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Art Gallery the Eye and the Hand

The Quai Branly museum is set on quai Branly in the 7th district of Paris, where was located the Foreign Exchange Market Department. Ambitious project led by Jacques Chirac (passionated by « primitive art ») and realised by Jean Nouvel, it has been unveiled the 20th of June 2006.


Jacques Kerchache, art seller and african art expert, tried from the begining of the 1990’s to bring the « primitive arts » into the Louvre museum. In 1990 he signed in the newpaper Libération an article on this topic ; the same year he met Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris.

The latter is elected president of the Republic in 1995. As soon as he arrived at the head of the State, he askes for the opening of a primitive art department at the Louvre museum. One year later he announced the project of creation of a new museum, which quickly meet an opposition, especially  with a strike of the personnal of the Man museum in 1999, to stand in the way of the disassembly of the museum’s collections and criticize the primacy of the aesthetic choice instead of the scientific factors.

An architecture competition is sent out in 1999, designating Jean Nouvel as the architect.

This museum is unveiled the 20th of June 2006 by Jacques Chirac, in the presence of Kofi Annan, Rigoberta Menchú, Paul Okalik, Dominique de Villepin, Lionel Jospin and Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The Quai Branly museum has the status of public administratove institution. It’s placed under the guardianship of the Department of Culture and Communication, of National Education and of Higher Education and Research.

The museum is open since the 23th of June 2006.

Now and again, an activity report allow to show the evolution of the number of visitors. After one month when there have been 151 000 visitors, the medium is around 125 000 visitors per month.


The museum assemble the former collections of ethnology from the musée de l'Homme (located in the Palais de Chaillot) and those of the National Museum of African and Ocianian art. Around 300 000 items have been transfered from the musée de l'Homme; 3500 are esposed in the museum permanent collection. Immense space without partitions,  the items are divided in big continental "zones": Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. The items are opened to the public thanks to the contextualisation of the differents levels of information: cartels, cultural mediators, texts and multimedia including pictures, films and musics. 

As a complement of the permanent collections, ten temporary exhibitions per year, split between the suspended galleries and the garden gallery, space of the important international exhibitions, allow to present themes while showing the wealth of the collections.


The whole takes up a surface of 40 600 m² split on four buildings and exposes 3 500 items, selected in a collection which group together 300 000 items. The flat of 5 floors covered by a 800 m² vegetal wall has been designed by the architect Jean Nouvel inreference to the Eiffel tower, closed like a 3 200t bridge on which 31 multimedia cells are suspended on top of a 18 000 m² garden designed by the architect-landscape gardener Gilles Clément. In this garden, composed of tracks, small hills, ways paved with river stones, pools favourable to mediation and daydreaming, 178 trees will be planted. The museum had cost almost 233 millions of euros.

The 4 buildings are:

- the museum itself, of which the main gallery (200m long) includes several lateral rooms which are represented outside by coloured boxes. The museum also includes an auditorium, some lesson classes, a reading room, a temporary exhibitions space, a restaurant; l
- the Université  flat includes a library, offices and workshops;
- the Branly flat (at the 800 m² vegetal wall level, designed by Patrick Blanc) which inclued the administratuin on 5 levels;
- the canopy, which included the multimedia library and the reserves

A several meters long sinusoidal route in light rise leads from the small entrance of the site to the collectionsplunged in darkness.


The museum publishes since 2005 the anthopology and museology journal  Gradhiva. This journal, founded by Michel Leiris and Jean Jamin in 1986, is devoted to the contemporary research in ethnology, history of anthropology, famous ethnologists' archives and non-western aesthetics. Because of its topic, Gradhiva is regularly interested in the quai Branly museum's collection.


The creation of the museum, the biggest project of this kind in the world, has been proned to some controversies before its opening:

  • Art or culture ?With the transfer of a large part of the items formerly exposed in the musée de l'Homme, the question is asked again about the link between what comes under Art - what has to be exposed in the museum - and what comes under culture. 
  • What is a "art premier" ?The notion of "art premier", pretty recent, is itself proned to controversies, because it could make the peoples who product it as primitives. This evolutionnist conception is widely refuted, for example by the anthropologists. Even if at the begining of the creation of the project the qualification "Arts premiers museum"  was sometimes annouced, today it seems to be perfectly incorrec. Despite this connotation, th eterm "arts premiers" has been taken in the informal language. .
  • Representation equality for every people of the world. If the museum has the vocation to expose the artistic production of the whole world civilisations, we can notice a large disparity of representation. For example the opening of this museum has created protests in Quebec because of the almost-absence of canadian works of art. Thus, the Great White North Inuit are reprensented by a simlple comb, and the first Quebec nations by two weaved belts.

L'ensemble des critiques se rapportant à la genèse, à la création et au coût de ce musée font l'objet d'un ouvrage de l'ethnologue Bernard Dupaigne, professeur au Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, paru en 2006 sous le titre « Le scandale des arts premiers. La véritable histoire du musée du quai Branly ».


  • Bernard Dupaigne, Le Scandale des arts premiers. La véritable histoire du musée du quai Branly, Mille et une nuits, Paris, 2006, ISBN 284205962X, 261 p.
  • Germain Viatte, Yves Le Fur, Christine Hemmet et Hélène Joubert, Le guide du musée du quai Branly, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, 2006, ISBN 2915133182, 307 p.
  • Stéphane Martin, Chefs-d'œuvre : Dans les collections du musée du quai Branly, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, 2006, ISBN 2915133212, 113 p.
  • L’étrange étranger – « D’un regard l’autre », l’exposition-manifeste du musée du quai Branly, Télérama, Hors-Série, 20 septembre 2006.
  • Quai Branly – le musée de l’Autre, Télérama, Hors-Série, 20 juin 2006.
  • Benoît De L’Estoile, Le goût des autres. De l’exposition coloniale aux arts premiers, Paris, Flammarion, 2007.
  • Sally Price, Paris Primitive: Jacques Chirac's Museum on the Quai Branly, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007 (Paris Primitif : le musée de Jacques Chirac sur le quai Branly, publication prévue en novembre 2007).
  • Rita Di Lorenzo, « Notre musée d’autrui - Réflexions sur la beauté du Musée du Quai Branly », paru dans MEI – Médiation et Information n. 24/25 (2006), Paris, éd. Harmattan, avril 2007.
  • Thule, Rivista italiana di Studi Americanistici n°16-17 Regards croisés sur l’objet ethnographique : autour des arts premiers (sous la direction de Giulia Bogliolo Bruna), 2006.


african art / art africain / primitive art / art primitif / arts premiers / art gallery / art tribal / tribal art / l'oeil et la main / galerie d'art premier / Agalom / Armand Auxiètre / www.african-paris.com / www.agalom.com



Collection Armand Auxietre
Art primitif, Art premier, Art africain, African Art Gallery, Tribal Art Gallery
41 rue de Verneuil 75007 PARIS
Tél. Fax. : +33 (0)6 61 12 97 26
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