REPORTING FROM PARIS -- It was almost midnight in Paris, and a writhing mass of naked, purple-colored men and women slithered down steps as throngs of visitors meandered through the vast galleries and hidden nooks in the newly restored, and greatly enlarged, Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum.
With promises of experimental local and international artists, and fast-reacting exhibits alongside more permanent ones, the center's "pre-opening" Thursday and Friday, with 30 straight hours of performances, exhibits and boozing, was one of the city’s major artistic events of the year.
The restored art center across from the Eiffel Tower boasts nearly 50,000 square feet of new, raw spaces to explore.
Architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal left columns and walls in their unfinished concrete state. Bits of brick and old paint peak through roughened gray surfaces to create an under-constructed aesthetic that was initially inspired by a tight budget, but fit with the building’s modern purposes.
The new galleries were restored from the remnants of the original building, which was constructed in 1937 for the Paris Exposition. It has served several purposes since then, including modern art museum and film and photography center.
Decaying signs for the "cinémathèque" were purposely left where they were found on the ground floor.
On April 20, the Palais de Tokyo will reopen with a large exhibit for the art show called "La Triennale" that includes several venues around Paris and lasts until August. The museum’s new, "official" program will begin in September.
Windows, stairs and hallways -- nothing will be off-limits to artists invited to take over the enlarged building, now described as the largest contemporary arts site of its kind in Europe.
Artists are encouraged to follow spontaneous whims and create exhibits with little advance notice, so that the center is continually shifting, said the museum’s new director, Jean de Loisy.
"We will never have the institutional aspect that you have in the big art centers of the world," De Loisy said. "This is a place for experimenting. It’s both immense, and completely wild."
"I’m not the one doing things, it’s the artists. They will be the ones who invent the exhibits," De Loisy said. Artwork "will always be shown using freedom -- with the most extreme of freedoms. When you want to move a big painting in a museum from left to right, you have to call the unions to see if it’s possible to hang it, etc. Here it’s done in 20 seconds. So our speed and our confidence in the artists is what changes everything."
-- Devorah Lauter in Paris
Photo: French President Nicolas Sarkozy stands on a work of art by artist Ulla von Bradenburg during a tour of the renovated Palais de Tokyo exhibition center Wednesday before its inauguration in Paris. Credit: Philippe Wojazker/ EPA / Pool