When France gifted the U.S. with the Statue of Liberty in 1886, the reasons were clear: to commemorate the alliance between the two countries during the American Revolution and the 100th anniversary of the war. But why oh why is France’s largest museum of modern art in Europe Pompidou Centre – set on opening a Pompidou annex in Jersey City, NJ in 2024? Anybody?

What’s the point?

The American poet Wallace Stevens certainly made his view of the NJ community known in his 1942 poem “Loneliness in Jersey City,” in which he describes it as barren owing to industrialization – in his words, “The steeples are empty and so are the people, There’s nothing whatever to see.” So, what’s the draw for Pompidou?

Can it be the town’s Museum of Russian Art, which specializes in Soviet Nonconformist Art? No. Not even close. The answer has nothing to do with art.

Jersey City’s big claim to fame is its nearness to Manhattan (a 15-minute train ride) and an empty four-story warehouse that Pompidou will transform into a state-of-the-art venue. To hear Hypebeast tell the story, the bill for the transformation - $40 million – is to be paid by the city in exchange for 120,000 artworks from the museum’s collection. The city will also pay a yearly $6 million bill for “project development, branding, educational programming, and the organization of exhibitions.”

Where’s the money?

Not everyone is happy about all this.

Rolando Lavarro, a Jersey City councilman, is quoted in the New York Times saying, “We just raised a levy on homeowners because we didn’t have the money for school funding. How can we then bring more financial debt to the table for a museum?” And local church minister Rev. Willard Ashley said that many residents are struggling from the “COv-19 era” and are asking, “please explain.”

Also asking for an explanation is Curbed (part of New York magazine) in its pointed headline, “Why, Exactly, Is the Pompidou Coming to Jersey City?” Curbed attempts an answer by alluding to another modern art museum in Jersey City – Mana Contemporary but then concludes, “a couple of museums together hardly make a global Arts district.”

Lap of luxury

But the Pompidou, dazzled by the lights of nearby Manhattan, had no trouble seeing the benefit of plopping an outpost in Jersey City, even agreeing to the four-story warehouse space sight unseen.

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Mayor Steven Fulop also has stars in his eyes as he plans to “woo wealthy New Yorkers to the city.” Calling Pompidou Jersey City a “game-changer,” he envisions his skyline filling with “luxury skyscrapers.”

Seeing stars but not the kind dazzling the mayor is longtime Jersey City resident Amy Wilson. She told Curbed she finds it frustrating to see the city constantly aiming to “attract new residents while not meeting the needs of the people already here,” As an example, she cited the lack of public benches for the elderly to rest on because of city leaders feared they will attract homeless people.

Well, whether moneyed Manhattanites come to Jersey City or not, one thing is for sure with the Pompidou in town; no one can ever again invoke Wallace Stevens’ words, “There’s nothing whatever to see.”