PARIS: “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction,” said Pablo Picasso, a fitting aphorism for the five-year renovation of the Picasso Museum in Paris that is now reaching its finale. Since 2009, art lovers in the city that Spanish-born Picasso adopted as his own have been turned away from the doors of the Hotel Sale on the Right Bank, the sight of cranes and scaffolding replacing that of Minotaurs and guitars.
But the world’s largest Picasso collection will reopen its doors in June, showcasing the works of the prolific artist who died in 1973 in exposition space that has tripled in size to 3,800 square meters over five floors.
“We wanted to devote all the space to the collection – and we succeeded in that,” museum director Anne Baldassari told journalists during a visit to the worksite Tuesday.
Architect Jean-Francois Bodin had the task of rethinking a museum that could accommodate up to 1 million visitors per year while respecting the historic monument, one of the most elegant of 17th-century mansions in the chic Marais district.
With a total budget of 52 million euros ($71 million), which includes the purchase of new office space, the revamp maximizes the existing space by moving offices and workshops off-site and using previously unused space on the top floor.
Newly added are an education space, an auditorium and a terrace cafe offering a splendid view of the building’s facade.
The new museum has a more open and luminous feel than its previous version, yet much of the crucial work done by Bodin to bring the building to modern safety and access codes is unseen.
Geometric topiaries in the garden designed by Erik Dhont will impart a “cubist” feel and visitors will be able to enjoy the formal garden’s lawn or stroll through a pagoda entwined with wildflowers.
To help fund the renovation, the museum embarked on a rare global tour while its doors were closed, sending out 147 of its works to some 20 cities, from Zagreb to Toronto. The tour fetched 31 million euros – two-thirds the cost of the redo.
In coming months, the collection will be rehung and works that did not travel abroad will be retrieved from an ultrasecret storage location in the suburbs.
But the question remains – what would Picasso think?
Architect Stephane Thouin, charged with the historic portions of the building, said Picasso would have appreciated the tension between the classic and the contemporary.
“He was at the height of modernity, but he often chose to live in older places,” he said.
“He would be perfectly comfortable within these walls.”
Completed in 1659 by a financier who made his fortune with the salt tax – giving the mansion its name – the Hotel Sale retains its three-sided cobblestone courtyard, its impressive facade and its Baroque grand staircase with the Gods of Antiquity, eagles, garlands and cherubs all carved from stone.
The museum first opened to the public in 1985 after the Hotel Sale was chosen as the venue to display the prodigious collection donated by Picasso’s heirs to the French state.
The third arrondissement that is home to the museum has also seen a makeover in recent years, transforming from a sleepy village-like labyrinth of pre-revolutionary streets once inhabited by Jewish goldsmiths and clothiers to the place to be for up-and-coming artists and clothing designers.
Another major renovation in the works since 2009, the Carreau du Temple, will also boost the neighborhood’s appeal.
Built on the site of a fortress where King Louis XVI was imprisoned before his beheading in 1793, the old cast-iron pavilion that served as a used clothing market has been stripped and renovated at a cost of 60 million euros.
When it opens in April it will be home to rotating exhibits and cultural events, promising to bring in even more visitors.