The birth of a concept
In 1969, President Pompidou took a decision to dedicate the Plateau Beaubourg area of Paris to the construction of a multidisciplinary cultural centre of an entirely new type, injecting new impetus to a series of projects that had hitherto failed to come to fruition: the plan to build a major public reading library in Paris, with the biggest visitor capacity for any such initiative since the Liberation. And beyond that, the rehabilitation of the Musée national d’art moderne, back then housed in a wing of the Palais de Tokyo that was in a state of semi-abandonment for lack of resources and space.
Besides creating a new library and the transfer of the Musée national d’art moderne, the new Centre project incorporated the activities of the Centre d’art contemporain (Centre for Contemporary Art) in the street Berryer and the small team around François Mathey, which had pursued a dynamic policy of contemporary art exhibitions within the museum of decorative arts.
The 1970s saw the addition of a centre for musical creation based on the vision of composer Pierre Boulez, who had decided to leave France a few years previously to protest against the state of contemporary music in our country. The creation of the IRCAM project would at last enable him to return to France.
The international architecture competition
A major competition for ideas was launched, in which, for the first time in our country, architects from throughout the world were invited to participate. 681 competitors from 49 different countries presented projects.
A project involving three associated architects was selected by the international jury, chaired by the architect-engineer Jean Prouvé: two Italians, Renzo Piano and Gianfranco Franchini, and an Englishman, Richard Rogers, all virtually unknown at the time. Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers oversaw practically the entire management of the project and then went on to lead distinguished careers in their own rights, each winning the prestigious Pritzker Prize, the highest distinction in the field of architecture.
Today considered one of the emblematic buildings of the 20th Century and taken to their hearts by Parisians, the Piano and Rogers building, often compared by critics to an oil refinery, was the subject of huge controversy throughout the 1970s.
Inauguration and public opening of the Centre Pompidou
The Centre Pompidou was inaugurated on 31 January 1977. Since its opening to the public on 2 February, 1977, it has proved a huge success, far exceeding expectations. It quickly became one of the world's most popular cultural venues and one of the most visited monuments in France.
The late 70s and 80s saw the Centre offer exhibitions that became legends in their time, such as the "Paris." series ("Paris-New York", "Paris-Berlin", "Paris-Moscow", "Paris-Paris"),"Vienna, birth of a century", "The Immaterials","Memories of the Future", "Maps and Figures of Earth", "Magicians of the Earth". Under the leadership of its directors, Pontus Hulten and Dominique Bozo, the MNAM collection grew considerably and became a world leader in the field of modern and contemporary art.
Following a comprehensive reform of the Centre Pompidou's organization with the creation in particular of the Department of Cultural Development (DDC), encompassing live performances, film and the spoken word, the merger of MNAM and CCI led to the creation of an architecture and design collection which in twenty years would become one of the most remarkable in the world.
After twenty years of activity and after having welcomed over 150 million visitors, the Centre Pompidou underwent extensive renovation work at the initiative of then President Jean-Jacques Aillagon. The state allocated resources to create the additional space required for the presentation of collections and development of the performing arts. 100,000 m2 of surface area were thus redeveloped between October 1997 and December 1999. The Centre Pompidou reviewed its organizational structure, enabling it to better fulfill its missions within the MNAM-CCI (inventory, conservation, restoration and development of the collection) but also for activities related to performing arts and mediation.
The Centre Pompidou thus reopened its doors to the public on 1 January 2000: and again met with great success, with an average of 16,000 visitors per day in 2000.
Perpetual momentum and a proactive strategic approach.
The strategic approach
President Alain Seban, appointed to the Presidency of the Centre Pompidou on 2 April, 2007, encouraged the institution to adopt a strategic approach, unique among major cultural institutions.
This would reaffirm the mission and priorities of the Centre Pompidou as a platform for exchanges between society and contemporary creation, in pursuit of a vision outlined directly by President Georges Pompidou. A popular venue designed for the entire French populace, the Centre Pompidou closely follows the world of contemporary design and establishes links with a number of artists, particularly those on the French scene.
In response to these challenges, the cultural programme of the Centre Pompidou has been designed around three dimensions (exposition of the history of art, multidisciplinary thematic exhibitions and monographs of contemporary designers) and a new multidisciplinary vision.
Thus defined, the Centre Pompidou has a national mission implying that the institution not only has a presence in Paris and Île-de-France, but seeks to develop its activity countrywide with a firm commitment to cultural decentralization.
Furthermore, because the Centre Pompidou is tasked with maintaining and developing a national collection of modern and contemporary art, it is committed to honouring this heritage role as part of its essential mission, thus playing an active part in the study and popularization of the history of art – one of the main tasks of MNAM.