France’s new Pompidou Centre in Metz is a visual delight, inside and out, containing previously unseen major works of 20th century art.
Not many people know (said Michael Caine and I) that the Art Nouveau movement had its origins partly in eastern France. In fact, in France the style is known as the Ecole de Nancy. In that beautiful city you can see many fantastic buildings of the period including Majorelle’s house. (He was the most famous designer of art nouveau furniture and examples of his work can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.) Nancy is the largest and most prosperous city in the region, but not very far away is the city of Metz, once an industrial city and now sprucing itself up with a new image.
Metz has been chosen as the new site of the second Pompidou Centre, to house the overspill of the permanent collection in Paris. Here you can see wonderful paintings which never saw the light of day in the ugly inside-out Pompidou Centre in Paris. (Inside out because all the service pipes and ducts are on the outside of the building instead of being hidden inside.)
It’s appropriate that the architects, Shigeru Ban and Jean de Gastines have designed a beautiful light structure, using a lot of natural wood, in a style which makes clear reference to the art nouveau architecture of the region. It stands like a giant mushroom in the centre of a vast white space, uncluttered by cars which are parked beneath in a huge underground car park.
Inside the Museum
The interior is a delight. The curved wooden beams intersect like a web covering the roof, but the three floors are not continuous, so that huge high spaces contrast with intimate rooms for viewing smaller works. Robert Delaunay’s long canvasses hang through the space of two floors, for example, whilst several de Stael paintings are grouped together in a small white room.
On the ground floor there’s a cafe and an over-priced bookshop. With the Euro exchange rate so unfavourable, they’re not going to sell many post cards at one euro each, and there are very few other interesting souvenirs on sale: an opportunity missed.
The paintings and sculptures are of course world class. There is none of that cutting-edge nonsense where you have to contemplate a heap of discarded mementos or a few slogans in neon. Every major 20th century artist is represented from Picasso to Matisse, from Braque to Giacommeti. It’s good to see some unfamiliar works by the great artists. An enormous Bonnard, for instance, looking down on people in a rowing boat, is breathtaking.
Metz Pompidou Centre v Maxxi, Rome
Incidentally, it’s interesting to compare this new museum with the other brand new centre for modern art which recently opened to great acclaim in Rome, the Maxxi. Designed by Zaha Hadid, that too is stunning architecturally, but inside the spaces are interesting rather than practical. How do you exhibit sculpture for instance when the floor slopes? Rome of course has the usual post modern incomprehensible artefacts on display instead of Metz’s spiritually uplifting collection. It isn’t difficult to decide which is better, and which is more likely to attract a paying public in these hard times.
Further information: Admission 7 Euros
Open every day except Tuesday