Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac
Auras of perfection
Image © musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, photos Thibaut Chapotot
Musée du quai Branly - Jacques Chirac opened a new exhibition space to showcase 36 works of wooden statuary. All are from the collection that Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, a prominent businessman and patron, donated to the French government in 2018.
Valued at nearly €60 million, the collection represents the largest single donation of works of art from Africa and Oceania since 1945.
These works – some rare and little-known, others legendary –have featured in many exhibitions, most notably Éclectique, organized by the quai Branly museum to celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2016-2017. Together, the works form an exceptional ensemble that greatly enriches national collections and fills gaps in the representation of styles.
These are masterpieces of value not only for what they tell us about the history of non-Western arts, but also for the enthusiasm they aroused in collectors. And, indeed, their significance in the history of collecting itself.
The Museum intends Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière’s donation to become "the focal point of historical, artistic and anthropological reflection through a series of exhibitions [...] and will be linked to an ambitious scientific and cultural project".
The innovative exhibition design, as imagined by Jean Nouvel, is to observe the works as closely as possible in an intimate environment. This places the visitor in an ideal contemplative state of mind to appreciate the artistic perfection of each masterpiece.
This setting remains faithful to the original intent of the Museum Nouvel created in 2006: a museum "where everything is designed to evoke an emotional response to the primary object, to [...] make it vibrate and awaken its spirituality. It is a place full of dialogues between the ancestral spirits of men who, discovering their human condition, have invented divinities and beliefs. It is a unique and strange place, poetic and disturbing".
Based on a design by Atelier Jean Nouvel (joined by Renaud Pierard and Jean Jacques Raynaud), Goppion created 18 one-off showcases, all featuring high levels of airtightness (AER 0.1) and passive climate control. The art objects are encapsulated in thermoformed Plexiglass, to simulate the presence of auras emanating from the object in the three spatial dimensions. This special showcase treatment not only protects the works but actively contributes to enhancing their beauty and mystique.
The process of thermo-molding the auras represented a particularly complex technological challenge due to the many aspects to be managed: from dimensional tolerances, to the curvature of the auras to avoid distorting effects, to the high quality of finish required to ensure total transparency. No less demanding was the coupling of the semi-auras to obtain 'invisible' joints, without dimensional deviations and gluing defects.
Lastly, logistics were also a considerable challenge, requiring the installation of windows up to five meters wide in an exhibition space located on the mezzanine floor of the museum’s west wing, with complex accesses.
The resulting permanent displays are now fitting testament to the power of this extraordinary benchmark collection.