The Monument

The Palais de la Porte Dorée was built on the occasion of the International Colonial Exposition of 1931. Its prime vocation was to be a museum of the colonies, tasked with representing the territories, the history of colonial conquest and its impact on the arts. The Tropical Aquarium was also created for the Exposition, to display aquatic fauna from the colonies. It has been in constant operation ever since.

The Palais de la Porte Dorée has changed name several times. In 1990, it became the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, with the mission of conserving evidence of colonial history and promoting non-western arts. Its collections were transferred to the Musée du Quai Branly - Jacques Chirac, inaugurated in 2006. Since 2007, the Palais has housed the Musée National de l'Histoire de l'Immigration.

In 1987, the building’s artistic and historic value was recognised and protected: the Monument is now officially listed as a historic monument. Certain parts are even classified, notably the façades, the Hall of Honour, the salons and the function room, now known as the “Forum”. A true “Art Deco jewel”, the monument is typical of the architecture of Art Deco, an artistic movement that developed between 1910 and 1940 featuring stylisation of forms, purity of geometric lines, large volumes and spatial symmetry.

A three-dimensional monument

The conservation mission of a historic monument consists in carrying out restoration work on the building, conserving the furniture and cultural works that have been present since its design.

As a monumental monument, it represents a jewel of the Parisian Art Deco heritage, so much so that it is unanimously viewed as one of the city’s most remarkable creations of the 1930s. The architect Albert Laprade (1883-1978) designed it as a “total work of art”, typical of Art Deco, using decorative arts as an element inseparable from the architecture, with decor and furniture placed on the same level as the architectural elements, in terms of both quality of materials and highlighting of luxury craftsmanship. Laprade called upon some of the great art figures of his time to sculpt the biggest bas-relief in Europe, paint the frescoes that adorn the walls or design the exceptional furniture made from exotic wood that decorates the historic salons. The monument could be described as a catalogue of the best artists of Art Deco! All the decorative arts are brought into play adopting a consistent and overall approach for a collective work: cabinet-making, sculpture, ironwork, mosaic, fresco, painting, glasswork... Many artists belonging to the movement of the time left their mark on it, both outside and inside: Brandt, Schenk, Bagués, Poillerat and Prouvé for the ironwork, Subes for the lamps, Dunand for the lacquer work, Ducos de la Haille, Bouquet and the Lemaitres for the frescoes, and Ruhlmann and Printz for the two corner salons.

Actions are already underway to spotlight this exceptional heritage: enhancement of the façade and its sculptured bas-reliefs, of the Hall of Honour and its historic salons, and also the reconstruction of the library designed by Laprade.

A Museum since its creation, today the Palais de la Porte Dorée stands as a precious testimony to the museographic design of an era when this type of establishment played a central role in the dissemination and sharing of knowledge. As such, it is in itself a collection object, having preserved its original purpose and layouts, expressed in the form of the furniture, paintings, frescoes, but also the dioramas still conserved within its walls. So a visit of the Palais de la Porte Dorée is a true museum visitor trail on museum expression. Its morphology, the works created during its construction, the itineraries and trails it offers are a reflection of the cultural and political intentions of a certain period, now long gone, but that represents an ongoing process of reflection on culture and its dissemination. This dimension consecrates it as a historic monument.

The conservation mission of a historic monument consists in carrying out restoration work on the building, conserving the furniture and cultural works that have been present since its design.

As a legacy coming to us straight from the colonial period, the Palais de la Porte Dorée naturally has an identity as a commemorative monument, living witness to the dominant ideology and geopolitics of France that shaped a large part of its shared history. Present even in the most structuring elements – notably its exterior bas-reliefs and interior frescoes – this aspect can easily be diminished if no particular effort is made to put it in the spotlight or promote its stories.

For this dimension of the monument, the experience will stem from a critical immersion in the era that shaped its construction and the messages it conveys. Just like the various visitor trails already in place, its value is increased when each and every visitor is able to assimilate the place, through a better understanding of the monument, through deciphering its architectural, colonial and artistic footprint, and its resonance over time. Every year, the festival of architecture and performances, L’Envers du décor, strives to transform the way people see the Palais de la Porte Dorée, through the eyes of artists, by attracting the public’s attention to this still unfamiliar building, highlighting its architecture and reappropriating its original story so that it can be more efficiently debated.

Today, beyond its cultural heritage value, the Palais de la Porte Dorée is a living, welcoming place, a place of experiences for the public, with a broad range of cultural events, involving all areas of the living arts: dance, theatre, music, circus, performance, shows for young audiences, installations, video, street arts, visual arts, puppets, architecture, design, fashion... This alternative approach through the eyes and words of artists approaches the Establishment’s key themes (diversity, plural identity, racism, discrimination, immigration, exile, colonisation, Art Deco, environment, biodiversity…) in a lively and sensory way.