1960 - 1993

The National Galleries at the Grand Palais

Rmn-Grand Palais

The start of the 1960s marked the end of an era: the last Horse Show took place in 1957, and the Interior Design Exhibition and Motor shows both moved in 1960 and 1961, respectively. A new era was dawning.

For over fifty years, the National Galleries of the Grand Palais have hosted art exhibitions attended by millions of visitors.

The National Galleries
In 1963, Cultural Affairs Minister André Malraux launched a plan for reorganisation to create spaces to house new temporary exhibitions. Following substantial works, the National Galleries opened in 1966 with a landmark exhibition: a tribute to Pablo Picasso on his 85th birthday.

It was an unprecedented retrospective: 1,000 works from museums and collections around the world.
A new record was set with almost 6,200 visitors each day. Visitors totalled over 423,000 in three months.

1970. Two centuries
1970 saw the centenary of Lenin's birth. The event was celebrated in the USSR... and by the Grand Palais! The initiative came from the Soviet Culture Minister. The exhibition aimed to present "the life and works" of Lenin, "leader of the great socialist revolution of October 1917, creator of the world's first socialist state, and guide of all workers, thinkers and men of action". The exhibition saw little success; even if the context was an appeasement between Russia and Europe, memories of the events of the Prague Spring of 1968 were still fresh. By pure chance, that September saw the Grand Palais celebrate another centenary: that of painter Henri Matisse's birth. The exhibition was a hymn to colour and imagination. Visitors numbered just over 347,000.
Political scandal
The morning of 16 May 1972 saw the local police blocking access to the National Galleries. The "Twelve years of contemporary art in France, 1960-1972" exhibition was about to open, but some artists were demonstrating. A banner denounced "art to serve the State". When the demonstrators tried to force their way in, they were driven back in no uncertain terms. The group began a sit-in in the entrance hall and officials were forced to step over them.

The exhibition was born from an idea of President Georges Pompidou, a lover of modern art. Its creation was controversial: an initial list of around 300 artists from all sorts of disciplines was drawn up, but most refused the invitation due to fears of political fallout – May 1968 was still in many people's minds. The final catalogue featured 75 artists and the Malassis collective. On 17 May 1972, 31 of these artists signed a condemnation of the police's heavy-handed intervention. Five of the artists and the Malassis group took their work down out of solidarity. One of them turned their canvas the wrong way round, another covered theirs in strong-smelling cheese.

1789-1989 - the bicentenary of the revolution
1989. France celebrates the bicentenary of the revolution. At the Grand Palais, the event was marked with an exhibition at the National Galleries entitled "The French Revolution in Europe, 1789-1799", and a performance was devised for the nave by choreographer Maurice Béjart.
Innovative exhibitions
New technologies were implemented to welcome visitors: the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition, a highlight of the 1990s, was the first to offer advance booking of tickets remotely in an attempt to reduce queues. Merchandise takes off. The catalogue was printed in an unprecedented run of 100,000 copies in four languages (French, English, Italian and Spanish). A huge teepee was erected next to the fountain in the square Jean Perrin to act as a boutique, café and performance space. The exhibition was a huge success and was extended by one week. Almost 700,000 came to see it.
Credits: Story

We would like to thank all the people who have contributed to the construction of this journey through the Grand Palais and those who have given us valuable time and information as well as permission to reproduce their documentation.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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