Metz: Centre Pompidou offers views to amuse
October 11, 2010
Art museums — with their hushed milieu, looming halls and reams of information — often give the impression that art is serious stuff. But the Centre Pompidou-Metz, France’s newest national art museum, dispels this feeling by making the experience more like a funhouse.
It starts with the museum’s design. Its roof of white skin, made of Teflon-coated fiberglass, looks like a tarp inflated by wind. The undulating structure is supported by a series of contorted and curved wooden beams that form an elegant lattice — Japanese architect Shigeru Ban claimed he was inspired by a hat, although a mushroom or a yurt could have as easily inspired him. At night, when the whole translucent structure glows, it resembles a spaceship.
Inside it’s hard to know exactly what floor you’re on, or which of the four gallery halls you’re in, with ceiling mirrors everywhere reflecting items from other floors. Corridors narrow and widen inexplicably, creating strange hiding places (usually accompanied by some art surprise), and tucked among sculptures and paintings are little nooks where you can sit and watch movies, most of them silent.
Georges Méliès’ 1902 science-fiction fantasy “A Trip to the Moon” is projected onto the ceiling in one gallery. And you can slip behind some curtains for René Clair’s 1924 film “Entr’acte,” which uses early cinematic techniques, such as slow motion and double exposure, to show scenes of ballet dancers and people chasing a hearse that goes hurtling through the suburbs. Rather than competing with the art, these installations complement it nicely.
Part of the French national museum system, the Centre Pompidou-Metz will never have a permanent collection. Instead it will mount temporary exhibits from the massive stores of France’s National Museum of Modern Art.
The museum has prolonged until Jan. 17 its grandiose first exhibit, “Masterpieces?” While there is little doubt that the nearly 800 works — a mother lode of Magrittes, Matisses, Picassos, Dalis and Man Rays — are 20th-century masterpieces, the question mark seems to ask visitors: What makes a masterpiece, and does it even matter?
Beside the more famous paintings, there are works that mock the art world. One is a tin can whose label reveals that its contents are 30 grams of “freshly preserved” excrement. On the can, Italian artist Piero Manzoni boasts that he sealed his own feces inside in 1961, and that its value is worth its weight in gold. He turned out to be right; one of the cans, of which he made 90, sold at auction in 2007 for 124,000 euros.
On the same floor as Manzoni’s can are a Matisse and a “shooting painting” by Niki de Saint Phalle, who created the work by embedding plastic paint bags in plaster. The plaster sculpture was then raised, and de Saint Phalle shot it with a .22 caliber rifle — the bullets piercing the paint bags, leaking their rainbow-contents over the mashed plaster. De Saint Phalle also invited her artist friends to fire a few rounds at the sculpture.
The works are made more interesting by the way they are displayed. You can enjoy a triptych by Joan Miró while sitting on a cozy banquette, imagining it to be your living room. A Jackson Pollock painting hangs next to Pablo Picasso’s “The Dawn,” and both are initially viewed together through a series of contorted windows.
Unlike other museums, it’s possible to enjoy the exhibits for hours, thanks to the many places to sit and relax, often in front of the works themselves. And with so much jokey stuff, it’s no wonder the museum is popular with children, who run around with barely a sideways glance from staff or go to workshops with activities just for them.