You could spend a week just exploring the museums located on the edge of the 16th arrondissement, between the neighbouring metro stations of Trocadéro and Iéna. It’s hard to process how much art, history and culture is packed into just a few blocks. The Palais de Chaillot, the pale stone building most appreciated by tourists for the views it offers of the Eiffel Tower, is home to the Musée de l’Homme and the Musée de la Marine on the one side, and the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine on the other. A couple of hundred metres down the avenue Président Wilson lies some more modern fare: the Musée d’art moderne de la ville de Paris and the experimental contemporary art space of the Palais de Tokyo. Fashion lovers will find the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, the Musée Baccarat and the Palais Galliera all within a few minutes’ walk.
But a lesser-known museum in the Trocadéro-Iéna-Alma Marceau triangle is the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet. This museum’s lower profile is difficult to understand, as the Guimet is home to the largest Asian art collection in the world outside of Asia.
Housed in a neoclassical stone building on the Place d’Iéna, the Guimet is organised by geographical region, with art, sculpture and sacred objects from China, Japan, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korean and others. Items are mostly displayed in neutral, down-lit environments far removed from their original contexts, but the collection is rich and varied.
For the most part, the Musée Guimet sidesteps the major representation issues encountered by the Musée du Quai Branly. However, like several other Paris museums, it fails to acknowledge the relationship between the display of Asian art in France, and the history of French colonisation in South-East Asia. That said, the museum is elegant and beautiful, and its sculptures in particular are a sight to behold.
In the enormous cultural and artistic tapestry of Paris museums, Asian arts are not particularly prominent. Apart from the Cernuschi, near the Parc Monceau, this is the only museum dedicated to the Asian continent. But the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet is a diverse space that deserves a more visible place in the Paris museum world. One that rivals the very famous neighbours located only a few metres away.