Founded by Emile Guimet back in 1876 as a museum of religions, the Guimet Museum -- now the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet -- boasts 50,000 objects from 17 Asian countries.
Early in 2001, President Jacques Chirac formally opened the Guimet after a $10-million, eight-year-long renovation. The renovated Asian art museum, just across the Seine from the Louvre, is a dramatic new star on the Paris art stage. The collection's galleries are now better lit, much airier and better organized.
This project allowed the reconstruction of monumental pieces, fragments of which had previously been scattered in different galleries. From now on, the front part of the "Giant's Causeway" from Preah Khan, Angkor, never seen in completion since the Universal Exposition in 1878, spectacularly receives visitors. The second floor is now dedicated to paintings from China, Japan and Korea, most of which have not been on view for a long time.
At first glance, it is the distribution of brightly lighted spaces that catches the eye. The museum, which was built by successive steps, preserved its articulation of halls around the library and is now enhanced by a sense of space. In fact, the library ought to be preserved in its originality, with its caryatids and columns, as a museum piece in itself. Starting from the circular library, two monumental stairs follow; the big Khmer hall becomes, in a way, an atrium, linking the other elements of the museum.
H. Gaudin comments how he tried to give a spatial character to the rooms, without being somehow influenced by his experiences with Asian culture and architecture; it seemed to him that there should be a sort of interlacing between "fullness and emptiness" as it exists between the "yin and yang" energies. The Khmer hall is a sort of a transcription of an extremely eastern vision of space.
Another element H. Gaudin paid great attention to was the lighting; he opted for a natural illumination, milder, in order to give "hospitality" to the objects. The outstanding result is a totally reorganized space, where the ancient and modern elements perfectly harmonize, multiplying perspectives and points of view, in order to give a more complete and coherent vision of the whole museum.
Thanks to all the support it found, the Guimet Museum may hope to become, now more than ever, an institution and a point of reference for the always growing audience that desires to know more about Asian countries which through their economical and cultural dynamism, play an important part in today's world.
ANTOINE BARRÈRE operates the Galerie J. Barrère in Paris.