To bring art to the people has been the ideal of many a famous figure in history - García Lorca and Bertolt Brecht spring to mind. Now this lofty ambition has been adopted by an institution, with the launch in Paris last Thursday of the Centre Pompidou Mobile. This is an initiative by the French capital's Pompidou Centre to take some of the best-known works from its art collection on the road and to exhibit them in some of the more remote corners of France.
Announcing the project last week, Alain Seban, the president of the Pompidou Centre, outlined his intention to bring the opportunity of a "museum experience" to as many people as possible, in particular those who either do not have access to art or are not in the habit of seeking it out. The experience of seeing real art "in the flesh" was something, he said, that could not be reproduced by the finest technology.
The architect Patrick Bouchain was chosen from a shortlist to design the travelling museum. Practised at creating light and artistic structures, Bouchain also has the reputation of being an economical architect, essential to a project where the budget is limited. One of his challenges was to design a space that was inviting to those who might be hesitant to cross the portals of high art but at the same time could give adequate security for the works on show.
Along the same lines as the Pompidou Centre itself, the outside of the nomadic museum will be brightly coloured and alluring, while inside the spaces will remain sober and neutral in order to emphasise the art. Designed to be both mobile and adaptable to the wide range of environments where it can expect to be mounted - car parks and town squares, for example - the museum is assembled from colourful geometric shapes which combine to cover a total of 1,000 square metres, protected by "Vauban" barriers, reminiscent of the fortifications devised by the leading 17th-century military engineer the Marquis de Vauban.
Describing his design as "joyous" and "polymorphous", Bouchain was inspired in part by circus tents. He said he also hoped that the museum would be welcomed with the same enthusiasm as a travelling circus or fun fair. He referred to the entrance and three tents as baldachins because of their Iranian-style canopies. The architect explained that his concept had started with the needs of the art, from untouchable paintings that have to be kept behind glass screens to installations that encourage public interaction. In other words, the interior as well as the exterior form of the museum can be adapted to the needs of the works on show.
Seban envisaged his mini-museum spending a year in one region, and setting up in three different places. In order to make the venue even more attractive, local actors will be employed to introduce the public to the works by inventing scenarios for the pieces. Generous and noble-spirited though this initiative may appear, it is also, of course, a clever cash-spinning enterprise. Places willing to play temporary host to some fine art will have to pay 300,000 (Dh1.7million) for the privilege.
Nevertheless, those that are prepared to do so will be rewarded with some of the jewels of the Pompidou's collection. The first exhibition, to be curated by Jean-Michel Bouhours and Emma Lavigne, has already been planned along the theme of colour and, as if to prove their good will, the organisers have promised to include some masterpieces among the 15 artworks proposed. These include Matisse's Still Life with Magnolia (1941), Picasso's Woman in Blue (1901), The Yellow Spectrum (1907) by Kupka, The Big Black Divers (1944) by Fernand Léger and L'Estaque: the Port of Ciotat (1906) by Braque.
Once the local authorities have coughed up the cash, communities will be able to enjoy these works free of charge at the weekends. During the week the museum will cater principally for school groups. One hitch in this programme is its current lack of funds. The cost of the initiative is estimated at 3m. The Conseil de la Création Artistique has promised 500,000, but the balance has yet to be found.
However, Bouchain declares himself optimistic and has stated his intention to have the first exhibition open in Marseille in 2012.