Thursday, January 23, 2014

Modern Art and Confusion at the Pompidou Centre

Outside Paris' Pompidou Centre, you can see blue air ducts, green pipes for liquids, yellow electricity conduits, and red escalators and elevators.

The Pompidou Centre was not on my original itinerary for our Paris trip last June. My daughter was the one who suggested it. Since I gave my kids the Lonely Planet Not-for-Parents Paris Everything you ever wanted to know book prior to our holiday, I should have suspected that it may inspire them to make requests.

"Well, why are you interested in the Pompidou Centre?" I asked.

She replied, "The book says it's inside out and upside down."

A Building Turned Inside Out

What in the world does that mean? All the service pipes, ductwork, and wires are color coded and attached to the outside of the building, not hidden between walls and above dropped ceilings as is common with most buildings. The escalators are in a transparent tunnel snaking its way up the exterior of the building, too, thus freeing up the interior for an abundance of other uses. The colorful pictures in the Not-for-Parents Paris book that she shows me do indeed look fascinating. Just look at the photo at the top of this post to see what I mean.

Whimsical Stravinsky Fountain

The Not-for-Parents Paris book also suggests the Stravinsky Fountain next door. There, sixteen mechanical sculptures move and squirt water and was inspired by the music of Igor Stravinsky. So, of course, we go there, too. Pursed, red disembodied lips shoot water out of its mouth. A rainbow hued firebird presides over the chaos.

Whimsical kinetic sculpture fountain next to the Pompidou

This light-hearted and very modern architecture is such a contrast to the traditional, classical designs for which Paris is known. You can certainly see why it appeals to children.

National Museum of Modern Art

The Pompidou Centre houses the largest modern art museum in all of Europe. As long as the kids brought me here, I figure we should go in and take a look, too. What transpires after that is an interesting discussion on what constitutes art. "I don't get it. I just don't get it," is the refrain my younger son repeats over and over again throughout our visit.

Children's Gallery

The Children's Gallery is the obvious place to visit with kids. The installations there are interactive and creative. Binoculars dangle from a garden gnome who is spouting instructions from a speaker for a little game of visual hide-and-seek. As we peer through the lens in the direction the gnome tells us to look, we see an unexpected object perched above the display screens in the entrance foyer. Much to my kids delight, we also find a hamburger-shaped wallet dangling from the ceiling. It's like a little secret between us and gnome as all the other visitors stroll beneath the hamburger wallet, never noticing that it's there.

Pssst... look through the binoculars. What do you see?

In an age where almost everyone carries around some sort of camera on vacation, whether its a big DSLR or as part of the smartphone in their pocket, another exhibit requires the observer to take a flash photo. The artwork is not the arrangement of reflectors suspended overhead, it is the picture of it that you take.

What the naked eye sees versus what the camera sees

Another fun activity that we find is Stacking Cups. This entertained my boy as a toddler, and it still entertains him now, albeit with more sophisticated structures.

Proud picture taken just before a very small museum patron knocked it down.

I get all excited because I can identify artists.

The visit to the Children's Gallery goes so well that I continue with my plan to visit the museum collection. Famous artists like Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock and Salvador Dali along with many others are represented here. I think there's something special about seeing art in person with your own eyes instead of merely on a computer screen or in a book, so I'm kind of excited. The kids do not share my enthusiasm.

Andy Warhol's pop art silkscreen, Ten Lizes (of which I'm only showing you six)

The Bridal Pair with the Eiffel Tower by Marc Chagall
I seem to have cropped out the Eiffel Tower... and there's ginormous rooster behind the couple.

In an effort to get the kids to really look at the art instead of wrestling with each other in the middle of the gallery, we pause in front of a Pablo Picasso work. 

"Pose like the people in the painting, and I'll take a picture," I tell them in my hushed, we're-behaving-properly-in-an-art-museum voice.

"What?!" says one of my sons. "I can't even tell which way they're facing."

"Exactly," I reply. 

My kids attempt to re-enact Picasso's Cubist period Harlequin and Woman with Necklace.

Things get a little weird

The confusion builds as we come across paintings that the kids think they could easily duplicate. According to my oldest boy, there were multiple canvases painted in nothing but a uniform shade of white. He was probably thinking, "I could totally do that. How is that worthy of a museum?" Interestingly, he brings up the topic of these monochrome, white paintings a few months later and concedes that perhaps we were to focus on the brushstrokes and texture without getting distracted by color. Is he learning something after all?

It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

My girl decides that she can add a little something to one gallery room that has nothing but chairs and a table. (I think my neighbor had one of these chairs when I was growing up.) What's her contribution? An invisible bench, of course.

Whatcha doin'? Sitting on an invisible bench

Most of the exhibits continue to puzzle the kids. However, one large room catches my daughter's eye, and she runs towards it eagerly.

