Situated amidst the many tourist attractions of the 7th arrondissement and close to the Eiffel Tower, the Quai Branly Museum houses a superb collection of indigenous art and other cultural artefacts from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania. Opened in 2006, it is the newest of the major museums of Paris. Some 125,000 visitors per month flock to view the permanent collection on display, as well as temporary exhibitions touching on a wide variety of themes.
French President, Jacques Chirac was intrigued by the traditional indigenous artistic creations and artefacts of non-Western cultures and decreed when he assumed office that a new museum should be established that would be specifically dedicated to such works. This would be a space in which the artistic creations of people frequently ignored or overlooked, and which account for 75% of humanity, could be appropriately celebrated. Accordingly, in 2000 a new gallery was set up in the Pavillon des Sessions of the southwest wing of the Louvre Museum. With its tastefully selected display of 108 masterpieces, the Louvre des Arts Premiers helped to change the perception that the Western world ignores the art of indigenous cultures.
It was quickly decided, however, that the collection deserved to be housed in a location of its own, so a year after the inauguration of the new gallery in the Louvre, Jacques Chirac officially announced that a new building dedicated to the Arts Premiers museum collections would be constructed. In 1999 an international competition was held to select an architect capable of undertaking this prestigious project. The winner was Jean Nouvel. The museum was opened seven years later, in 2006, a fitting monument to Jacques Chirac’s presidency.
In 2009, the Quai Branly entered into partnership with three other museums to create the Colline des Musées (Hill of Museums), a network of four museums situated in the 16th arrondissement around the hill of Chaillot. These are the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, the Quai Branly Museum and the Palais de Tokyo. Of great appeal to visitors is the Colline des Musées offer. When admission is purchased to one of these four museums, it entitles visitors to a reduced rate in the next two museums, and free entry to the last of the four they visit.
In selecting the most appropriate architectural style for the new museum building, Jean Nouvelchose to pay homage to the great Iron Lady of Paris, who stands sentinel over the city just a short stroll away. Modernistic in appearance, but with a sinuous majesty that plays with geometry, the main building is built like a huge metal bridge (3,200 tonnes held together by 500,000 bolts) supported by concrete silos and steel columns. This startlingly original design stands ten metres above an expanse of garden of some 18,000 m² planted with 178 trees and composed of a tapestry of groves, small hills and pools threaded by meandering paths.
The main gallery is over 200 metres long and largely darkened to protect the art within from the effects of sunlight. The exhibits are subtly lit, standing like illuminated islands. The gallery has no partitions so visitors can freely roam on a virtual journey between continents. Thirty galleries occupy the north side. These can be seen from the outside as great coloured boxes clinging to the façade.
Three mezzanines look down upon the main gallery. The central one is a multimedia centre where visitors can learn about anthropology. The other two host regular temporary exhibitions. The mezzanine on the west side hosts a thematic exhibition for stretches of 18 months, while the other welcomes several exhibitions each year. In addition, the garden side of the museum boasts an auditorium, classrooms and a library with reading rooms. There is also a restaurant on the roof terrace.