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Musée du quai Branly

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Gardens from rue de l'University with vegetation like fence in the pond.
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View of the African exhibit hall
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A moving stream of words, called "The River", flows down the winding ramp that leads from the entrance of the museum to the main galleries.

The Musée du quai Branly (Template:IPA-fr), in Paris, France, features the indigenous art and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The museum collection has 450,000 objects, of which 3,500 are on display at any given time, in both permanent and temporary thematic exhibits. A selection of objects from the museum is also displayed in the Pavillon des Sessions of the Louvre Museum.

The Quai Branly Museum opened in 2006, and is the newest of the major museums in Paris. It received 1.3 million visitors in 2013.[1] It is jointly administered by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, and serves as both a museum and a center for research. The museum takes its name from the bank of the Seine at that location, which is named for the French scientist Édouard Branly.

The Musée du quai Branly is located in the 7th arrondissement of Paris, on the left bank of the Seine, close to the Eiffel Tower and the Pont de l'Alma. The nearest métro and RER stations are Alma – Marceau and Pont de l'Alma.


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Musée du quai Branly under construction, May 2000.
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A Moai ancestor's head from Easter Island (11th-15th century), carried to France in 1872 by the French Rear-Admiral Lapelin, now in the entrance hall of the museum.
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Schoolchildren visiting the Americas gallery, seen from the mezzanine

Following the tradition of French presidents building museums as monuments to their time in office, as exemplified by Presidents Georges Pompidou (the Beaubourg); Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (the Musée d'Orsay) and François Mitterrand (the Grand Louvre), the project for a new museum celebrating the arts of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania was brought to completion by President Jacques Chirac.

A number of French intellectuals and scientists, including André Malraux, André Breton, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, had called for a single and important museum in Paris dedicated to the arts and cultures of non-European societies, drawing upon the large collections gathered by French explorers, missionaries and ethnologists. A proposal for such a museum had been made by the ethnologist and art collector Jacques Kerchache in a 1990 manifesto in the newspaper Libération in 1990, called "The masterpieces of the entire world are born free and equal." The manifesto was signed by three hundred artists, writers, philosophers, anthropologists and art historians. Kerchache brought the idea to the attention of Jacques Chirac, then Mayor of Paris, and became his advisor. Chirac was elected president of France in 1995, and in the following year announced the creation of a new museum combining the collections of two different museums:

  • the 25,000 objects of the Musée national des Arts d'Afrique et Océanie (The MAAO or National Museum of the Arts of Africa and Oceania), which had originally been created for the Colonial Exposition of 1931, and then remade in 1961 by André Malraux, the Minister of Culture under President Charles DeGaulle, into a museum dedicated the cultures of the overseas possessions of France;
  • the collections of the laboratory of ethnology of Museum of Man, created for the Paris Exposition of 1937, which contained 250,000 objects.

The two museums and collections were very different in their purposes and approaches; the MAAO was first and foremost an art collection, run by art historians and conservators, while the Museum of Man was run by ethnologists and anthropologists, and was most interested in the social-cultural context and uses of the objects. As a result of this division, the new museum was put under two different ministries; the Ministry of Education, which oversaw the ethnological teaching and research; and the Ministry of Culture and Communication, which oversaw the art.[2]

In addition to these existing collections, gathered by French explorers and ethnologists from around the world, the directors of the new Museum acquired an additional ten thousand objects.[3]

The first venture of the new museum was the opening of a new gallery within the Louvre Museum, in the Pavillon des Sessions, dedicated to what were called the arts premiers, the "first arts". The new section met immediate resistance; traditionalists felt that this kind of art did not not belong in Louvre, while many ethnologists felt that it risked splitting the collections into two parts, with the best objects going to the Louvre. The issue was resolved by a decree by President Chirac and the government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on 29 July 1998, to construct an entirely new museum at 29-55 quai Branly on the banks of the Seine not far from the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. In December 1998, the Museum was officially established, and Stéphane Martin was named its president.[2]

The site selected for the new museum, covering an area of 25,000 square meters, was occupied by a collection of buildings belonging to the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urbanism. President François Mitterrand had originally intended it for one of his grand projects, an international conference center, but that project had been abandoned because of intense opposition from the residents of the neighborhood. At the beginning of 1999 a jury was formed and an international competition was held to select an architect. The competition was won by French architect Jean Nouvel, whose other major works included the Institute of the Arab World (1970), and Fondation Cartier (1991-94) in Paris, the renovation of the Lyon Opera (1986–93), the Palais de Justice in Nantes, and the Parc Poble Nou in Barcelona (2001).

