As the years have gone by, I’ve broadened my definition of ‘museum’ for this blog. At first, I only wrote posts on art galleries or other sites with the word ‘musée’ in their name. This hasn’t posed a problem when searching for material: it’s been almost seven years and I still haven’t run out of Paris museums to review. But during my adventures through the city, I’ve found that all kinds of places can amaze, educate and enchant in the ways a museum can.
So over the years, I’ve written about les Catacombes, the subterranean tunnels filled with human skeletons beneath the 14th arrondissement, as well as the Panthéon, the national tomb in the quartier latin. I’ve included the Egouts de Paris, where you can take a tour of Parisian sewer history that actually teaches you a lot about Napoléon III, and the Château de Vincennes, where you can stand in the cell where the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned in the 1780s. Between traditional museums, I’ve reviewed the national icon of the Arc de Triomphe, as well as Joséphine de Beauharnais’ Château de Malmaison, with its rambling English-inspired garden.
These spots are not really museums, but they are part of the tapestry of French history and culture, or that very French notion of le patrimoine. They are physical traces of artistic creation, political history and cultural movements that have marked the French capital and its surrounds. I’m sure there are many more for me to discover. But though I’d always admired its exterior, I never expected la Monnaie de Paris to be one of them.
La Monnaie de Paris, or the Paris Mint, sits in pride of place on the banks of the Seine, in a gorgeous part of the 6th arrondissement on the quai de Conti. It is all carved stone façades and wide cobblestone courtyards. The building operated as the city’s official mint from 1775 to 1973, and now houses a specialised museum on currency, medallions and rare coins. But since 2011, the site has been undergoing a transformation into a cultural hub, as part of the aptly-named project Métalmorphoses. The new exhibition space opened in September 2017.
When I visited, the multimedia exhibition Women House was showing; a feminist retrospective on the relationship between women and the domestic space inspired by the 1972 Los Angeles installation Womanhouse. Outside the entrance to the exhibition, a bizarre sculpture of plaited horsehair and eggshells was laid out in the elements, an intriguing object clashing with its demure surrounds. The mix of centuries-old architecture and contemporary art reminded me of the Musée des arts décoratifs or the Musée de la chasse et de la nature.
There are many things I love about Paris, but perhaps the greatest is the city’s ability to continually surprise me. And la Monnaie de Paris, with its contrasts between the historical and the artistic, the classic and the contemporary, is a prime example.