The Palais de la Porte Dorée threatened by a Tadashi Kawamata construction

1. Albert Laprade (1883-1978)
Palais de la Porte Dorée, 1931
Alfred Janniot’s bas-reliefs
Photo : Didier Rykner

8/10/09 – Heritage – Paris, Palais de la Porte Dorée – One of the most beautiful buildings from the 1930’s, the former Musée des Arts Africains et Océaniens, and today the « Cité de l’Immigration » (ill. 1) is in serious danger. Contemporary art’s latest darling, Tadashi Kawamata, will eclipse over a third of Albert Laprade’s work on the façade, with an access ramp holding a construction of no less than 8.5 metres high and 20 metres wide. This structure – called “the nest” – will not just change the aspect of the façade, it will also hide in large part Alfred Janniot’s bas-reliefs (ill. 2).

The project’s developer is no other than Jacques Toubon, the president of the Cité de l’Immigration. He appeared in person, in late spring, before the Commission nationale des monuments historiques to defend the plans. Without any attempt at being humorous, he stated that the current entrance was discouraging for young people since it is so monumental, cold and solemn. He therefore wishes to create a more amusing –“ludique” [sic]- entrance. He skillfully avoided giving any specifics as to how long the structure would remain. However, none of the documents presenting the project describes it as being temporary. On the contrary, the site of la Cité de l’Immigration states that : “this would be Kawamata’s first permanent work in France” !

2. Tadashi Kawamata
« The nest » against the wall of Albert Laprade
© Construire

The language used in support of the project deserves to be quoted directly for the obvious manner in which it underrates the reader’s intelligence. Pressed against the wall, this volume made of wood, the artist’s favorite material, will be “transparent” [sic]. Better yet, it “[will] respect and extend all of Albert Laprade’s work”. Furthermore, the architect “had designed a building which was already a support for multiple artistic contributions (from Jean Prouvé’s grills to the reception salons of Eugène Printz and Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann as well as Alfred Janniot’s reliefs and Pierre Ducos de la Haille’s frescoes)”. Given that these artists worked as a team, that would be like saying that one could do the same on the façade of Vaux-le-Vicomte since Le Vau also designed a building as a support for multiple artistic contributions (from Charles Le Brun’s décors to André le Nôtre’s gardens, as well as the sculptures by François Girardon…).

3. Albert Laprade (1883-1978)
Central atrium of the Palais de la Porte Dorée
The first mosaics (except the ones on the side)
are recovered by a floor
Photo : Didier Rykner

Since its reinstallation, the building, entirely listed as a historical monument had already seen its superb mosaic floor in the central atrium boarded over (ill. 3). Art Déco is definitely not in the graces of our officials. We need only recall the recent and deplorable destruction of the Hôtel Reichenbach (see news item of 4/6/09). We might ask ourselves why we have laws protecting our national heritage. There is also room to wonder at the use of a Commission nationale des monuments historiques : as they dare not refuse Jacques Toubon his request, and naively thinking that the Kawamata construction will be temporary, they voted in favor of the project [1] .

Didier Rykner, jeudi 8 octobre 2009


[1] Let us point that the claim that this is an access for the handicapped does not apply here. Such an entrance already exists, as admitted by Jacques Toubon before the Commission.

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