Combine a decades-long collection of contemporary art and a beautifully renovated 18th century building in Paris and what do you get? An extraordinary art museum in a city full of extraordinary art museums. I'm not a fan of contemporary art, but I had heard and read so much about the Bourse de Commerce-Pinault Collection that I had to see it - and it was spectacular!
As is true of so many buildings in Paris, the building itself is a treasure. Built between 1763 - 1767 on a site once occupied by a mansion built for Catherine de Medici, the "Halle aux Blés" (Wheat or Grain Exchange) was used by grain traders. It was originally open to the sky, but a wooden dome was added in 1783, replaced by a cast iron dome in 1811, the first one ever created from this material.
After major reconstruction in the latter half of the 19th century, the building became the Bourse de Commerce (Stock Exchange) and the dome is now a "monument historique".
The building belonged to The Paris Chamber of Commerce from 1949 to 2016 at which time it was leased from the city by François Pinault for 50 years. The re-imagination and renovation of the building to create the current museum was entrusted to legendary Japanese architect Tadao Ando who painstakingly guarded the historical features of this 73,000 sq. ft. marvel.
François Pinault was born in a small village in Brittany in eastern France in 1936. At the age of 16 he began working in his family's sawmill and eventually created the first company specializing in timber. At the end of the 20th century, Pinault moved to the luxury sector and founded the group Kering now managed by his son. Pinault first collected modern art but that evolved into an interest in - and collection of - contemporary art more than 40 years ago. His collection now consists of 10,000 works.
"For a long time, I have cherished the hope of one day presenting my collection in the city I love—Paris." - François Pinault
And voilà, three years and $170 million later, the Bourse de Commerce - Pinault Collection was born, a striking blend of old and new.
Entering the vast rotunda, you are transported into an ethereal world thanks to the natural light bathing this vast space.
Its changing exhibition schedule - up to 15 a year - affords visitors a new experience whenever they visit. Works on display represent objects from Pinault's own collection as well as loans and commissions. These are some of the works on view when I visited in the spring of 2022.
Unbaled Truck by the American Charles Ray in the rotunda.
These are a few of the 24 display cases circling the rotunda with works from the French artist Bertrand Lavier.
I loved both these installations by Felix Gonzalez and Roni Horn on the second floor.
Although difficult to tell from these photos, some of these sculptures are larger than life. Many of them were the only installation in the gallery which added a dramatic effect.
"Stunning" would not be an overstatement to describe this 15,000 sq. ft. mural painted on the rotunda in 1889 representing French trade across the globe. In preparation for opening the museum, it took 24 people six months to restore it.
For a split second I couldn't believe that birds would be allowed to fly around the building. No worries, these lifelike specimens are stuffed pigeons created by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. They appear to be on full alert, keeping watch over the rotunda.
If you visit, don't miss this whimsical in-situ installation (volume up).
Horse and Rider by the American sculptor Charles Ray graces the forecourt of the museum.
The Bourse de Commerce is located in the Les Halles area in the first arrondissement, just steps away from l'Eglise Saint-Eustache.
Even if contemporary isn't your art of preference, I heartily recommend a visit to the Bourse de Commerce - Pinault Collection; it was one of the highlights of my time in Paris.
➜ Top Tips
Buy your ticket in advance online. Even in the shoulder season, the line to enter the museum was long and my ticket enabled me to avoid it.
Note that, unlike many other Paris museums, it is closed on Tuesday.
If you're feeling peckish, the Halles aux Graines restaurant is located on the third floor.