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30 August

presentation

A new museum…

In the heart of Paris's museum land, neighbouring the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, a few minutes from the Grand and Petit Palais, the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Musée du quai Branly has an exceptional location on the banks of the River Seine, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The arts of Africa, Oceania, Asia, and the Americas now form part of the historical and artistic grand tour of the capital. The Musée du quai Branly is an innovative cultural institution - museum, educational and research centre, and public living space all in one. Built on one of the last available sites in the heart of Paris, the architectural design of this original project is the work of Jean Nouvel.

Research and international cooperation

The Musée du quai Branly is also a research centre, a place where the university world meets the museum world, enabling researchers and curators to work together. Research at the Musée du quai Branly is designed to provide the collections with an effective scientific instrument, bringing together French and foreign researchers, bringing in 'resident' researchers for 4-year periods, and putting classrooms and offices at the disposal of teachers. Research at the museum takes a fresh interdisciplinary approach, associating anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and history, along with art history aesthetics. A policy of mutual aid and scientific cooperation has been established with the countries of the four continents in which artefacts originated. The Musée du quai Branly also carries out in-the-field operations designed to rescue and protect cultural heritage.

Invention of an institution, history of its collections

A museum of non-Western arts
During the 20th century, non-Western arts started to be seen in museum collections. This development was largely thanks to cubist and fauvist artists, influenced by writers and critics from Apollinaire to Malraux, and in the wake of the work of such great anthropologists as Claude Lévi-Strauss. The idea of opening a museum in Paris in 2006, entirely devoted to the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and America gave shape to a worthy ambition - to enable a whole range of viewpoints, from the ethnologist's to the art historian's, to be brought to bear upon the artefacts in question, and bring official recognition to the place occupied by civilisations and cultural heritages of peoples often held apart from global culture today. Under the august patronage of UNESCO, the Musée du quai Branly has already welcomed over 3.5 million enthusiastic visitors to the Pavillon des Sessions, its 'branch' at the Musée du Louvre, since the year 2000.

History of the collections

After years of dispersal and difficulties, it was necessary to rediscover the many precious collections assembled in France over the last five hundred years. The museum has this responsibility to its national and international public, as well as to those from the countries of origin. The collection comprises some 300,000 artefacts, most of them coming from the Musée de l’Homme (250,000 items from the ethnology laboratory) and the Musée national des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie (25,000 items). From October 2001 to the museum's opening in June 2006, a major preventive conservation campaign was carried out on all artefacts, during which they were inventoried, subjected to dust removal, photographed, digitised, and stored. In parallel, an ambitious acquisition policy was implemented as from 1997. The collection is organised by geographical area: Africa,, America, Asia and Oceania. It also accommodates geographically transversal collections (the musical instruments collection, the History collection, and the textiles collection), and a remarkable collection of photographs. The permanent collections area exhibits 3,500 artefacts from the four continents. To the west, it is crossed by the Music tower, a massive glass edifice rising through 5 levels to the very top of the building, and conserving 8,700 musical instruments. Beyond the sculptures, which vaunt their plastic power and formal variety throughout the museum, three domains - music, textiles, and silversmithery - show how major a role art plays in everyday life.

A new museum: the building

Designed by Jean Nouvel, architect - in Paris- from the Institut du Monde Arabe (with Architecture Studio) and the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, the Musée du quai Branly building resembles a long footbridge, partly covered with wood, and stretching into the trees. Hidden from view by thick vegetation, and protected from the noise of the quays by a glass palisade, the museum only reveals itself gradually, and the visitor becomes explorer. To reach it, he must cross an undulating garden designed to create an impression of remote, untamed greenery. In the building, which is perched on piles, all is curved, fluid, transparent, mysterious and, above all, warmly receptive. The architectural ensemble takes in five levels, crowned by a wide terrace with fine views of the Eiffel Tower and Paris. Inside, glass walls replace windows, and their transparency and the natural background afforded by the trees offer no distraction from the artefacts themselves. Suspended 'boxes', clearly visible from the outside and displaying works of similar origin, enable the visitor to gain further knowledge of a people or a culture. Apart from the areas devoted to permanent exhibition and the more flexible ones reserved for international exhibitions, the building also houses major reserve collections open to researchers, a mediatheque, lecture rooms and classrooms, and a theatre which, in summer, opens onto the 'open-air amphitheatre in the garden.