Historic Paris Mint reinvents itself as a tourist spot

The centuries-old building beside the river Seine will keep one eye on the city's artistic heritage

Anne Penketh
Sunday 17 August 2014 13:09
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Mint condition: The Mint and Your Name in Lights
Mint condition: The Mint and Your Name in Lights

If you fancy 15 seconds of fame and your name in lights on the roof of the historic Paris Mint beside the river Seine, it's only a click away. In September the California-based artist John Baldessari will switch on Your Name in Lights, in a playful reference to Andy Warhol predicting that "everybody will be famous for 15 minutes". The show is an artistic countdown, as the Mint prepares to open to the public for the first time as a tourist destination after an ambitious mega-renovation.

It's the third time that Baldessari has produced the hugely successful Broadway-style Your Name in Lights. The 83-year-old American conceptual artist told The Independent on Sunday that he was originally approached by the Australian arts patron John Kaldor, "who got me thinking about how to include everybody."

The result was the light show at the Sydney Festival in 2011, which was reproduced in Amsterdam the same year. And now, for a month beginning on 13 September, the names of 100,000 people will be featured in Paris.

Those eager to see their name up in lights can register on the Mint's Facebook page. The site will then inform you as to the exact time of your "sparkling appearance" in LED on a roof panel 30 metres long.

The Baldessari feature is the champagne aperitif before the grand opening itself, scheduled for 25 October when a "chocolate factory" installation by another American, Paul McCarthy, will be inaugurated. The exhibition, which was seven years in the making, will be a working chocolate factory with real pâtissiers. Until 4 January next year they will turn out hundreds of figurines of Santa Claus and Christmas trees – all of which will be on sale. As the figurines are produced, they will be piled into mounds to form a sculpture that will be complete on the exhibition's final day.

US artist John Baldessari poses at Moenchehaus Museum in Goslar, Germany, 04 October 2012.

According to officials at the Mint, the McCarthy installation inside the French capital's oldest manufacturing plant – founded in 864 – aims to call into question the concept of mass production.

The reopening of the current building, which dates from 1775 and was one of Louis XV's biggest construction projects, is the culmination of the first phase of a three-year renovation during which it will continue to mint coins. In 2012, more than 120,000 gold coins, 100,000 medals and 130,000 decorations were minted at the three-acre site on the Quai Conti opposite the Louvre (euro coins are minted at a factory in Pessac in southwestern France). The building work began in April 2011, exactly 240 years after the first stone was laid in 1771.

Hungarian-born art collector John Kaldor stands nearby his art collection on April 3, 2008 in Sydney

The "new" Mint complex will contain exhibition space for contemporary art, shops, a garden, workshops, a three-star restaurant and a brasserie run by chef Guy Savoy, who is moving his Paris restaurant to a first-floor dining room overlooking the Seine. Mr Savoy says that what attracts him most about the project is "to see an old lady deciding to rejuvenate."

The first-floor rooms have never before been open to the public. Although the Mint hosted temporary exhibitions and fashion shows before closing for renovation, much of the building, designed by Jacques-Denis Antoine, was off limits for security reasons. After the Mint decided to move on from its fortress image to embrace the public, the Italian art historian Chiara Parisi was hired in 2011 as director of cultural programmes, to promote a dialogue between manufacturing and art through the MétaLmorphoses project.

US artist Paul McCarthy presents his work 'The Box' at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Germany, 05 July 2012.

Both Baldessari and McCarthy have designed coins for the engraving workshop, and the engraving building is being opened to the public this year. Baldessari said his design was inspired by the imagery of the nose, "as in, I smell money".

But the secrets of the Mint and its treasures – some of which will be on display for the first time – are being rolled out sparingly and gradually. The renovation will be complete in 2016, when the restored architecture of the Mansart wing will be revealed in all its splendour with the courtyard garden.

Workshops where visitors can meet the craftsmen, the revamped Mint store, and the brasserie – the MétaLcafé – will also start operating that year.

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