In preparation for our upcoming trip to Vietnam, and to get new material for my (rather occasional) series Museum Mondays, we recently visited the Musée des Arts Asiatiques (Asian Arts Museum) in Nice en famille.
The Asian Arts Museum is easily managed with children as it’s very small – no chance of overwhelming them with culture overload – and it is located on the edge of one of Nice’s best parks, Parc Phoenix, making a combined trip possible (or a bribe to go to the park after the museum…see where I’m heading?)
As is often the case, my kids were less than enthusiastic when I suggested this outing, but once at the museum they both enjoyed it. The building is an airy white marble and glass edifice designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange with four glass cubes around a central square with a circular core over-looking a lake stocked with giant carp and tortoises. A footbridge leads over the water to an observation tower and conference rooms where workshops and tea ceremonies are held. The central spiral staircase which connects the three levels of the museum is a work of art in itself.
Each of the four cubes houses art from a different Asian civilisation: China, Japan, India and South-East Asia showing how influences from China and India spread across the continent. These cubes are small with only 4-6 items on show in each one, varying from ancient artefacts, to decorative arts, folk art, funerary art and clothing. The top floor is dedicated to Buddhism, with space for temporary exhibits while the basement level is solely for temporary exhibitions. During our visit this area was showing a gorgeous collection of Korean embroidery and clothing which I enjoyed immensely (on till 7 November 2016 if you’re quick!)
The museum holds a number of regular workshops, classes, demonstrations and events which need to be booked online, but as we went on the spur of the moment without any preparation, we weren’t there when any of them were taking place. These include Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies on Sunday afternoons, Indian dance classes, origami and calligraphy classes on Saturday afternoons and Ikebana classes on Wednesdays (all paying). There are also free Tai Chi and Qi Gong sessions on Saturday mornings. Check the website (in French) for details and to book.
The Asian Arts Museum is free to enter which makes it a good value family activity. Each room has laminated information sheets explaining the works of art in French and English and there are also audioguides available for rent (which we didn’t use). There are some beautiful and thought-provoking objects (funerary art and ivory in particular) but overall I thought the most impressive thing was the building itself. As an introduction to Asian art, highlighting the importance of Buddha across the continent, it’s worth a visit. Anyone with an in-depth knowledge may well find the permanent collection frustratingly small, though the temporary exhibitions change every few months and offer more scope. I like the idea of the tea ceremonies and classes on offer and would happily go back for one/some of these.
The museum is fully wheelchair/stroller accessible, with toilets, a tiny tea room and a shop (that was closed when we visited on a Saturday afternoon!) It is open daily (except Tuesday) from 10am – 6pm (May – mid October) and 10am – 5pm (mid October – April). Closed on 1 Jan, 1 May, 25 December.
Le musée des arts asiatiques is at 405 Promenade des Anglais, conveniently just opposite Nice airport which makes it an easy place to pass some time while waiting for a flight. And as an added “bonus” in terms of getting excited for our trip to Asia, the smell of aviation fuel wafting over from the nearby planes helped put us in travel mode! (Haha! Don’t worry it doesn’t smell inside the museum, though it’s very close proximity to the runway means you really do get whiffs of kerosene outside!)
Do you visit museums with your kids? Do you do anything to prepare for trips abroad?
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