The Site & its History
Firmly grounded in the present yet focussed on the future, Palais de Tokyo also has a fascinating history, which takes us on a journey through artistic creation. In 2012, Palais de Tokyo became the largest center of contemporary art in Europe, following its entire rehabilitation. It offers present-day explorers the opportunity to sample the pulsation and flavours of emerging art and the chance to familiarise ourselves with the creators of our time, in the very place where some of the greatest artists of the past century were exhibited.
Designed in 1937 for the Exposition internationale, the building referred to as the “Palais de Tokyo” was built on what was then called the Quai de Tokio (the present-day Avenue de New York), after which it was named. Right from the start, it was designed to house two separate museums: the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Musée national d’art moderne. Even though the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris has been located in the east wing of the building since that era, the west wing has hosted a number of different institutions and events in its time, all centred around visual arts. It is here in the west wing that what we refer to as the present-day Palais de Tokyo, a site for contemporary art, is located.
May 24, 1937
Inauguration of the Palais des musées d’art moderne
Relocation of the collections
Second World War
June 9, 1947
Inauguration of the Musée national d’art moderne
Closure of the Musée national d’art moderne
March 8, 1978
Opening of the Musée d’Art et d’Essais
February 17, 1986
Creation of the Palais de l’image
November 18, 1986
Inauguration of the FEMIS
March 16, 1988
Inauguration of the Cinémathèque française’s new premises
Creation of the Institut des Hautes Études en Arts Plastiques
December 1990 - February 1991
Relocation of the collections of the Fonds National d’Art Contemporain
June 29, 1993
Departure of the Centre National de la Photographie
Departure of the FEMIS
The Palais du cinéma project is abandoned
Palais de Tokyo becomes a contemporary art center
Inauguration of Palais de Tokyo, a site for contemporary art
Re-opening of Palais de Tokyo
6 of the Palais de Tokyo’s unmissable spots
In 1999, when the Ministry for Culture and Communication decides to consign part of the west wing building to the promotion of contemporary art, many parts of the interior had already been demolished. It had undergone extensive work in the aim of converting it into a Palais du cinéma. The project however, was later abandoned…
The demolition work led to the discovery of some remarkable spaces. The extremely elegant concrete structure dating back to 1937, was stripped back and the interior of the building took on the allure of a vast industrial site. Taking on the enormous rehabilitation task with gusto, the architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal wished to retain its original raw, minimalist appearance.
This mysterious oval-shaped movie theatre, part of the building’s original structure since its construction in 1937 (and from where it derives its name), has remained practically unused. Walled-off since the Musée national d’art moderne era, it was rediscovered during building work which took place in the 1990s. Since 2012, and the regeneration of previously inaccessible areas of the Palais, it is once again open to the public.
Since 2002, the Jardin aux Habitants designed by Robert Milin on land adjoining Palais de Tokyo (rue de la Manutention) is the pride and joy of the 16 gardeners who each cultivate their own small plot of land, nurturing plants and vegetation that reflect their own personality.
A favourite hangout of Parisian skateboarders who have nicknamed it the « dome », the esplanade is where they come to practice their ollies at the foot of Antoine Bourdelle’s France. Designed in 1922, this monumental sculpture depicts Pallas Athénée, the ancient goddess of war, surrounded by serpents of wisdom. Featuring a large central pool, the esplanade is decorated with several other sculptures designed by Léon-Ernest Drivier, Auguste Guénot, Louis Dejean and Aristide Maillol.
An immersive journey provided by the Lasco Project, which since 2012, has invited street artists to put their unique stamp on some of the Palais’ most mysterious areas.