The idea of offering public access to hitherto private collections was to have social implications unimaginable in 1793 when the Louvre was transformed from a royal palace into the first national museum in Europe. It was not until the late nineteenth century and the rise of the historical sciences, notably art history, that the public art gallery/museum became a recognized social institution, albeit one that excluded any innovatory art that might challenge the French establishment. The official policy in France remained unchanged until just before World War II, although of course many small privately owned art galleries in Paris regularly exhibited and promoted avant-garde art during this period. The closed-door policy of the public art galleries was reflected in the closed spaces of their architecture and in the sober atmosphere they generated. Apollinaire, in fact, wanted to burn down the Louvre and Proust saw it as an elitist microcosm isolated from the world.
A change in French policy after the war was illustrated in 1947 by the opening of the Musée National d'Art Moderne, then housed in the Palais de Tokyo, with its collection of twentieth-century avant-garde art. Despite this change in attitude, the concept of the museum's function, as essentially a preserver of the artistic legacy of the past, and the elitist image that went with it, remained unquestioned until the 1960s, when the prevailing ethos forced the institution to open up to a wider public and a wider range of activities.
The Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum and the Berne Kunsthalle, which Christo 'wrapped' in 1968 encouraged by its director; were pioneering forces shaping the new museology which aimed at desanctifying and democratizing the public's experience of art.
The same ideas informed the policies of the curator of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Pontus Hulten, who was able to implement them on a grand scale when the Musée National d'Art Moderne (MNAM) was rehoused in Beaubourg in 1977.
Beaubourg, or the Centre Georges Pompidou, to give it its official name, was the architectural incarnation par excellence of this new spirit. President Georges Pompidou, a keen collector of modern art, had decided in 1969, in line with the prevailing ideology, to create a multipurpose cultural centre, and Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano were the architects chosen to bring his project to fruition. Their late-modernist structure incited controversy as well as admiration. Its design encouraged public participation in cultural activities, while its flexibility invited collaboration between the museum and the artists themselves. This resulted, for example, in the adaptation of exhibition spaces to contemporary artistic practice such as installation art. At the same time it promoted itself as multifunctional, a place of entertainment, incorporating restaurants and bars, children's play areas/workshops as well as a place for research and study with its cinema, library, bookshops, music, lectures and debates. These activities are currently organized by its four main departments. Beaubourg represented a turning point in museum design and thereby, in a sense, succeeded in reasserting the artistic vitality Paris had lost when New York usurped its place as art capital of the world. In terms of numbers of visitors, it was an immediate success.
A similar conception of the museum's function seems to have informed President Mitterrand's appointment of I.M. Pei as the architect of the new 'open' entrance space for the Louvre and its undergound network of ser-