Paris is one of the great art capitals of the world, which means that even beyond its world-famous museums and their tens of millions of visitors yearly, there remain other, quieter places to discover and enjoy art. These ten venues feature a more intimate way to engage with art in the French capital, from independent art spaces to experimental art production, multipurpose complexes and relaxing gardens.
While not exactly a secret, Claude Monet’s two-room expansive work Les Nymphéas (Water Lilies) remains a truly unmissable experience for any art lover. Restored and reopened to the public in 2006, the oval rooms create an immersive environment with long canvases that encircle the visitor, the diffuse natural light offering a constantly shifting luminosity in the impressionistic layers of colours. Monet created the works – based on the gardens in Giverny – through a combination of observation and memory, without preliminary sketches or borders, and conceived it as a place of tranquillity after World War I, where ‘nerves strained from work could find relaxation’ and whose rooms ‘would offer the refuge of peaceful meditation.’ The long oval benches and guards who encourage silence remain faithful to this original intention.
Originally an illegal squat founded by artists in 1999, the publicity generated from its popularity and the election of a Parisian mayor from the left, who helped organize the building’s purchase by the city, allowed for 59 Rivoli to become a sanctioned artist collective, now housing 20 permanent artists and 10 artists in temporary residency in the building’s expansive four floors. With an exhibition space on the ground floor that features a new exhibition every two weeks, and an assortment of musical performances, there is always something new to discover at the free and open unique artist space.
Converted from the sprawling spaces of a former morgue in the northeast of Paris close to Canal St. Martin, Le 104 is a large cultural centre housing a diverse array of artistic activities: theatre, dance, music, cinema, video, and digital and urban art. Calling itself an ‘Artistic Establishment’, the vast 1873 structure hosts a number of events including art installations, concerts, dance and theatre performances, as well as exhibitions, such as the current 120 Years of Cinema: Gaumont, Since the Cinema Has Existed. There are also three eateries, a bookstore and a charity shop, and a space for children.
JR, "The Wrinkles of the City, Los Angeles, Robert’s Eye" Paris, 2011 | Courtesy Galerie Perrotin
Working his way up from outside the established art circles, Kamel Mennour has become one of the most important gallerists in the French capital through his undying passion for contemporary art, representing both the most promising artists of the new generation, like Camille Henrot and Alijca Kwade, and the firmly established ones like Anish Kapoor and Daniel Buren. Set in a seventeenth-century hôtel particulier on the Left Bank, the gallery’s courtyard, huge ground floor and mezzanine are the perfect oasis in which to find the best in what is happening in art today.
One of the powerhouse galleries in the French capital, its founder Emmanuel Perrotin rose to prominence by his early support of now international superstars Maurizio Cattelan, Damien Hirst, and Takashi Murakami, and has recently expanded his reach to New York and Hong Kong. The large Parisian gallery, also in a seventeenth-century hôtel particulier, is located in the heart of the contemporary art scene of the Marais. And while Perrotin’s brash style has earned him the nickname of ‘the cowboy of contemporary art,’ he also represents the rising generation of talented international artists like Michael Sailstorfer, JR, and Jesper Just.
Facing the gardens of Montmartre, Halle Saint Pierre is a multi-faceted art space dedicated primarily to what is known as art brut, or outsider art. The expansive space houses not only a museum and gallery, but also a wonderful bookstore and light-filled café overlooking the green hills of Sacré Coeur across the street. It hosts a number of temporary exhibitions in the main gallery spaces focusing on lesser known genres of art, like the current show Les cahier dessinés (hand-drawn notebooks) that features work from seventy artists as diverse as Kiki Smith, Tomi Ungerer, and Victor Hugo.
Keeping the vitality of art alive in the heights of Montmartre, Kadist Art Foundation is an artistic think tank of sorts, supporting residences for artists and curators in which they can develop projects related to the Parisian context and culminating in an exhibition at the Kadist’s modest space. The research period allows for in-depth contemplation of art’s agency in contemporary society, in which artists like Danh Vo and Mario Garcia Torres or international curators like Bassam el Baroni utilize pluridisciplinary artistic approaches to examine pressing political and philosophical issues in the world today, reflecting the non-profit organization’s mission to ‘encourage the contribution of the arts to society.’
Situated in a renovated former factory close to Bastille, the Maison Rouge is a large complex dedicated to contemporary art founded by art collector Antoine de Galbert. While it often hosts exhibitions drawn from private collections, which allows for the opportunity to see artworks rarely on view to the public, the foundation also features other smartly curated exhibitions and reserves its vestibule for young artists in new shows every four to six weeks. Their current on-site pop-up café project is a collaboration with the owners of the Parisian hotspot, Rose Bakery, and interior designer-scenographer Emilie Bonaventure, while their bookstore houses an expansive collection of works on contemporary art.
Created as a project of FRAC Île-de-France (a French governmental organization that supports regional contemporary art collection for the public’s benefit), Le Plateau is an exhibition space specifically installed in a working class area of Paris in order to increase the dissemination of contemporary art, with a particular emphasis on outreach and education. Hosting four annual exhibitions, often encouraging new production of works by younger artists or highlighting the latest acquisitions by the organization, it is an excellent place to discover promising artists from the greater Paris region. The space also invites curators for two-year residencies to host programmes, such as the upcoming exhibition A Personal Sonic Geology by Philippe Decrauzat and Mathieu Copeland opening on May 12.
Finally, while the Rodin Museum is well known to many visitors to the French capital, the Garden surrounding the eighteenth-century mansion is the real art lover’s treat, and can be accessed separately for only 2€. Stretching over three hectares, you can find not only Rodin’s masterpieces like The Gates of Hell and the iconic Thinker, but also a rose garden, meandering paths, and grassy expanses in which to relax and enjoy the sculptor’s former home, perhaps even sketching a few of the sculptures dotting the landscape.