30.12.2013

MuCEM, Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée

Suspended between sky and water, floating at the entrance to the Old Port of Marseille, a new national museum opens its doors. Open to the sea, the MuCEM is by nature of its location, a major project for the Mediterranean where it redraws the horizon, creating a meeting place for its two shores. Never before has a museum been specifically dedicated to the cultures of the Mediterranean,despite their richness from the perspective of history and civilisation.

Marseille welcomes a museum designed in its own image: cleaved to the north shore of the Mediterranean, gazing out over the open sea, receptive to the winds of ideas. More than a museum, the MuCEM is a true cultural city drawing on all the disciplines of the humanities and social sciences and mobilizing the artistic expressions of both shores of the Mediterranean. Even more, it is a new way of regarding the Mediterranean as a space for openness and sharing, for envisioning a common history and the dialogue of civilisations, by clarifying the issues, to give depth of field to contemporary phenomena, and shape a new public space.

A new perspective on the cultures of the Mediterranean
The MuCEM will focus principally on the cultures of the Mediterranean, from a comparative and multidisciplinary perspective in which Europe and the other continents bordering this sea will play a major role. It will take advantage of the “world-culture” which characterises the Mediterranean basin to radiate beyond its geographical boundaries: hence, Latinity mixed with Christianity spread to the Americas; the Muslim world unfolds from the Saharan edge of Africa to the far reaches of Indonesia, passing through the Middle East; Jewish culture has spread to every continent; and the Orthodox world, originating in Greece and South Slavic Europe, has penetrated as far as Siberia.

The MuCEM is the metamorphosis of a major museum devoted to society – The Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires created in 1937 – whose origins date back to 1884, with the opening of a “room” on France at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro, in Paris. Ethnography was thus its founding discipline. The disciplinary field of the museum has expanded today to include all of the social sciences and humanities: anthropology, political science, sociology, history, archaeology, art history… contributing at the crossroads of methods and approaches.

The evolution of the museum’s collection and its modes of presentation just like its program of exhibitions, discussions, images and performances reflects this expansion of the geographic, historic and disciplinary fields. Upon entering the Gallery of the Mediterranean, on the first floor of the J4 building, the public will discover, over 1,600 m², a presentation of the major events in the history of the civilisations of the Mediterranean basin.

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The collections of the MuCEM and the greatest French and foreign museums will be enlisted. This presentation aims to progressively illuminate the multifaceted history of the Mediterranean with its landscapes, cities and shores thus enabling a better understanding of certain challenges of the contemporary world: the relationship with the environment, human rights, the relationship with the Other.

The museum will also present temporary exhibitions as well as conferences, fictional or documentary films, and performances that will address the major issues of current interest in the Mediterranean basin. It is to be a true cultural city open to great debates and in particular to the following issues:

> Questions of memories, through the relationship of the Mediterranean world with Europe as a whole, and particularly the colonial legacy. Numerous clusters of memory surface and mobilize groups or communities around the conflicts of the past that find a deep resonance in the present.

> Questions of identity and daily culture, in relation to the legacies of the past and the present context. Observing for example, diets, whether or not they are linked to religious beliefs, ways of living or dressing, relationships between modesty and immodesty, as well as controversies over the veil or the burqa.

> Questions artistic, intellectual, because the contemporary Mediterranean scene attests to the vitality of these societies. The domain of images, still or moving, new writing plastic, musical and literary are all of interest to a museum of civilisations connected with “world time”.

Finally, the social, political, and religious transformations in the Mediterranean once again place this region before the eyes of the world. While civil societies and cultural stakeholders are in motion, the MuCEM asserts itself in resonance with the present.

An emblematic site symbolising the marriage of Marseille and the Mediterranean
The launching of the MuCEM in Marseille was a very symbolic choice. On the shore of a Mediterranean in which we must reinvest, first and foremost through education and culture, this great city – the second largest in France by population – remains the most emblematic of these multiple and permanent contacts between the two shores, of these diverse influences created by successive layers, unmistakable ingredients of its popular culture.

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The site chosen –fort Saint-Jean and the J4 pier of the port of Marseille – at the junction of the Old Port and the Joliette, at the bow of the city, is fully consistent with the theme of the museum. Each part of the site of fort Saint-Jean testifies to the civil and military history of Marseille. One finds, built upon the Greek and Roman vestiges of the antique city-state, a chapel from the 12th century that was part of the former commandry of Saint-John of Jerusalem, the defensive tour of King René (constructed between 1447 and 1453), the Fanal Tower erected in the 17th century at the request of ship owners to illuminate the entrance to the port, incorporated into various military fortifications. The historic site and the harmonious diversity of the military, religious, and civil elements that compose it have always been closed to the public. It was by way of the J4 pier that, until decolonisation, voyagers coming from the entire world made their arrivals and departures. It was by way of the J4 pier in particular, that jazz entered Marseille, in the 1920s. And it was also by way of the J4 pier that the artists and writers threatened by Nazism left Europe for the United States.

The site of the MuCEM is thus a place steeped in history and memories, at the heart of a prestigious heritage ensemble– the Cathédrale de la Major, the Eglise Saint-Laurent, with views of the Palais du Pharo, the Abbey of Saint-Victor, the sea and the Îles du Frioul – overlooking “the Suez and beyond”.

A contribution to the influence of the metropolis
The MuCEM, due to its strategic location in the heart of the Phocean City, is a major project, not only for the Mediterranean, but also for the city of Marseille. The transformation of the commercial waterfront by the Euroméditerranée urban development agency, in close consultation with local authorities and the European Union, has two objectives: to convert this area into a new economic centre and to revitalize downtown and the port by creating connections between them. A new district is taking root between the maritime facade and the heart of the city. This transformation has accelerated since the designation in 2008 of Marseille as European Capital of Culture in 2013. The Euro- Mediterranean gathers within its geographical area most of the major flagship cultural facilities: the MuCEM, but also the Villa Méditerranée, the Silo and its concert hall, Fonds régionaux d’art contemporain, Frac (regional collections of contemporary art), the Euromed Center and its cinema multiplex, as well as the museum Regards de Provence.

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Major projects designed by internationally renown architects (Massimiliano Fuksas, Euromed Center; Jean Nouvel, Les Quais d’Arenc; Zaha Hadid, the CMA CGM Tower; Stefano Boeri, Villa Méditerranée; Rudy Ricciotti, MuCEM; Kengo Kuma, Frac; Jacques Ferrier, Euromed station) will offer the city a new centrality and, under the benevolent regard of Notre-Dame de la Garde, give new impetus to Marseille and its region. In the Belle de Mai district, the old Seita tobacco factories have been rehabilitated into three spaces dedicated to artistic professions:

> The heritage centre, including the Centre for Conservation and Resources of the MuCEM (CCR), designed by architect Corinne Vezzoni, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Heritage Conservation and Restoration (CICRP), the archives and storage facilities of the museums of Marseille, Ina, Fonds régionaux d’art contemporain, Frac;

> The media centre, a business centre composed of 80 enterprises and 600 employees in new technologies (web, multimedia, mobile, 3D…), as well as film studios (“Life’s So Sweet”);

> The centre for arts and live performances, better known as La Friche la Belle de Mai, mingling concert halls, artists’ studios and exhibition spaces. It was expanded in 2013 through the project “Panorama”.

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