The opening of the Centre Pompidou in 1977 gave rise to some violent reactions; since then, however, it has won over critics and public alike. Architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers freed up maximum space inside by placing all infrastructure outside: utility pipes and escalator tubes, all brightly colour-coded according to their function, climb around the exterior in crazy snakes-and-ladders fashion. The transparent escalator on the front of the building, giving access to the Musée National d’Art Moderne, affords superb views over the city. Aside from the hugely popular museum there are two cinemas, performance spaces and a library.

Musée National d’Art Moderne

The superb Musée National d’Art Moderne presides over the fourth and fifth floors of the Centre Pompidou, with the fifth floor covering 1905 to 1960 and the fourth 1960 to the present day. Thanks to an astute acquisitions policy and some generous gifts, the collection is a near-complete visual essay on the history of twentieth-century art and is so large that only a fraction of the 50,000 works are on display at any one time. Since the opening of the museum’s sister site in Metz in 2010 many more of the museum’s holdings have been brought out of storage and put on display.

1905 to 1960

In the section covering the years 1905 to 1960 Fauvism, Cubism, Dada, abstract art, Surrealism and abstract expressionism are all well represented. There’s a particularly rich collection of Matisses, ranging from early Fauvist works to his late masterpieces – a standout is his Tristesse du roi, a moving meditation on old age and memory. Other highlights include a number of Picasso’s and Braque’s early Cubist paintings and a substantial collection of Kandinskys, including his pioneering abstract works Avec l’arc noir and Composition à la tache rouge. A whole room is usually devoted to the characteristically colourful paintings of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, contrasting with the darker mood of more unsettling works on display by Surrealists Magritte, Dalí and Ernst.

Contemporary artists

In the post-1960s section the works of Yves Klein are perhaps the most arresting, especially his luminous blue “body prints”, made by covering female models in paint and using them as human paintbrushes. Established contemporary artists you’re likely to come across include Claes Oldenburg, Christian Boltanski and Daniel Buren. Christian Boltanski is known for his large mise-en-scène installations, often containing veiled allusions to the Holocaust. Daniel Buren’s works are easy to spot: they all bear his trademark stripes, exactly 8.7cm in width. Some space is dedicated to video art, with changing installations by artists such as Rineke Dijkstra, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Pierre Huyghe.

Atelier Brancusi

On the northern edge of the Pompidou Centre, down some steps off the sloping piazza, in a small separate building, is the Atelier Brancusi, the reconstructed home and studio of Constantin Brancusi. The sculptor bequeathed the contents of his workshop to the state on condition that the rooms be arranged exactly as he left them, and they provide a fascinating insight into how he lived and worked. Studios one and two are crowded with Brancusi’s trademark abstract bird and column shapes in highly polished brass and marble, while studios three and four comprise the artist’s private quarters.

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