Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Tuesday, 11 May 2010 13:38 UK

Pompidou Centre spreads its wings to the provinces

By Vincent Dowd
BBC World Service

Pompidou Metz
The Pompidou Centre in Metz is designed by Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines

The French city of Metz has become the first provincial branch of Paris's famed art gallery the Pompidou Centre.

Situated in the north-eastern corner of the country, with a population of 124,000, Metz is France's 28th biggest city.

Until now, tourists have tended to pass by or visit only briefly.

The associations weren't always happy: It was annexed by Germany for almost half a century from 1871 and again in World War II.

And maybe modern France simply has too many rival attractions, many in sunnier climes.

But from this week the capital of the region of Lorraine is on Europe's cultural map.

After its opening by President Sarkozy, art lovers are expected to flock to the Pompidou-Metz - a little brother for that very 1970s cultural institution, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Vassily Kadinsky Bleu de Ciel 1940  Adagp, Paris 2010
Works by major artists such Kadinsky are on display for the opening

Physically, Pompidou-Metz bears no real resemblance to its older sibling, though it has access to all its 65,000-strong catalogue of artworks for its exhibitions.

About 90 per cent of the opening display, called Masterpieces?, is comprised of works from the original Pompidou, although Metz is free to stage exhibitions unrelated to what's on display in Paris.

But no one should fear the opening exhibition consists of Parisian cast-offs.

There's major work by Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky and Joan Miro.

Plus, there are important sculptures, pieces of furniture, films and installations.

Spread over four floors, Pompidou-Metz is big enough to impress but compact enough not to leave visitors exhausted.

The centre's existence is a sign of new thinking in Paris. Never before has a major institution exported its name and expertise to the provinces.

The director Laurent Le Bon says France, highly centralised, has learnt from the success of Tate Liverpool and of Guggenheim Bilbao.

"For us it's a little French Revolution - yet it's such a simple thing. We are just saying that the big collections are for everyone, not just for Paris."

Pushed hard, Mr Le Bon admits his favourite in the opening display is La Tristesse du Roi by Matisse. But he's clearly delighted with all the works brought to Metz.

Pablo Picasso La Muse 1935  Adagp, Paris 2010
Organisers at Metz hope Picasso's work will be just one of the lures of their new centre

And this isn't the end of the process. In 2012, the mighty Louvre too will open a provincial outpost in Lens in northern France. Paris is convinced culture will help regenerate the outer regions of France.

Fans of modern architecture will flock to Metz as much as art-lovers. The tall and airy building is the work of Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines and shows Ban's Japanese roots.

Over a concrete base extends an exposed wooden frame (mainly spruce) and an undulating white roof of fibreglass.

Ban is known for his temporary structures: Pompidou-Metz has the same attractive lightness in a permanent structure.

Those running Pompidou-Metz point out that visitors can be there within an hour and a half of stepping onto a TGV in Paris.

With its audacious and graceful architecture, and with the riches inside, it seems certain many will take up the suggestion.

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