The Centre Pompidou opened its doors to the public on January 31, 1977. It’s the one that looks like an inside-out building, with exposed tubes, pipes, and girders. Most modern French presidents have a special project to mark their term – this museum was the baby of Georges Pompidou, who did not live long enough to see it open. People often think of it just as the Musée National d’Art Moderne, but it’s also the home of a huge public library (hint: you can get free internet access here, although you may have to queue up for a few minutes) and IRCAM, a contemporary music research facility. Another great reason to visit is the panoramic view of the city. You can buy a ticket that just gives you access to the escalators that snake up the exterior in big plastic tubes. The view from the top is more intimate than from atop the Eiffel Tower, and opens up a different part of the city. Sunset is a spectacular time to be there.
For me, the Beaubourg, as it’s known to Parisians according to its neighborhood, is more about the exterior spectacle than the art that hangs on the walls. The huge forecourt is an ever-changing spectacle of street performers, itinerant artisans, sunbathers, and canoodling lovers. The Stravinsky Fountain to one side delights the children with colorful sculptures based on the compositions of Igor Stravinsky that whirl and spurt. There are several surrounding cafés with lots of terrace seating so you can watch the world go by.
Today’s expression, se donner en spectacle (suh dunnay ohn spek-tack-luh) means “to give oneself in spectacle” or to attract attention by doing something. Whether or not modern art is your cup of tea, the constantly changing spectacle of the Centre Pompidou is well worth a visit.