In his design for the new museum, Nouvel took into account the criticisms of the neighbors who had blocked the Mitterrand project. The new museum was designed to be as out of sight as possible; the main building is designed to appear lower than the buildings around it, and is largely screened from view by its gardens. The shape of the main building follows the curve of the Seine, and the three administrative buildings are constructed to harmonize with the Haussmann-period buildings next to them.[2]

In an attempt to create "an original venue that would do justice to the infinite diversity of cultures," the museum is designed in a way that that is supposed to feel open and inclusive. Nouvel designed the interior of the museum in such a way as to liberate artifacts from their Western architectural references by not including barriers and railings in the gallery spaces. There are no physical or spatial barriers separating the four main geographical areas, so visitors can go on a simulated "journey" by traveling from one continent to the other. Labels are almost hidden, and plaques with historical context are brief and generalized, in a way that seems to emphasize the aesthetic qualities of the displays rather than their cultural history.[4]

Construction of the new museum began at the beginning of 2001, and was completed in 2005. The Musée du quai Branly opened on June 23, 2006.[5]

The collections

The museum contains the collections of the now-closed Musée national des Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie and the ethnographic department of the Musée de l'Homme, plus ten thousand recently acquired objects. The permanent collection has 450,000 objects, including 1,500 paintings and 9000 sculptures, of which 3,500 items are on display.[6] The museum has both permanent exhibits and large exhibits which change every six months. The museum also has thematic exhibits featuring masks and tapa cloth from Oceania, costumes from Asia, and musical instruments and textiles from Africa.

Temporary exhibits at the Museum touch upon a wide variety of subjects and themes. Themes of the exhibits in the summer of 2014 included the history and culture of tattoos, propaganda posters from Vietnam, and an exhibit about the influence of the culture of Oceania on American popular culture in the 20th century. This last exhibit, called "Tiki Pop", featured films, posters, music, clothing, and a recreation of a Polynesia-themed "tiki bar" from the 1960s.

The museum has notable collections of objects from gathered during the French colonization of North America, from Quebec to Louisiana, in the 17th and 18th centuries, and also on the role of women voyagers in the 18th and 19th centuries. It also has a notable collection of paintings by Aboriginal Australians, in particular paintings made on eucalyptus tree bark.

A small selection of the collected objects of the museum is regularly displayed in the Pavillon des Sessions of the Louvre Museum.

Selected objects from the collections

African collection

Asian collection

Americas collection

Oceania collection


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The museum and gardens seen from the first level of the Eiffel Tower
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The main galleries and the mezzanine of the museum, connected by a winding ramp

The museum complex has four buildings, occupying Script error: No such module "convert"., which, along with the garden, cost 233 million euros to construct.

  • The main building containing the galleries of the museum is Script error: No such module "convert". long and covers Script error: No such module "convert"., and has a Script error: No such module "convert". terrace on the roof, the largest roof terrace in Paris, which also has a restaurant and mediatheque. It is constructed like a huge bridge, ten meters over the garden, supported by two large concrete silos at the east and west ends and by twenty-six steel columns. As the trees of the garden around the building grow, the columns will be completely hidden and the building will appear to be resting on the treetops.[7]

Visitors enter the main building through a small entrance, and then follow a winding ramp up a gentle slope to the main gallery, two hundred meters long. The main gallery is dark inside, with a small amount of sunlight entering from outside, and with direct lighting only on the exhibited objects from the permanent collection. Thirty different galleries are placed on the north side, which are visible on the outside of the structure as boxes of different colors. Three mezzanines look down on the main gallery; the center mezzanine is the multimedia center, and the other two mezzanines are used for temporary exhibits. The west mezzanine has a new exhibition every eighteen months, while the exhibition on the east mezzanine changes each year. The garden side of the building contains an auditorium, classrooms, lecture hall and restaurant.

  • The Branly building contains administrative offices, and has one hundred forty work spaces on five floors. Its most unusual feature is the green wall, or wall of vegetation, composed of living plants, on the north side of the building, facing the Seine.
  • The Auvent building, connected by footbridges with the Branly building, has sixty work spaces, and houses the Jacques Kerchache lecture hall and an archive of 700,000 photographs and sound recordings.
  • The building on the rue de l'Université contains the museum's workshops and library. The ceilings and facade of the building are decorated with the works of eight contemporary artists, four men and four women, who are Australian aborigines.


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The "green wall" of the Branly building is made up of living plants
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a winding path in the north garden of the Quai Branly museum. The glass wall blocks the noise of traffic on the quai.

In the original project for the museum, 7,500 square meters of the 25,000 square meter site were set aside for gardens. The winning architect, Jean Nouvel, increased the size of the gardens to 17,500 square meters. The gardens were designed by landscape architect Gilles Clément, They were designed to be the exact opposite of a traditional French formal garden; there was no fence, no lawn, no gates, no monumental stairway; instead, Clément composed a tapestry of small gardens, with streams, hills, pools, and groves, using the native French plants and imported plants accustomed to the Paris climate.

On the north side, facing the street along the Seine, the garden is protected by a high double wall of plate glass, which blocks most of the sound from the street. The gardens on the north side practically hide the museum building. Instead of straight paths and a long axis to the entrance, the paths wind through the gardens, with no apparent destination. The gardens contain 169 trees and 72,000 plants.[8]

A notable feature of the Museum garden is the green wall, or wall of vegetation, created by botanist Patrick Blanc. The living wall of greenery covers 800 square meters of the facades of the museum, and 150 square meters of the interior walls. It includes 15,000 plants of 150 different varieties, coming from Japan, China, the Americas and Central Europe.[8]


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The library of the Musée du quai Branly, facing the garden

The museum has a library with 3 main departments:

  • the book collection, with 2 reading rooms—a research reading room on the top floor and a popular reading room on the ground floor
  • the picture collection with photographs and drawings
  • the archive collection

The library also holds collections from important ethnologists, including Georges Condominas, Françoise Girard, and Nesterenko, as well as that of art collector Jacques Kerchache.

