Closed almost a year for huge renovations, the Palais de Tokyo has reopened in dazzling fashion. This Seine-side site, built in 1937, has known a dizzying amount of functions. But 10 years ago, when the Centre Pompidou ran out of room, the Palais started to present modern art. Locals and visitors have always loved it, but it is finally now a true Paris art mecca.
What initially endeared it to Parisians? They love its opening hours (Tuesdays to Sundays, noon through midnight). They also like to be seen in its swanky restaurant (Tokyo Eat) and have a browse in the urbane bookshop. The Palais even boasts a funky vintage photo booth.
All these strong points have been kept in the redesign. Yet, where the old Palais occupied a third of its building, these renovations make it Europe’s biggest art showplace. The recent works, which cost 20 million euros, have opened up the Palais over four floors. Much of this concrete space still looks like a building site. But none of the opening partygoers were bothered. “In art,” joked Palais president Jean de Loisy, “rough edges are always important.”
The relaunch started with a VIP champagne binge, after which doors were thrown open to the public. This Paris art party, which lasted 36 hours, was open to anyone and everyone free of charge. Despite the chilly rain, crowds fought to check out the changes.
Certainly, they were rewarded with an eyeful. To propel their new baby into the spotlight, the directors have made some clever choices. They are reopening as hosts of a Paris festival that was formerly called the Force of Art. But it has been renamed La Triennale—and flamboyant Okwui Enwezor is the curator. Enwezor, who is a big-league art-world player, dubbed his Triennale “Intense Proximité/y.” He says it “emphasizes the idea of art as network.”
This is a show that praises globalization. It features Anglo, American, European and African artists plus Francophone creators around the world. Among its 50 pieces by some pretty serious art stars are works from many of Paris’s most prominent artists. Included are some truly breathtaking installations, such as the two by Ghana’s El Anatsui. (One of these is across the street, on the whole south facade of the Musée Galliera. Seen after dark, it is absolutely magical.)
The Palais is now the size of three soccer fields, with mind-boggling vistas that really welcome such grand gestures. La Triennale rises to the occasion, offering film, sculpture, installation, photos and paintings—by artists from Annette Messager to Werner Herzog. Viewing is worth it just to see the reconfigured space.
For instance, the building’s south side has been opened up, and it now reveals a view of both the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. (In mid-September, a restaurant is opening here.) That change alone, with the Palais’s new riverside doors, means visitors can walk straight here from the Eiffel Tower. Just cross the river by footbridge, then head right into the Palais.
One Paris destination spot literally just got bigger.
The new Palais has a fuller event calendar. It includes film, music, performance, lectures and conferences. Your ticket to “Intense Proximité/y” includes admission to any of these on that day. Do not miss out; check the website in advance.
The Palais de Tokyo was named not for the Japanese capital, but after the street that runs along its Seine side. Now avenue de New York, it was first the quai Debilly but became avenue de Tokio in 1918.
Six artists not to miss in the show:
1. Annette Messager, who, in 2005, represented France at the Venice Biennale and won its highest award, the Golden Lion.
2. El Anatsui, the Ghanaian artist whose rich, sumptuous installations are featured all around the world.
3. Isaac Julien: On show is an early work from this British digital-image artist given the top spot in last October’s Nuit Blanche 2011.
4. Chris Ofili: Most of the gorgeous red-and-green paintings by Ofili comprised the British Pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale. But the best (and biggest) one is from a private collection.
5. Christian Marclay: The Swiss American artist-composer has made pop art “stained-glass” windows for Tokyo Eat.
6. Camille Henrot: Henrot is one of Paris’s most important young artists; her “political ikebana” (flower arrangements) are a Triennale hit.
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