How a Roving Shipping Container Became a World-Class Mobile Art Museum for Children in France and Africa

Musée Mobile (MuMo) visits Cameroon
(Couertesy MuMo)

The idea is extraordinary, but it's also quite simple: instead of bringing schoolchildren to the museum, bring the museum to them. The Musée Mobile, also known as MuMo, is a contemporary art museum inside a shipping container that has traveled through France, Cameroon, and Côte d'Ivoire. MuMo started its journey last October in France, and by mid-summer it will have covered over 6,000 miles. Founder Ingrid Brochard secured funding from French companies such as Bolloré, Total, and Peugeot-Citroën, and American architect Adam Kalkin designed the container, which unfolds into a structure with four different rooms.

The heart of the project is the art, and Brochard thought big, finding 15 artists to participate in the project, including Ghada Amer, Maurizio Cattelan, Paul McCarthy, and Lawrence Weiner. The artworks — which were commissioned for the museum and loaned by the artists — include, most strikingly, McCarthy's giant inflatable pink rabbit, which is harnessed to the container's roof. Cattelan playfully hid his photograph of a deer covered in multi-colored paint inside a make-believe keyhole. A light installation by James Turrell, an undersea video by Pierre Huyghe, and a wall painting by Congolese-born artist Chéri Samba are also on view.

Children between the ages of six and 11 years old enter in groups of 14, spending 30-45 minutes inside the museum. No teachers are allowed inside. Instead, two child psychologists, Donatello Caprioglio and Olivia Agostini, accompany the students. Brochard told ARTINFO France that at first she had wanted the children to explore the museum with no adults whatsoever. "But I was afraid that they would miss certain things or that they wouldn't take their time. The idea of guidance is important, as long as the child can speak freely and be listened to." It came down to shedding the academic habits and structure that teachers enforce. "I didn't choose Donatella Caprioglio because she's a therapist but because she knows how to listen to children, because she respects their freedom," Brochard said. "I want to avoid at all costs having any authoritarian aspect to the visit."

Children in France are coming to art from a different cultural perspective than those in Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire, but Brochard reports similar reactions of "joy, wonder, and curiosity." Cultural differences did come into play in one case, though. Brochard said that Cameroonian children had a hard time with the kissing faces in Ghada Amer's sculpture "Kisses" because public expressions of romantic love remain taboo there.

Not only do children in Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire have no access to museums, but they are also underserved in any number of basic areas. In the museum's press materials, Brochard tells of visiting a school in Cameroon where half the students had no desks, chairs, pencils, or notebooks. But the school staff agreed that an artistic experience was an important contribution to their education. "They will have experienced something that they will remember, and then with all those children art will perhaps change something, alter the course of a life," Brochard said. "Even if it's only one out of a hundred, or a thousand, that seems significant enough to us."

The future of MuMo is still evolving. When the museum begins its next tour of France in the fall, a black-and-white photograph by John Baldessari will join the collection. It will also be stationed at Paris's FIAC art fair in October — and perhaps grown-ups will finally get a look inside.