On the Seine

Tribal artifacts

What's a French president without a museum for his legacy? François Mitterrand had his Louvre renovation; Georges Pompidou, Beaubourg; Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the Musée d'Orsay. And now Jacques Chirac gets his—the Musée du Quai Branly, which consolidates nearly 300,000 tribal artifacts from Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas.

The nearly decadelong $265 million project was beset with delays and even a scandal (terra-cotta figures from Nigeria turned out to be smuggled). But when it opens in June, the building by architect Jean Nouvel should become an instant landmark. Galleries stand on sculpted pillars that evoke totems. The intention, Nouvel has said, was to create something "unique, poetic, and disturbing."