A work by Yaacov Agam, 
"It changes when I move around," she tells me. And she's right...

According to the description, artist Yaacov Agam designed this pictorial space on the scale of a room following the principles of polymorphic painting. Colored, prism-shaped elements produce abstract compositions that change with point of view.

Yaacov Agam's salon through different points of view

Restaurant with a View

The Pompidou Centre has a few cafes and restaurants if you get hungry during your visit. Although it's the priciest option, Le Georges on Level 6 has an amazing view across the rooftops of Paris. We waltzed in at lunchtime and had a delicious French-fusion meal that even the kids enjoyed. The scene outside the windows aren't the only attraction; the free-form walls of the industrial chic interior proves to be a fine setting for our meal.

Dining at Le Georges


  • Definitely a must-see if you are a lover of Modern Art and Architecture
  • If you have limited time (because you are in Paris after all with so many things begging for attention), you could spend 30-40 minutes looking at the exterior that it is indeed cool and unique, visiting Stravinsky fountain and enjoying the buskers in the square outside the entrance. You can also enter and take the transparent escalator tunnel up to Level 6 to see the view for 3 euros.
  • For kids: Kids will enjoy the "limited time" option above plus a visit to the Children's Gallery. How long you want to spend wandering through the other galleries is dependent on your kids' love of art and the amount of patience you have on this particular day. The collection is on multiple floors, so you can easily do one floor and then leave. Or you could push your luck like I did and drag the family through the entire museum.
  • Included in the Paris Museum Pass
  • Nearest recommended Chocolatier: Francois Pralus at 35 rue Rambuteau, practically on the way to the Rambuteau Metro Stop. Oh my goodness deliciousness! Also try their out-of-this world brioche studded with sugar-coated nuts called a Praluline.

Related Posts:
Stravinsky Fountain Place
Kids and Nintendos at The Louvre
Parc de la Villete: A Kids' Paradise in Paris
Looking for Mary at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox, "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper, and Sunday Traveler in Ice Cream and Permafrost. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. A most interesting post and what a fun tour. . .places I might have otherwise missed!

  2. Love the bridal pair painting. It was a good idea giving your kids the book to read :)

  3. I have never seen this nor heard of it before, Michele! Your kids were absolutely hysterically funny! I definitely liked the Andy Warhol art of Liz Taylor but that painting you and your son were looking at fascinated me the most in it's true "value". Meaning something that would appear as blank to me is a priceless piece of art! :)

  4. I enjoy modern art so visiting the Pompidou Centre and the whimsical fountain next door always seems to be on the itinerary. I love wandering around this part of Paris!

  5. What a great post you've written and nice to see parts of it written through the eyes of your kids.Also impressed that Lonely Planet put together a travel guide for kids.
    I also don't get a lot of modern art and that's where I think a guide comes in handy.

  6. Hi Michelle, It's great that you let the kids read up about the trip and let them plan the itinerary. I thought Pompidou was such a great choice. Although I didn't visit the Children's Museum I thoroughly enjoyed the other parts of the center as well as Stravinsky Park. It's great to hear about their insights about the exhibits.Like them, I still say" I don't get it" when I see museum pieces that I think I can easiy do myself . But I'll take your son's new perspective and try to appreciate the textures and the strokes. I enjoyed the photos, especially of your daughter sitting on an invisible bench. Your kids seem super smart and creative.

  7. Totally missed this and it looks awesome. I'm glad there was so much to entertain the kids and I love all their pictures here. I'm a big Chagall fan so I would have loved to see the Bridal Pair piece. Love those LP series books. I get more out of it than most guide books :) We're definitely not missing this next time we're in Paris. What a fun place to visit!

  8. Fantastic! I've been to Paris quite a few times and am almost embarrassed to admit I've never been to the Pompidou Centre. Next time, though, it is definitely on my itinerary. You - and your daughter - have inspired me!

  9. This area is so amazing and your kids were a treat to watch in the pictures. I loved all the scientific ways of presenting the artistic features.

  10. This looks awesome and great for kids! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler! :)

  11. We do a fair amount of traveling, and my son recently declared, "NO MORE TRIPS TO EUROPE. NO MORE MUSEUMS AND HISTORY." Can you imagine? I think he would enjoy this, but the key would be to leave out the word "museum.!"

  12. I've only seen this from the outside. I want to go inside too!

  13. What a cool idea for a building! I'd love to see it.

  14. Love the kinetic art sculptures and the pic of your son and the elephant squirting water from its trunk! Too funny! Also love the (6) Lizes. We love art, so this would definitely be somewhere we'd visit too.

  15. I only discovered your blog recently, and just read my way back to this post. Not only does it bring back great memories - it also was perfect to forward to my sister, who's taking her son on his first Paris trip in a few weeks!

    1. I hope your sister and nephew enjoy their visit. It's a place my kids would like to return to.


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