Criticism and controversy

Not all critics were pleased with the new museum when it opened. Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of the New York Times, published a review on 2 July 2006 entitled: "Heart of Darkness in the City of Light". He called the museum "a missed opportunity and an inexplicable exercise" and said it was "devised as a spooky jungle, red and black and murky, the objects in it chosen and arranged with hardly any discernible logic. The place is briefly thrilling, as spectacle, but brow-slappingly wrongheaded....The place simply makes no sense. Old, new, good, bad are jumbled all together without much reason or explanation, save for visual theatrics."[9]

The MQB was involved in a controversy over the return of Maori tattooed heads, known as mokomokai, held in France. The controversy arose after a museum in Normandy decided to return a tattooed head to New Zealand. Since 2003, the Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand's national museum, has embarked on a program of requesting the return of Maori remains held in institutions around the world.[10] While the MQB was initially reluctant to return the mokomokai to New Zealand, a change in French law in 2010 allowed for discussions which resulted in repatriation.[10] The mokomokai were formally returned to New Zealand on 23 January 2012 and they now housed at Te Papa and are not on display.[10]

Australian Art Market Report Issue 23 Autumn 2007 Pages 32–34: "Twelve months after the opening of Musée du quai Branly in Paris, journalist Jeremy Eccles takes a look at what effect, if any, the museum" (where contemporary Aboriginal art forms an integral part of the architectural structure) " has had on .... Aboriginal art"

In this article, he quotes Bernice Murphy - co-founder of the Sydney MCA and now National Director of Museums Australia and Chair of the Ethics Committee of the International Council of Museums. She told a Sydney symposium on 'Australian Arts in an International Context' that she found the whole of Quai Branly to be a "regressive museology" and the presentation of Aboriginal art "in a vegetal environment" to be "an exotic mise en scène" in the worst taste. "It can't be decontextualised into a glorious otherness".

There is some speculation that the museum also plays a key political role for France. At the time the museum opened in 2007, France was still attempting to reconcile increasing ethic diversity among the nation's population within its Republican model of assimilation, and even homogeneity. From this perspective, the museum can be seen as a symbolic effort to reach out to non-Western peoples of the world, while also proclaiming French openness to the world. Given this supposed motivation behind the museum, there has been some controversy among historical and artistic intellectuals as to what the museum's ultimate purpose is, and whether or not the presentation of the galleries actually achieves this purpose. [11]

Furthermore, there has also been controversy as to whether the artifacts on display should be viewed as anthropological objects or as pieces of art. In her paper "Double erasures: rewriting the past at the Musée du quai Branly," Nélia Dias grapples with the this question by examining the tension between museum anthropology and general museum practices. In conclusion, she writes, "If the dichotomy of formal presentation versus contextual presentation is no longer relevant to museum anthropology practice, Branly does not seem to solve, in its permanent gallery, the dilemma between anthropology and aesthetics. By contrast, its temporary exhibits attempt to overcome such a dilemma and to open new venues through the display of objects in an historical and cross-cultural perspective. Whether this will lead to a new path remains to be seen."[12]

See also


Notes and citations

  1. Le Parisien, 2 February 2014
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Demeude, Hugues, Musee du quai Branly - L'esprit du lieu, pp. 1-5.
  3. Moireau, Fabrice, Les jardins du musee du quai Branly, p. 2-5
  4. Dias, Nélia (2008). "Double erasures: rewriting the past at the Musée du quai Branly". Anthroplogie Sociale. 
  5. Paris Primitive: Jacques Chirac's Museum on the Quai Branly, Sally Price (2007)
  6. Internet site of the Musee du Quai Branly
  7. Demeude, Hugues, Musee du quai Branly - L'esprit du lieu, pp. 18–22
  8. 8.0 8.1 Moireau, Fabrice, Les jardins du musee du quai Branly, pp. 5-8
  9. [1]
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2
  11. Dias, Nélia (2008). "Double erasures: rewriting the past at the Musée du quai Branly". Anthropologie Sociale. 
  12. Dias, Nélia (2008). "Double erasures: rewriting the past at the Musée du quai Branly". Anthropologie Sociale. 


  • Demeude, Hugues, Musée du quai Branly - L'esprit du lieu (2006), Editions Scala, Paris (ISBN 9782866563776)
  • Sally Price, Paris Primitive: Jacques Chirac's Museum on the Quai Branly, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • Moireau, Fabrice, Les jardins du musée du quai Branly (2009), Gallimard, Paris (ISBN 978-2-74-242374-3)
  • Odile Grandet, "The médiathèque at the musée du quai Branly in Paris : virtual, but more than that". Art Libraries Journal, 2007, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 35–39. ISSN 0307-4722.

External links

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