Thursday, 19 April 2012

Inside the Palais d'Iéna

A temporary installation by an artist friend at the Palais d'Iéna gave me the opportunity to explore the often difficult to access interior of Auguste Perret's masterpiece.

As part of the current 'Ca et Là' (This and There) exhibition running at a variety of sites across Paris, Italian artist Davide Bertocchi has installed a pièce entitled "Apologie de l’aléatoire (Pendolo)" on the monumental staircase inside the Palais d'Iéna. The sculpture is a play on Foucault's pendulum - by being resolutely anchored to the ground, and moving at the same time as the rest of the world! 

The choice of this spot in the Palais d'Iéna was essential for Davide, as the staircase - which sweeps in two separate directions - provides an interesting dynamic for the piece. It is us who move around the sculpture whilst it remains solidly and regally positioned in the centre. 

Despite being a close neighbour to the Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris and the Palais de Tokyo, the Palais d'Iéna has no links to the art world, and Davide told me that the building managers were initially hesitant about accepting his creation. However, now that it is in place, he informs me that they are delighted with it!
Built at the end of the 1930s, at roughly the same time as it's more well-known neighbours (the Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris and the Palais de Tokyo - which make up two wings of the same building - as well as the Palais de Chaillot (Trocadero)), it was originally designed as a museum.  

Perret - who has often been mentioned before on this blog (here, and here, and here) both designed and built the structure (with his Frères Perret company, the city's foremost concrete specialists), and it is often considered to be his greatest achievement. However, the building has never really had the occupiers it deserves, and has therefore always remained off the city radar.

Quite a well-known structure is also close by.

The concrete here gives an almost organic feel to the interior

The first occupier was the Musée National des Travaux Publics, which had the misfortune to open just as war broke out, and was also possibly the dullest museum in Paris. Displaying little more than scale models of bridges, dams and mines, it attracted fewer than 30,000 visitors a year and was closed in 1955.

Today it is used by the Conseil économique et social, a rather obscure assembly which advises French lawmaking bodies on questions of social and economic policies. Given its role, it has remained closed off to the general public for much of its existence, but recently there has been a move to more openness - which is reflected in their acceptance of a temporary art installation.

The interiors have kept a certain vintage feel

The hémicycle under a magnificent glass rotunda

Traces of a previous existence.


You can see Davide Bertocchi's installation in the Palais d'Iéna until May 21st, weekdays from 9am - 5pm. To enter the building you will need to present an identity card or passport, but once past security, you have free access to much of the building. Photography is accepted if it is not for commercial purposes.

The Palais d'Iéna
Place d'Iéna, 75016
M° Iena

2 comments:

Kiki said...

What a wonderful and highly interesting article this is - and then the photos!!!! BRAVO . so much to see, missing out on too many architectural gems and having not enough time to undertake the trip to Paris centre....
This is a much better good-night treat than a bite of Swiss chocolate!
Thank you Adam

Peter Olson said...

An amusing alternative to what Foucault did!
Thanks for the information about the possibility to enter this building. :-)

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