If one looks for integration of art and life itself, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France is a good place to find this combination. Adolescents and children can be found riding their scooters and skateboards around the perimeter of the plaza in front of the entrance. There are also groups of people sitting on the floor having a meal as well as all kinds of vendors offering a variety of knickknacks. And there is some visible intellectual activity in the form of loners reading a book and an occasional nomad musician may play a Jazz piece. Located in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, the center welcomes a large array of different exhibitions including visual and performing arts, film, industrial design, and video art. In addition, the Centre is equipped with a complete general reference library as well as a film library.
The architecture of the Centre is puzzling at first sight. With its exposed structure of steel beams and tube like corridors, the façade of the building seems to stand unfinished and to have been covered with scaffolding in its entirety. Its exposed structure shows most of the functional structural elements, which are color-coded. Green pipes are for plumbing, blue ducts are for climate control, electrical wires are encased in yellow, and circulation elements and devices for safety such as extinguishers are red. Late in the afternoon during winter time when the sun tucks in earlier, elongated shadows originated from the cityscape can be seen covering the surface of the ground complementing the organic shapes assembled in Alexander Calder’s steel sculpture placed in the middle of the front plaza.
The interior of the Centre resembles the many train stations around Paris. A lofty space welcomes visitors as soon as one enters the building. Flanked by a bookstore, a museum shop and several escalators directing visitors to the upper floors, these space host lines of people standing to buy an entrance ticket to the different performances, Movie Theater and art exhibits. Also in this space, people using the library that occupies the three first floors of the Centre can be seen through large glass windows.
At firs hand, one can sense a degree of trust towards the viewers in the galleries showcasing the visual arts. Once the entrance tickets are checked at the top of the escalators, people can roam freely throughout the available exhibits. If there are some museum guards supervising visitors, these are dressed casually and can be mistaken as any bystander. They are usually sitting comfortably in a chair or standing inside the galleries chatting with other museum staff. This seems to be a very loose attitude cultivated around this art institution.
During my visit to the Centre, I had the opportunity to attend the last day of an itinerant exhibit by artist Salvador Dali. Inside the galleries on the top floor I had the chance to witness and also stand in what would be the equivalent of a line of people waiting to enter a ride at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure in Orlando Florida. The difference was that these people where young and older adults in its majority. Inside the galleries, the energy of people discussing the subject matter depicted by Dali was contagious. Large crowds of viewers could be seen bunching up in front a small-scale painting analyzing the ephemeral quality of Dali’s images. To my surprise, I had seen many of this pieces last spring break during my visit to the Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg Florida. Therefore, it was refreshing to see this same artwork accompanied with this kind of social interaction, highlighting an unprecedented art as life itself experience. During this last day of exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, it was reassuring to see that people can make a stop from their academic or working lives to contemplate and discuss publicly their interpretations on this eccentric artist from the 20th century just as one may go to an amusement park.