Forget any misconceptions that you might have about Paris being a city filled with dusty old museums full of art created by long since deceased artists. Paris has one of the most incredible international contemporary art scenes in the world! With an impressive diversity of work to be found by renowned artists from across the globe, it is no surprise that major art dealers like Gagosian and Mary Goodman have locations here in Paris. The smorgasbord of temporary exhibitions available here are enough to keep any art aficionado satiated for a prolonged length of time. Here are 10 days of recommendations, which you will find spaced throughout this dynamic city.
Day 1: Foundation Louis Vuitton
The Foundation Louis Vuitton, owned by LVMH, is a great example of one the major corporate sponsorships of the arts, as is so often seen in Europe. The highly anticipated spectacular building, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, opened in the fall of 2014. It is located at the far West side of Paris near the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. The exterior of the Foundation Louis Vuitton has recently been transformed by French artist Daniel Buren through a site-specific installation of grand proportions, patterning the glass façade with colored films in his signature modernist repetitive aesthetic. However the best feature of FLV, of course, lies within the glass walls. The current exhibition features contemporary Chinese artists including Yang Fudong, Ai Wei and many others. The most impressive feature may be two large works by artist Zhang Huan who uses incense ash gathered from Buddhist temples from his home city in his work. Using the ashes on linen, the artist has created what at close scale looks like a scattering of debris, but at far range comes into focus as historical scenes of Tiananmen Square and another of the Chinese people digging a massive canal. Painting, sculpture, video and animation run throughout the exhibit.
Day 2 and 3: The Marais
The Marais, also known as the 3rd and 4th arrondisments of Paris, has the highest concentration of contemporary art galleries in the city. Renowned international dealers like Emmanuel Perrotin, Thaddeus Ropac, Marion Goodman, and many, many others have spaces here. Some of them, limited by the scale of the historical architecture, have two spaces in close proximity to one another. Many of the world’s most prestigious artists are shown in these galleries as well as young talents. Pick up a gallery guide at your first stop for a detailed list of all the current contemporary art exhibitions in the city. To see them all in detail will likely take two full days. The galleries themselves are often very discreet from the street and difficult to locate unless you know what you are looking for. Watch for small bronze plaques bearing the gallery names on the walls outside courtyard gates. It is in these discreet spaces that you will experience the height of the Parisan contemporary art scene.
Day 4: Palais de Tokyo
The Palais de Tokyo, named after the now non-existent avenue it was built upon, features temporary exhibitions of French and international contemporary art. The Palais de Tokyo has become the most dynamic hub in the city featuring a broad program of that includes exhibitions, site-specific installations, performances, collaborative projects, film screenings and lectures. Memorable exhibitions here include those by Ryan Gander, Thomas Hirschorn, Hiroshi Sugimoto and others. A suite of new exhibitions has just opened, filling the altered basement with works by David Ryan & Jérôme Joy, Dineo Seshee Bopape, Marguerite Humeau, Ayoung Kim, Mika Rottenberg, and Michel Houellebecq. The Palais de Tokyo is open late, which is perfect also because they have a fantastic restaurant, Monsier Blue. If you make reservations and the weather is pleasant, you may be able to sit on the terrace, which provides a spectacular view capping off a perfect evening at the Palais.
Day 5: The First Quarter
One of the greatest joys of Paris is that the arts of all types are made readily accessible to the public, if you know where to look. Though the first arrondisment is most noted for the world-famous Louvre, it is not without it’s contemporary art treasures scattered about. In fact, the Lourve often collaborates with notable local galleries and has featured some phenomenal projects. This summer one can view a site-specific installation by artist JR at the Lourve Pyramid that has made European art news headlines. A detailed stroll through the adjacent Tuileries gardens often holds a few surprises. Among them, a Lawrence Weiner permanent installation along the North wall, adjacent to the Rue de Rivoli. At the end of the Tuileries lies the Jeu de Paume, a historical building known as the place where the Tennis Court Oath was signed, it is now a dedication photography gallery featuring temporary exhibitions of notable international photographers. Nearby in the courtyard of the Palais Royale one can view a permanent installation by French artist Chris Burden while sipping rosé in the afternoon sun at one of the café terraces.
