Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain
261 boulevard Raspail
75014 Paris
France

Jean Nouvel, Emanuel Cattani et Associés, 1994

Nouvel's gallery for the Fondation Cartier is an exercise in transparency and the perennial quest to remove the barrier between inside and outside. A building 'box' with glass walls would not do the trick: you could see through the walls, but you would be clearly either inside or outside the box. In the Fondation Cartier Nouvel has extended the glass walls beyond the box, creating extra tall glass planes in the wild-flower garden, and extending the glass facade several meters above the roof terrace. At the edge of the plot he has created a whole extra glass plane as the street facade, wholly separate from the main box of the building. 

 

The excuse for this extra glass wall is a 200-year old, celebrated Lebanese cedar, planted by Chateaubriand (1768-1848), which is 'framed by two glass screens that form a gate'. Barbara-Ann Campbell enthuses about this idea:

'The sheet-glass facades of the building extend beyond its structure, blurring its boundaries and denying the reading of a solid volume... The trees acquire a similarly ambiguous presence as it is unclear whether they are inside or outside. The trees are read behind a transparent fence instead of an opaque wall, and are embodied in the building by means of the 8-meter-high sliding windows to the exhibition space which can be entirely removed in summer, undressing the structure to reveal the columns. This allows the exhibition to slide into the park and vice versa. The building is a refracting series of superimpositions of sky, trees and reflected trees. Nouvel and his team have tried to bottle the mystery that belongs to a secret, walled garden between these glass layers.'

Which would be fine, if the Fondation Cartier were a tree museum. For a contemporary art museum, however, it is hard to conceive of a less suitable design. At the time of my visit, the main exhibition on the ground floor was composed entirely of videos and other illuminated art works, requiring temporary walls inside the glass to block out the transparency, or the exhibits would have been invisible. The resulting front facade (below) could perhaps be described as undressed, but only to reveal some rather unsightly underwear.

The redeeming feature of this building is the elegant detailing of the rear facade: stylish office space with behind the glass wall overlooking the garden, reached by a set of elevators that climb the side of the building gracefully and silently, without wires or cages.

 

 

Simon Glynn, 2001


How to visit

The Fondation Cartier is on the east side of the boulevard Raspail in the 14th Arrondissement. Either walk North from Denfert-Rochereau (RER Line B or Metro lines 4 and 6) or walk South from Raspail (Metro lines 4 and 6).

The exhibition floors are open to the public daily from 12 noon. To check for opening times call their recorded information line on +33 1 42 18 56 51. For other information call +33 1 42 18 56 72.

The Foundation maintains a glitzy but uninformative web site, with English content, at http://www.fondation.cartier.fr/ 

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