Art | June 20, 2021 1:54 pm

An Iconic French Art Museum Is Moving to Jersey. Uh, Why?

It's a big deal, but not without some controversy

Jersey City
A general view of the Pathside building in Jersey City, slated to be developed by French contemporary art museum Centre Pompidou for a Jersey City extension in 2024.
ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

In 1977, the Centre Pompidou opened its doors in Paris. It’s noteworthy, both for the art on display inside and the distinctive architectural approach used for the building itself. Since then, the museum has been a global destination for contemporary art. And, like other high-profile art museums, it’s also sought to expand internationally. Earlier this month brought with it the news that the Centre Pompidou would open a new location in the northeastern United States. Those wondering if this meant a new museum coming to New York City learned that this was not the case — instead, the space was slated to open in neighboring Jersey City, just a PATH train away.

Writing at Curbed, Zachary Small explored a question on the minds of many art buffs and urbanists: why Jersey City? It’s the detailed look at the planned expansion plenty of people have been waiting for. (Full disclosure: I grew up in New Jersey and am more than a little excited about this institution opening in my home state.) It’s worth stating from the outset that this isn’t the first expansion the Centre Pompidou has made; it already has a trio of satellite locations in place, in fact.

Much of the appeal, from Jersey City’s perspective, comes from the prestige that would accompany a high-profile museum opening there. (Its location would be near the Jersey City branch of Mana Contemporary, as well as close by a number of high-rise apartments.) The city’s mayor, Steven Fulop, described the Centre Pompidou’s arrival as a “game changer.” This might explain why the city is also spending $40 million to renovate the building, as well as $6 million annually over a span of 5 years for “project development, branding, educational programming, and the organization of exhibitions.”

Unsurprisingly, this has proven controversial to some Jersey City residents, who worry about its effect on the city’s economy, as well as the growing number of high-rise buildings going up in the vicinity. The arrival of a high-profile museum in New Jersey — a state that, historically, doesn’t have many institutions of that level — is a significant achievement. But given that “artwashing” has become a frequently-used term when it comes to art and development, it’s not hard to see why this project is also under scrutiny from many sides.