Magazine article The Spectator

Global Warning

Magazine article The Spectator

Global Warning

Article excerpt

There is no building so hideous that it is beyond the powers of any modern architect worth his salt to design something even worse. This important truth of the science of aesthetics was borne out recently when I visited Paris and went for the first time to the Musée du Quai Branly, on the banks of the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Until then, I had not thought it possible to build a museum more ugly than the Centre Pompidou; but I was greatly mistaken. Moreover, it did not even need a British architect to do it: the French have found one all of their own.

The vast but nevertheless claustrophobic museum is devoted to what might once have been called primitive art. Certainly the word primitive is preferable to (as well as more honest than) the words inscribed near the entrance to the museum: Monsieur Jacques Chirac, President of the Republic, wanted the Museum of the Quai Branly to do justice to the arts and peoples of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, by recognising their essential part at the heart of the universal patrimony, and thereby contribute to the development of necessary dialogue between civilisations and cultures.

Am I alone in finding this gratingly condescending? What it really means is 'Left bank to cannibals! Left bank to cannibals! We think your carvings are not bad for people like you, who know nothing of tarte tatin.' Nor am I sure that the inheritors of the ancient and exquisite civilisations of east, south, central and south-east Asia will altogether appreciate being lumped together with the cannibals of Melanesia and head-hunters of Borneo. …

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