Forgetting Paris’ Old Masters: What’s Happening In The Emerging Contemporary Art Scene?
Once known primarily for its connection to artistic legends such as Monet, Manet, Picasso, and Degas, Paris has transformed into a thriving center for contemporary art over the past ten years. With new galleries emerging, substantial museum makeovers, and innovative centers developing in once-neglected neighborhoods, the City of Light has undergone a remarkable artistic revival.
No art enthusiast would miss a visit to the Louvre – cue The Mona Lisa. But there are other vibrant, modern and even eclectic sides to Paris that are well worth seeing. They include an avant-garde art scene, fashionable chic boutiques as well as contemporary dining options.
Located in an old 1950’s airport warehouse in Paris’ northern suberbs, the Gagosian Gallery‘s Parisian branch, opened its doors in 2012, and was among the most significant launches in the last decade or so. The space was reimagined by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel.
The cube-shaped white interior is filled with natural light, thanks to skylights and tinted windows. Mezzanines offer unique vantage points to appreciate large-scale pieces by artists like Alexander Calder and Anselm Kiefer. An adjacent airstrip facilitates access for collectors with private planes.
Other ambitious cultural projects on the outskirts of Paris include the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la Création, a cultural center in the Bois de Boulogne set to showcase billionaire and Louis Vuitton CEO Bernard Arnault’s extensive contemporary art collection; and Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie de Paris, the new auditorium for the Paris Philharmonic orchestra in the Parc de la Villette, both slated for completion in 2014.
Idem, an industrial printing shop that opened in Montparnasse in 1880, was the epicenter of Paris’ lithography resurgence. Notable artists such as Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, and Miró used the printing stones and inkpots here. Nowadays, art-world luminaries like David Lynch and Karl Lagerfeld employ the workshop. Visitors can observe artists as they create images, etch limestone plates, and send their inked stones through massive antique presses to produce prints.
Parisian artists have long been inspired by Africa, a connection that has been reinforced by the recent influx of African immigrants into the city. La Maison de la Revue Noire, an intimate gallery in a sunny Montparnasse townhouse, showcases this colonial connection. The gallery features paintings, photography, drawings, and video exhibitions from developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe.
Though not a new opening, Yvon Lambert in the trendy Marais district remains a must-visit destination. The gallery has been at the forefront of the city’s art scene for over 30 years. The main space showcases international artists such as Conceptual Art movement founder Sol LeWitt, while rising stars like South African video artist Candice Breitz are featured in the basement. For a glimpse into the latest art news, stop at the gallery’s bookshop for independent, edgy magazines and opulent books in both French and English. Be sure to also visit Galerie Xippas, which was restored in 2003. The gallery, which wraps around Yvon Lambert’s glass roof, displays works such as French artist Valérie Belin’s large-format photography and Anglo-Canadian Lisa Milroy’s realistic still life paintings.
Few cities can boast multiple world-class contemporary art museums, but Paris is home to no less than three. The Centre Pompidou opened in 1977 (find it in the 4th arrondissement) and it now proudly houses a collection of over 50,000 works from both the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition to various performance spaces and a public library, the Pompidou regularly hosts a variety of exhibitions by famous and lesser known artists. In the past, the museum has featured works by Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon, and Cindy Sherman, so it’s always worth checking out what’s on.
After its 2012 renovation, the Palais de Tokyo, located near the Trocadéro, became the largest contemporary art museum in Europe without having a permanent collection. The eclectic space, which combines industrial grit with Art Deco elegance, hosts around 40 exhibitions each year, primarily focusing on French artists. Late-night film screenings and indie rock performances have also made the museum a popular nightlife destination.
The Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in the 14th arrondissement presents cutting-edge international exhibits, ranging from painting to performance art, fashion to graphic design, all housed in a light-filled glass building designed by Jean Nouvel. Until April, the highly anticipated show “America Latina” explored Latin American photography from the 1960s to the present day.
For an art-centric stay in Paris, Le Royal Monceau near the Arc de Triomphe offers a dedicated art concierge, an onsite contemporary gallery, an auction space as well as an art bookstore. The hotel, which first opened in 1928, has hosted famous guests like Walt Disney and Coco Chanel. Philippe Starck revitalized the hotel in 2010. The art concierge can arrange exclusive experiences like spending time with street artists in the emerging Belleville neighborhood, crafting walking tours of gallery districts such as Montparnasse, and organizing private after-hours visits to contemporary museums like the Pompidou.
Parisian gallery and museum restaurants have evolved from mere rest stops for art-weary tourists into culinary destinations in their own right. Monsieur Bleu, which opened in May 2013 within the Palais de Tokyo’s new wing, has attracted much attention. Overlooking the Seine and offering panoramic views of the Eiffel Tower, the restaurant features a modernist design in black, white, jade, and chartreuse. Chef Benjamin Masson’s menu combines brasserie favorites like steak tartare and frogs’ legs with upscale comfort food (think lobster rolls) for the late-night crowd who flock in for cocktails and DJ sets until 2 am.
To recover from a night out, indulge in the city’s latest brunch craze at Le Bal Café near Place de Clichy. Alice Trattle, formerly of London’s Michelin-starred St. John restaurant, opened this chic, British-inspired spot within the Le Bal photography and cultural center in 2012. For brunch, try a traditional fry-up with grilled onions, thick-cut bacon, eggs, and scones, or opt for lunch options such as wood pigeon with beets, followed by stichelton cheese with fresh biscuits and chutney, or a homemade cheesecake. Trust us, it’s a work of art.