Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Où est le Centre de Georges Pompidou?

The Pomipidou Centre, or Beaubourg as it is known to Parisians, celebrates its thirtieth birthday tomorrow. Conceived by and named after the late second President of the Fifth Republic, who died from cancer while in office, the centre was reviled by many of the same people that flock to it these days, i.e. the French left, who couldn't stomach a man of the right, albeit an impressively cultured one, putting his stamp on the cultural landscape of the city. Libération was one of the august organs of the left that slammed it in 1977 though their article on it in Saturday's paper was a great deal kinder. The building is now the third most-visited monument in France, after the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, and the Museum is the second most-visited modern art museum in the world, with only Tate Modern ahead of it.

I first arrived in Paris shortly after its refurbishment for the Millenium and I spent hours in there visiting both the National Museum of Modern Art, which is its biggest attraction, and the Public Reference Library, which is one of the most impressive of its kind I have ever seen. It is however a victim of its own success as the queues, particularly during winter are fearsomely long, and though I pass by the Centre about ten times a week, I don't go in much these days, preferring to use the MK2 Beaubourg cinema next door, though the Pompidou's own cinema is superb and great value for money. Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano's structure, with its services famously on the exterior, has been slammed as a 'gas factory', which is, to my mind, rather a compliment. It took inspiration from the seminal sixties architectural comic-book-cum-pamphlet Archigram, and stands as that publication's most realised scion. Piano still has an atelier across the street on rue de Beaubourg, and though the surrounding area is disappointingly tacky, sandwiched as it is between the wholesale glumness of Les Halles and the commercialised Old World charm of the Marais, the building itself is still an amiable - and still audacious, behemoth. And the views from the top aren't bad either.