There always seems to be a festive atmosphere on the “piazza” at Place Georges Pompidou in Paris, in front of the modern art museum Centre Pompidou aka Beaubourg. Groups of street performers take turns putting on shows and funny sketches here.
The Centre Pompidou was one of the first huge new projects of the 1970s. It was intended as an “original cultural institution in the heart of Paris completely focused on modern and contemporary creation,” and was first opened in 1977.
Twenty years later, in 1997, it was closed for lengthy renovation work, and then re-opened in January 2000. By now, more modernization (and asbestos removal) is needed. Another four-year closure was scheduled to begin in 2023, but has now been postponed until after the Olympic Games in 2024. Currently, the plan is to close the entire building sometime in 2025, and to re-open in 2030.
I don’t really know why the Centre Pompidou needs such extensive renovation every two decades, but I’m starting to suspect that turning the building inside-out and exposing its innards to the elements was perhaps not such a good idea after all.
Recently I came across a set of statistics from the year 2019 (the last ‘normal’ year before the coronavirus pandemic), and was surprised to learn that the modern art museum in the Centre Pompidou was the second most-often-visited museum in Paris, with 3,551,544 visitors in that year. This was slightly more than the Musée d’Orsay, which ‘only’ had 3,286,224.
Number one on the most-visited list — not surprisingly — was the Louvre with 10,105,962 visitors in 2019. In other words, the Louvre had over three million more visitors than the Pompidou and Orsay museums combined.
(These figures were compiled by the Paris Bureau of Tourism and Conventions, but I found them on a site called travelness.com.)
On the fourth and fifth floors of the Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg) is the French National Museum of Modern Art, which is said to be the second largest such museum in the world (after the Museum of Modern Art in New York).
In my photo, the painting on the left is Les Capétiens partout (Capetians everywhere), painted in 1954 by Georges Mathieu (1921-2012). According to the museum’s website, this abstract painting was intended to commemorate the founding of the Capetian Dynasty through the election of Hugues Capet as King of the Franks in the year 987. (Un-huh.)
The painting on the right, in the background, is called “Sexe-Prime. Hommage à Jean-Pierre Brisset” and was painted in 1955 by Simon Hantaï (1922–2008), a Hungarian painter who became a French citizen and spent most of his adult life in France. Jean-Pierre Brisset (1837-1919) was an eccentric self-published French writer who maintained, among other things, that humans were descended from frogs.
This painting has the fascinating title Trans-apparence du Verbe (not that I know what it means) and was painted from 1977 to 1980 by the Chilean/French artist Matta, one of the surrealist artists who took refuge in the United States during the Second World War. He lived from 1911 to 2002.
From the roof of the Centre Pompidou, you can look out over Paris in various directions. Here we are looking west towards the Eiffel Tower. (People who skip the museum and just go up to the roof are not counted in the museum statistics.)
Here we are looking northwest towards the Forum Les Halles, with the skyscrapers of La Défense off in the distance. The round building in the center of the photo is the Bourse de Commerce, and the big church is Saint-Eustache.
When I explain to people where I used to live in the Marais district, I sometimes say it was halfway between the Centre Pompidou and the Opéra Bastille, even though neither of these even existed at the time.
My photos in this post are from 2007 and 2008.
I revised the text in 2022 and added an update in 2023.
See more posts on Museums in Paris.
8 thoughts on “Centre Pompidou”
Another really interesting post, Nemorino. We love the area around Beaubourg, but not the art m museum particularly—we much prefer “older” art!
I’m surprised that there is so much interest in the more modern art. I don’t suppose they know how many of the visitors are French? Whatever – it means that people are very sophisticated that they can appreciate non-representational art. The greens in the photo suggests to me that the painter is painting grass.
I was surprised, too. I thought the Orsay Museum would have way more visitors than the Pompidou.
When I first read the statistics you quote I assumed the high numbers here were influenced by the views, but if they don’t count those who don’t actually visit the museum then yes, they are somewhat surprising.
It must have been fun to live between two places that didn’t exist.
We weren’t too excited about the Pompidou except the fun elevator ride and great views. We just love the Stravinsky Fountain next door though. It’s great fun and we try to stop at least for a coffee and to watch the activity there.
Must admit I thought the Orsay would have more visitors. Live and learn.
Yes, and the number of visitors doesn’t even include those who skip the museum and just ride up to the roof.
There seems to be a lot of interest in modern art in Paris. I just realized there are four major modern art museums in Paris that I haven’t even been to yet.
Have you been to the Fondation Louis Vuitton yet? Just the building is an experience. The park is great too.
That’s one of the four I haven’t been to yet. The others are Cartier, Pinault and the City of Paris Modern Art Museum — and I’m sure there are more.