Picasso 'at home' in renovated Parisian museum

A worker puts the final touch during the renovation of the Hotel Sale known as the Picasso Museum...
A worker puts the final touch during the renovation of the Hotel Sale known as the Picasso Museum in the Marais district of Paris. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

"Every act of creation is first an act of destruction," said Pablo Picasso, a fitting aphorism for the five-year renovation of the Picasso Museum in Paris now reaching its finale.

Since 2009, art lovers in the city that Spanish-born Picasso adopted as his own have been turned away from the doors of the Hotel Sale on the Right Bank, the sight of cranes and scaffolding replacing that of Minotaurs and guitars.

But the world's largest Picasso collection will reopen its doors in June, showcasing the works of the prolific artist who died in 1973 in exposition space that has tripled in size to 3,800 square metres over five floors.

"We wanted to devote all the space to the collection - and we succeeded in that," museum director Anne Baldassari told journalists during a visit to the worksite on Tuesday.

Architect Jean-Francois Bodin had the task of rethinking a museum that could accommodate up to one million visitors per year while respecting the historic monument, one of the most elegant of 17th-century mansions in the chic Marais district.

With a total budget of 52 million euros, which includes the purchase of new office space, the revamp maximises the existing space by moving offices and workshops off-site and using previously unused space on the top floor.

Newly added are an education space, an auditorium and a terrace cafe offering a splendid view of the building's facade.

The new museum has a more open and luminous feel than its previous version, yet much of the crucial work done by Bodin to bring the building to modern safety and access codes is unseen.

Geometric topiaries in the garden designed by Erik Dhont will impart a "cubist" feel and visitors will be able to enjoy the formal garden's lawn or stroll through a pagoda entwined with wildflowers.

To help fund the renovation, the museum embarked on a rare global tour while its doors were closed, sending out 147 of its works to some 20 cities, from Zagreb to Toronto. The tour fetched 31 million euros - two-thirds the cost of the redo.

In coming months, the collection will be re-hung and works that did not travel abroad will be retrieved from an ultra-secret storage location in the suburbs.

But the question remains - what would Picasso think?

Architect Stephane Thouin, charged with the historic portions of the building, said Picasso would have appreciated the tension between the classic and the contemporary.

"He was at the height of modernity, but he often chose to live in older places," he said.

Baldassari agreed.

"He would be perfectly comfortable within these walls."


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