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France gets a new national museum of photography
The Jeu de Paume reopens this month in a new guise

After a brief closure for refurbishment, one of Paris’s oldest public art galleries, the Jeu de Paume in the Tuilerie Gardens, opens on 24 June in its new role as the main exhibition space for France’s newly expanded national museum of photography. It merges three institutions: the Centre national de la photographie (Cnap), the Patrimoine photographique and the Galerie nationale de Jeu de paume, and opens with two shows of French photography drawn largely from State collections.

The Jeu de Paume also retains control of the Hôtel de Sully building, previously used by Cnap, and its collection, the French State photography archives. Régis Durand, director of the new Jeu de Paume, was previously director of Cnap where he was praised by the critics for the shows of contemporary photography he organised. The museum’s new president is Alain-Dominique Perrin (61) former chairman and managing director of Cartier, and founder of the privately run Fondation Cartier in Paris, of which he is also president.

The Jeu de Paume’s latest transformation is one of a series since the exhibition hall was first built in 1851. In 1922, the gallery was converted into a State-run museum and acquired contemporary works by the likes of Picasso, Chagall and Modigliani. In 1947 the Musée de Jeu de Paume was established and began to buy Impressionist works. In 1986 the museum’s entire collection was subsumed into that of the new Musée d’Orsay and the Jeu de Paume was closed until 1991, when it reopened as a gallery for contemporary art.

It never satisfactorily fulfilled its brief of exhibiting the work of emerging artists, but continued instead to stage exhibitions of Modern art. In 2002 the French government announced that the museum would be transformed again, this time into a space dedicated to film and photography.

The news was greeted with dismay by museum staff who organised a petition in protest. There was further unrest last month when employees of the three institutions staged five days of strikes protesting about possible job losses because of the merger.
Now that the Jeu de Paume is reserved for photography, the challenge of bringing the newest contemporary art to Paris passes to the trendily deconstructed State-run exhibition space, the Palais de Tokyo, which opened in 2002. The government recently announced that the Palais de Tokyo, housed in a a partly derelict 1930s building, will be extensively refurbished and expand into the building’s 17,000 square-metres of unused space.