Don’t miss the Palais de Tokyo


It doesn’t matter what is on at the Palais de Tokyo. If I am in Paris, then I’m going to this art venue. But I have talked to so many people who visit Paris and miss this gem. It is just across the river from the Eiffel Tower and open from noon to midnight. The view from the piazza, the restaurants, and the adjacent City of Paris Museum of Modern Art make this a place you can stay for a while.

Palais de Tokyo © Florent Michel/11h45
Palais de Tokyo © Florent Michel/11h45

The building of the Palais de Tokyo was originally built in 1937 to host the French state’s collection of modern art. Although, when the Centre Pompidou opened in 1976, it took over as the hub for modern art. In the 90s, the Palais de Tokyo was either under renovation or abandoned until Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans proposed a new mission for the venue. It is inspired by KW in Berlin and PS1 in New York City to be a venue for experimental production. And in 2002, Palais de Tokyo enlarged the space to 236,000 square feet by renovating the basement areas. “Renovated” might not be the best word because it feels more like they excavated the cavernous rooms. Either way you say it, the expansion makes their space twice as big as Mass MoCA. I visited before and after the expansion. And the spirit of spontaneity and rawness is boldly maintained in the architecture and programming. The maze of unearthed spaces and crude materials impact your journey.

Christian Marclay's Seven Windows at Palais de Tokyo
Christian Marclay’s Seven Windows at Palais de Tokyo

There is no direct path through the museum. Your visit is as much about being there as it is about seeing the artwork. Also, there is no permanent collection. Instead you will find new installations by artists like Christian Marclay, Allora & Calzadilla, Henrique Oliveira, or Numen/ForUse. The Palais de Tokyo is currently closed until December to prepare for new exhibitions, which will include Rodrigo Braga and Tino Sehgal. Here are a few artworks my family loved from our latest visit.

Vivien Roubaud’s Site Specific Installation

Suspended in the air, a sheet of plastic floats and swells in the air. We were mesmerized by the slow movement, transparency, and scale. And the most beautiful part is that it is simple a sheet of plastic.


Le Palais des monteurs (The Handler’s Palais)

The basement is one of the best places in the Palais de Tokyo. It is usually much darker than the above photograph. There seems to be art everywhere and there is truly no one direction for viewing it. The recent group exhibition that occupied this space was art made by the handlers who work at the Palais de Tokyo. Art handlers are employed to carry and install artwork. Many are artists themselves. Works by Outcast, Louis Picard, Françoise Perronno, and Alexandre Chevalier were fantastic.


JR and Os Gemeos (from Instagram)

“Manutention” by JR and Os Gemeos

In 2012, the Palais de Tokyo started the Lasco Project to showcase urban art projects. The latest was a collaboration between JR and Os Gemeos. They climbed into the tunnels under the Palais de Tokyo to make a work of art that no one will see. From 1940-1944, these tunnels were used to hide thousands of stolen pianos that the Nazi’s seized during their occupation. The video playing in the halls of the Palais de Tokyo shows the artists making a memorial to these instruments. The mystery of being under a museum and making pictures where no one can see them drove my four year old’s imagination crazy. He was overflowing with questions and can’t wait to get down there one day!

You can learn more about the building from the architects, Lacaton and Vassal, or click on the images for the source.


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