Left: Centre Pompidou-Metz director Laurent Le Bon. Right: French president Jacques Chirac. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)

Last Wednesday, the Pompidou Center celebrated its thirty-year anniversary. The prime of life! But that term didn’t characterize the evening’s attendees, a serious clutch of geriatrics. President Jacques Chirac himself was in attendance, so the guest list had been run through with a fine-tooth comb by the ceremonial service of the Elysee (the equivalent of the White House). After being whipped by a cold wind during a long wait on the piazza, you had to show your credentials and ID just to enter the main hall, a fact that put the museum’s generous donors, unaccustomed to waiting in line, in a somewhat middling mood. Having failed to alert the authorities to the fact that I wouldn’t arrive alone, my friend and I were directed toward the line of “problematic cases” being prepared for outright rejection.

So it was alone that I eventually penetrated the interior of the den decorated with giant flowers by artist Jean-Pierre Raynaud. Now upgraded to the “Quadra” category, I was still among the junior members of this grizzled crowd. I set out to find Pipilotti Rist, who had received the only contemporary art commission marking the anniversary—an enormous outdoor video projection and a sound installation in the infamous escalator tubes. No dice; Rist wasn’t in attendance. It was consequently in the company of Christine Van Assche, curator of new media and producer of Rist’s piece, that I found myself in a roped-off VIP area. At first, we didn’t recognize many of those there with us. But on seeing the mayor of Paris and his learned assembly of black-clad advisors, as well as the black-leather-bound matriarch of the Ricard family, we understood that these similarly monochromatic unknowns were bodyguards. I had missed the instructions to dress for a funeral and felt even more out of place.

President Chirac made an announcement regarding the expansion plans of Beaubourg and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, pending the approval of “Russia, India, Africa, and South America.” Vincent Noce, a Libération journalist, remarked that the audience dubbed Bruno Racine, the current president of the Pompidou, “Global Bruno.” Finally, Chirac announced that while awaiting the opening of new Beaubourg branches in Shanghai and Metz, it would be the Palais de Tokyo’s empty halls that would be requisitioned for the Pompidou’s exhibitions of contemporary French and international artists. Marc-Olivier Wahler, the current director of the Palais de Tokyo, heard the news as we all did, was livid, and confided that he needed to put back a glass of champagne on the spot. Had the glass been in hand, he might’ve done a spit take.

Left: Collector Katharina Faerber and Pompidou new-media curator Christine Van Assche. Right: Pompidou president Bruno Racine.

Chirac finished with a lively homage to Mme Claude Pompidou’s historic engagement with the avant-garde. (Her avant-garde gesture that evening? Dressing entirely in violet.) Agnès Fierobe, the director of the Marian Goodman Gallery in Paris, informed me that Mme Pompidou had shown only lukewarm appreciation of Beaubourg’s new visitor pass, designed by Annette Messager to be read as “FREE PASS” or, depending on how you read it, “FREE PISS.” Slightly annoyed, Messager’s group, composed of Gloria Friedman and artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier, had left early to gather in the corner café with Samuel Keller. Glancing around at the video screens tracing Beaubourg’s greatest moments, you couldn’t help noticing that they might’ve had the right idea: The museum’s inauguration, when Warhol demanded that guards gallop across the forum on horses draped with flags depicting Mao’s effigy, seemed much more fun.

I finally gained access, with artist Xavier Veilhan, to the new collection installation, of which only the modern art section was open (showcasing pieces from 1906 to 1960). It was a parade of classics. Since the hang emphasized monographic depth emanating from the museum’s relationship with artists and their families, donors came to verify that their masterpieces were being showcased. “Not a bad location for the new Rothko!” While I was nonchalantly looking at a Picasso series, a young woman came over to me and said, “He’s a very good artist. I’m writing a thesis about him . . . He was my grandfather. Good evening, I’m Diana.”

Certain guests concluded that this sedate affair nonetheless made sense since, at the opening in 1977, the numerous curators were at least thirty years old and, as they were nearly all still around, must necessarily be over sixty today. Gabrielle Maubrie, an unnerved gallery owner, challenged us to come up with the names of at least five of those original staffers. We couldn’t do it.

On leaving, we received a surprise gift bag that contained a chocolate truffle (only one?), a silk screen by the graphic artist Jean Widmer, a miniguide to Beaubourg for children, and a minikey USB player (produced by Samsung, a main sponsor). “Not even an iPod!” my neighbor exclaimed. After this somewhat forgettable evening, we stood looking at the immense banner on the sublime facade announcing the “Tintin by Hergé” exhibition—this season’s crowd-pleaser—and remarked to each other that even though the times have changed, the museum was still one of the most beautiful in the world.

Nicolas Trembley

Left: Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë. Right: Artist Xavier Veilhan.

Left: Werner Spiess, former director of the National Museum, and Pierre Boulez, founder of IRCAM. Right: Alfred Pacquement, director of the Musée National d'Art Moderne.

Left: Serge Lemoine, director of the Musée d'Orsay. Right: Mme Claude Pompidou.

Left: Mme Ricard. Right: Princess Jeanne-Marie de Broglie.

Left: Designer Ron Arad. Right: Dealer Gabrielle Maubrie.