..."The horror, the horror" ? New York Times arts writer Michael Kimmelman reams the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris:
A Heart of Darkness in the City of Light
By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
Published: July 2, 2006
[...] The most ambitious museum to open in Paris in 20 years, dedicated to non-European cultures, Quai Branly provoked a ruckus from the instant President Jacques Chirac came up with the idea for it more than a decade ago. It was his monument to French multiculturalism and, perhaps, to himself.
Two beloved Paris institutions had to be dismantled, the Musée des Arts Africains et Océaniens and the ethnographic department of the Musée de l'Homme, France's sublime natural history museum. Anthropologists, not to mention more than a few people who loved going to those museums, were furious. The familiar aesthetics-versus-ethnology question came up: Will religious, ceremonial and practical objects, never intended as art in the modern, Western sense, be showcased like baubles, with no context?
Given the current political climate, Quai Branly's eventual opening, after years of delay, seemed almost as if it had been scientifically calculated to ignite the maximum debate.
I couldn't tell whether Mr. Martin was being helpful or if he actually enjoyed the fuss. What did he think of his museum? I asked. He thought it was a "neutral environment" with "no aesthetic or philosophical line." I thought he was kidding.
He wasn't. If the Marx Brothers designed a museum for dark people, they might have come up with the permanent-collection galleries: devised as a spooky jungle, red and black and murky, the objects in it chosen and arranged with hardly any discernible logic, the place is briefly thrilling, as spectacle, but brow-slappingly wrongheaded. Colonialism of a bygone era is replaced by a whole new French brand of condescension.
The dismay was obvious when I met museum directors, curators, anthropologists and art historians at a conference in Quai Branly, just before the museum's opening. For about an hour everyone on a panel talked about the need for better, more flexible museums, which seemed to me an obvious euphemism for the problem here, which nobody mentioned — until a scholar, Christian Feest, smiled, raised his eyebrows and tilted his head slightly.
He couldn't help, he said, pointing out the elephant in the room: How would Quai Branly overcome the obstacle of its own design? That shifted the atmosphere, as if tension had been released, and during the break I intercepted several African and American curators and a French art historian who all shook their heads and confided, as if revealing a private embarrassment, that Quai Branly was a missed opportunity and an inexplicable enterprise. An Australian architecture critic then sidled over and nodded toward Jean Nouvel, the museum's architect, who had been mobbed the day before at the press opening. Now he was standing alone. Everyone was passing him by on the way to hors d'oeuvres. [read on...]