Palais de Tokyo – The Hub for Contemporary Art
The Palais de Tokyo, a place for dialogue and discovery, was created in 2002 and it initiated the reconciliation between the City of Light and contemporary art. Today, its outstanding programs have gained popular favour in France and abroad amongst specialists and the general public alike. With its centre stage positioning across the Seine from the Champ de Mars, the Palais de Tokyo is one of the few buildings of the 1937 International Exhibition that was made to last. This neo-classical style designed building has become a showcase for modern art. Officially opening in that role in 1947, it remained the Musée National d’Art Moderne until the opening of the Pompidou Centre in 1977. Since then, it has hosted various institutions and events, including the Paris Biennial (until 1982), the Musée d’Art et d’Essai, and the National Film School. In 1999 the Ministry of Culture and Communication decided to devote part of the space in the Palais de Tokyo to displaying and promoting contemporary art. Since 2002, the whole of the building, 22,000 square meters, has been used only for contemporary art.
The Palais de Tokyo has succeeded in making itself an essential actor on the contemporary art scene under the directorship first of Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans until 2006, followed by Marc-Olivier Wahler from 2006 to 2011. Under the leadership of its new president, Jean de Loisy, the Palais de Tokyo is now widening its scope to serve the French scene by showing it in an international context. Open to artists of all generations, it remains more committed and adventurous than ever.
Deep understanding of artists and what they do is what the Palais de Tokyo aims for. The Palais de Tokyo has to be capable of constantly changing its shape, as art itself does. The aim is to invent an ongoing exploratory experience.
The recent exhibition of Philippe Parreno is a good example. Philippe Parreno, one of the most original figures of the international art world, has radically transformed the Palais de Tokyo into a poetic space. He approaches his exhibition as an artwork in its own right. He turned to different architectural and scenographic techniques that suggest new possibilities for the building – walls, ceilings, floors, lighting, and sound; the entire structure is reinterpreted and reconceived. Movements from Stravinstky’s Petrushka act as the soundtrack to the path he proposes to visitors, who can encounter the ghost of Marilyn Monroe, see live images of a black garden in Portugal, hear the ghostly footsteps of dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, meet the character Annlee incarnated as a real little girl, walk along a street lit by flashing marquees, and discover a secret passageway in Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s bookshelf. The entire exhibition is thus orchestrated and punctuated by the ghost, the spirit of Petrushka, a puppet who, through this partitioning, turns the exhibition into an automaton. As such, the artist – who performs the roles of actor, director, and choreographer, refines the exhibition experience. This orchestration, based on thematic and temporal correspondences with Stravinsky’s composition, highlights the mysterious, secret architecture of the exhibition. It invites the viewer to plunge into a floating world between presence and absence, between forgetting and persistence, transforming the visit into a melancholy-inflected tale.
Novelles Vague (New Waves) was a large-scale event organized by 21 international young curators from 13 different countries. This event was a unique opportunity to emphasize the emergence of this new definition of the curator. 53 exhibitions transformed the entirety of the Palais de Tokyo’s exhibition space and spread out throughout the city, putting on display the artists, ideas and situations endorsed by these visionary young professionals.
The Palais de Tokyo’s areas not currently featuring exhibits are being used to bring together street and graffiti art in a middle ground between the street and the institution. This experimental space constitutes a collective work-in-progress, regrouping artists from different generations and fields of practice – from those who create their work in empty spaces to the more radical who work only on trains and subways. They come together to explore the constraints of the environment in which they work.
There are one day events – Alertes. In each “Alert”, an artist or curator is invited to react to current events like political or economic issues and to present the result of their reflection at the Palais de Tokyo. Through museum education – Mediation – the Palais de Tokyo builds a bridge between art and the viewer. The opening time of the Palais de Tokyo is from noon to midnight, the leisure hours, like cinemas and theatres, and not the times of administration. The Palais de Tokyo made its space a lively and joyful place to stay. There’s a restaurant behind the wall of mirrors that is equally suitable for sociable suppers, business lunches, or artist meetings, and a bookshop that is open until midnight – art must be part of life. This marked a significant shift for Paris. In tune with the public’s leisure time, the Palais de Tokyo invites a more informal and less institutional understanding of how we might experience art.