Day 6: Chateau Versailles
The French are a world leader in cultural fusions, creating hybrid collaborations that marry contemporary art with music, fashion, design, architecture, and history. Summer is the best time to visit Chateau Versailles, which is a mere half hour train ride from Paris. Versailles has a program that allows for one chosen artist per year to work with the palace or it’s spectacular gardens where a grand exhibition of their work is installed. Imagine strolling the intricate and historic gardens designed by French landscape artist Andre Le Notre in the 18th century and coming upon a sculpture by Takashi Murakami! Other artists featured at Chateau Versailles include Jeff Koons, Bernar Venet among others. This summer features Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Elliason. While some of the works are so subtle that you might now realize that you are looking right at them, others mesmerize tremendous crowds. Working with elements such as light, mirrors, fog, water, and earth, his installations are cleverly interwoven into the history of the chateau itself.
Day 7: Les Grandes Magasins
North of the Opera lay some of Paris’s most renowned department stores, featuring designer labels from around the world. Les Grandes Magasins are, in themselves, an experience, especially by North American shopping mall standards. While many go for the shopping, and stay for tea at Laduree in Printemps, or lunch under the stained glass domes, there is more. Galeries Lafayette has it’s own exhibition space, aptly known as Galerie des Galeries. This is a vibrant contemporary art space that often features the work of local Parisian artists and allows an opportunity for experimental art projects of the highest caliber. This summer features TOILETPAPER, a collaboration between Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari, which opens on July 6th.
Day 8: Saint-Germain de Près
Though Saint-Germain has many galleries, most are of a more decorative or design oriented type. However, one of Paris’s best contemporary art dealers also has not one, but two spaces there. Kamel Mennour represented an impressive stable of artists that include Anish Kapoor, Jake & Dinos Chapman, François Morellet and Duchamp Prize Winner Latifah Echakchch. An exhibition of profound and stunning works by Japanese-Korean artist Lee Ufan recently opened at Galerie Kammel Mennour's 28 avenue Matignon space. These minimalist works are both profound and stunning. Nearby at Mennour's initial space at 28 avenue Matignon, an exhibition of photographs by controversial artist Nobuyoshi Araki are on view.
Day 9: The Pompidou Centre
Although the Pompidou Centre’s mandate is focused on modern art, some of the most impressive curated exhibitions of contemporary art that I have ever seen have been here at the Pomipdou. Excellent examples of both French and international artists work can be seen here. The Pompidou Centre’s partnership with ADIF (Association for the International Diffusion of French Contemporary Art) allows for the annual winner of the Prix Marcel Duchamp to have a solo exhibition. For those who don’t already know, the Prix Marcel Duchamp is France’s version of the U.K.’s Turner Prize. The 2015 Laureate’s exhibition Melik Ohanian’s “Under Shadows” is currently on view in a fusion between poetry and science in an environment that expresses various dimensions.
Day 10: Paris Pantin
Though it may be a bit of a trek into unknown territory, it is well worth it to take the journey to Paris’s Pantin area. As in any major city, real estate is at its prime rates in the most dense urban areas, so gallerists often seek space outside the core, transforming less desirable neighborhoods into vibrant, eclectic hubs of art and culture. Thaddeus Ropac, for example, has opened a large project space in Pantin. Other dealers like Jocelyn Wolfe and Creve Cœur have their main spaces located here. The truly dedicated art professional will make the journey to Pantin.
By the time you have completed this itinerary, you will have seen some of the most important contemporary and historical neighborhoods of Paris, although this list is by no means exhausted. Paris is an exceptional hub of cultural diversity at any time of the year, but the summer months are when it is most delightful to wander the city. However, during the month of August is when most Parisians take their annual vacations and head for beachfront destinations. You will find most galleries have closed their doors for the entire month, to resume their business again come September.
- Holly Marie Armishaw (June 2016)
Holly Marie Armishaw is a Vancouver-based contemporary artist primarily using photography and digital imaging to create imaginary realms and states of being. She is also an independent scholar on art, history and culture.
Holly Marie Armishaw
Based in Vancouver, Canada, Holly Marie Armishaw is a contemporary artist, art writer, francophile, and world traveler. Through rigorous exploration of inspiration from international sources of art and culture, she infuses her insights with a critical eye as she discusses global trends. Both her art and writing are informed by attending a continuous array of art exhibitions, lectures, fairs and biennales, both at home and abroad.