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, a library, the excellent Galerie des enfants on the first floor, which stages regular exhibitions and workshops, and the new, free Galerie de Photographies on the basement level, which organizes three exhibitions a year drawn from the centre’s archive of photographs.

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 roughly the years 1970–1980, while the fourth floor concentrates on contemporary art. 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 and a new “pop-up” gallery in Málaga, Spain, many more of the museum’s holdings have been brought out of storage and put on display.

Fifth floor

On the fifth floor, 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.

Fourth floor

The fourth floor is given over to contemporary art, featuring installations, photography and video art, as well as displays of architectural models and contemporary design. Established French artists such as Annette Messager, Sophie Calle, Christian Boltanski, Daniel Buren and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster often feature, alongside newer arrivals such as Anri Sala.

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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