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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 11:28 GMT
Pompidou celebrates 25th birthday
The Pompidou centre caused a stir when opened
The Pompidou centre caused a stir when opened
By Rory Mulholland in Paris

The Pompidou Centre, one of France's most celebrated cultural and tourist attractions, still has the power to shock 25 years after it first opened its doors.

But opinion is divided as to whether it is, or ever was, at the forefront of the country's artistic scene.

The centre has always been popular with tourists
The centre has always been popular with tourists
"For all its architectural radicalism, it has not infused new energy into French culture," says critic Giles Worsley of the Daily Telegraph.

"Visitors come to see its collection of classic modern art - the art of Picasso, Braque and Matisse - or for temporary exhibitions on the same subject.

"Almost without exception, what is of interest was created before 1971."

Best works

The famous "inside-out" building, with its externalised infrastructure, brightly-coloured pipes and ducts and an escalator snaking up within a glass tube over a sloping piazza, provides an unavoidable explosion of colour in the heart of one of Paris' oldest quarters.

While the Louvre contains art up to the end of the 18th Century, and the Musée d'Orsay exhibits 19th Century creations, the role of the Pompidou's National Museum of Modern Art is to display the best works of art of the 100 years that have just ended.

A focus for arts and events
But, insists the centre's spokesman, Jean-Pierre Biron, it is also a museum of the 21st Century.

"In the Modern Art Gallery we have deliberately placed the more contemporary creations on the fourth floor so that people who might not otherwise have viewed them will stop as they head for the more historical collection on the fifth floor," Mr Biron told BBC News Online.

He emphasises that the centre is much more than just a museum. It houses a huge public library, two cinemas, performance spaces and a series of cavernous halls for temporary exhibitions.

It also holds regular debates, conferences and lectures.

Experimental films

On Thursday, the centre's 25th birthday, visitors can see temporary shows on the architecture of Jean Nouvel.

They can catch dance performances on video as part of the 20th edition of the annual Videodanse festival.

Or, in the cinema, they can see experimental films of the 1920s and 1930s by the German director Oskar Fischinger.

In January a new 4,000 square metre space dedicated to contemporary art opened at the Palais de Tokyo, directly across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

'Very happy'

Some critics have said that the Palais de Tokyo's new gallery is doing what the Pompidou has failed to. But the Pompidou's Jean-Pierre Biron doesn't see it as a threat.

"We can't do everything," he says.

"I'm very happy that this new space has opened. I don't see how any new venture in art could be a threat. I can only welcome it."

A more serious challenge to the Pompidou could come from the former Renault car factory at Boulogne-Billancourt, in the Paris suburbs.

There the Japanese architect Tadao Ando is building a contemporary art gallery twice the size of the Bilbao Guggenheim for the billionaire French collector Franois Pinault.

It's scheduled to open in 2006.

In the meantime, the Pompidou, whatever the squabbles about its raison d'etre, will continue to satisfy most, if not all, of the six million visitors it receives each year.

Spectacular views

They are proof that the centre, apart from being one of the world's greatest repositories of modern art, is an undeniable success in many other ways.

Its library is used by around 9,000 readers a day, the lobby is a great meeting place for Parisians and tourists alike, and the top floor cafe and restaurant provide some of the most spectacular views over the city.

And the building, designed by British architect Richard Rodgers and the Italian Renzo Piano, has become one of Paris' great landmarks, on a par with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

See also:

03 Oct 00 | Entertainment
France celebrates British cinema
01 Jan 00 | Europe
Pompidou Centre reopens for 2000
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