museum) in 1986. To celebrate its bicentenary in 1993, the most famous Parisian museum of all was given a face-lift: the Grand Louvre was entirely refurbished by the American architect I. M. Pei. Symbolized by its glass pyramid, it constitutes the axis of a magnificent perspective which extends through the Tuileries Gardens and along the Champs-Elysées to the Grand Arch of La Défense - the work of the Danish architect Von Spreckelsen.

In the north of Paris, the park at La Villette, designed by Bernard Tschumi, forms a city-garden which takes in a whole series of buildings: the Zénith concert hall, where all sorts of concerts are staged, including big pop concerts, Adrien Fainsilber’s astonishing Géode (a venue offering a ‘total’ cinematic experience) and the City of Music, “architecture adapted to sound” in the words of its creator, Christian de Portzamparc. The banks of the Seine upriver from Notre-Dame also catch the eye, with Jean Nouvel’s Arab World Institute (IMA) and the new headquarters of the Ministry of Finance at Bercy, designed by Paul Chemetov. Farther back stand the Bastille Opera House (1989), the work of architect Carlos Ott, and the four towers of the National Library of France (BNF), designed by Dominique Perrault and opened to the public in 1996. The future Quai Branly Museum built by Jean Nouvel and the landscape architect Gilles Clément and due to open in 2004, will give the arts of Africa, the Americas and Asia their rightful place in French museums. Finally, the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (Palais de Chaillot Architecture and Heritage Centre) designed by the architect Jean-Louis Cohen is scheduled to open in 2005. The provinces are not to be outdone, with achievements such as the refurbishment of the Lyon Opera House by Jean Nouvel in 1986, and the construction of the Carré d’Art Museum in Nîmes, designed by Norman Foster in 1993.

Dernière modification : 12/09/2007

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