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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris

What is the Palais de Tokyo?

The Palais de Tokyo is a contemporary art centre in Paris that houses a modern art museum and temporary exhibition space.

Palais de Tokyo

Palais de Tokyo History

Brimming with museums and art galleries, Paris is famous for its artistic heritage. World-renowned institutions like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay have become synonymous with certain works such as the Mona Lisa, or Monet’s Water Lilies. But this can risk crowding out modern and contemporary figures who deserve our attention – after all, among us there is likely to be a future Leonardo.

The Palais de Tokyo, fronting the Seine on what was originally called the Avenue de Tokyo (after the Second World War the street was renamed), was constructed in 1937 for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology. Today we might describe it as the epicentre of Parisian modern art. Its east wing houses the Musée d'Art Moderne, a collection of 20th and 21st-century works, while in the west wing can be found the largest gallery space in France dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions.

Through the bowels of the palace run subterranean passageways in which visitors can explore a series of urban art and graffiti projects. Nearly sixty artists from all over the world have contributed to this project since its inception in 2012. These underground murals have included immersive works by French artists Lek & Sowat, and Dutch visual artist Boris Tellegen.

In addition to the many contemporary works on show, make sure to visit Le Salle 37, named after the original date of construction (1937). For reasons unknown it was sealed up and only rediscovered during alterations in the 1990s. An oddly-shaped oval room with a cinema screen, Le Salle 37 has been used as an exhibition space since 2012 but remains shrouded in mystery.

Within the environs of the Palais du Tokyo, to the west of the building you can visit the Jardin aux Habitants. This garden comprises a collection of 16 different plots, each tended by its own gardener, who together have shaped their allotted spaces to reflect their own personality.

In order to maintain a welcoming atmosphere in the Palais, and to create a more modern and accessible feel, the space is open rather late; tourists and locals alike swing by to enjoy a drink, relax and gaze at the Eiffel Tower across the river.

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