On the serious side, Paris is replete with breathtaking museums. World-class doesn’t even begin to describe Paris’ art treasures. Big flex: we are #1 in the whole wide world when it comes to places to see amazing art and antiquities.
Then there’s the other side of town: the illegal artists’ squats, the formerly illegal artists’ squats (the ones the city was forced to give permits to under political pressure), and then there’s the always classic, ‘let’s take this boat and have shows on it’.
Wherever in Paris there is a spare palace or cool space laying around, we will fill it with art and call it a museum or a gallery or even better, a ‘friche’ (which is translated to English as ‘wasteland’ so I’m gonna say that’s not what we mean here). Where we have a waterway, someone will buy some funky old houseboats or river freighters from Amsterdam and open a gallery/wine bar. Unused and vacant loft space? Parisians respond by breaking in and hosting art shows and jams.It’s how we roll.
While it’s hard to beat the Monet-Picasso-DaVinci-level of Fine Art that can be found at our opulent and (rightly) famous galleries and museums, we’ve also got floating concert barges,freaky semi-legal venues, and a chocolate Eiffel Tower to finish on a sweet note.
So now you know what we know: that in Paris, alternative art spaces are on a spectrum. Not only do we have protest spaces funded one can of beer at a time…to the next gen of Fricheswith serious artists mashing away on a MacBook with an organic poke bowl at their side… and a few almost unclassifiable art spaces and bizarro museums are here too. To get some of that freaky vibe, check out these outside-the-box art spaces. Oui, some are more organized and conventional than others.
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Marais
Thaddaeus Ropac built his exquisit taste for contemporary art decades ago, while being friends with people like Andy Warhal and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Fast forward to now, when with 6 different locations across Europe (and now Korea as well), the galleries under the name « Thaddaeus Ropac » are a temple for contemporary art enthusiasts. Their expos are always a full serious and professional ~experience~, with solo and group exhibitions held by already established and the emerging artists. So if you want to check out ~what’s poppin’~ in the contemporary art world and see all the cool artists before the rest of the world does (and you have that je-ne-sais-quoi figured out), this is the place to stop while roaming around the beautiful streets of artistic Le Marais quarter.
If you find yourself on a stroll down the Canal de L’Ourcq, you will most likely stumble upon the Magasins généraux. This classy 1930s industrial building, sittin’ pretty by the bank of the canal houses a huge art space which hosts cultural / artistic meetings and expositions with absolute no limits to the format: Sculpture? Yes. Fashion shows? Sure. Clay pots with 12 spouts (because we all know the tea cups get jealous, I mean have you seen ‘Beauty and the Beast’)? Why not. Old car with graffiti art? (DA BOMB I’m tellin ya!).The building itself is also worth checking out, especially at night, when this place is just mesmerising to look at. Needless to say, if you like to go off the beaten track and wanna get to know the modern Parisian culture, head in here for some gentle art and sunshine time.
Occupying a building of a former great theatre (or what’s left of it, actually), La Gaîté Lyrique is a modern music and digital art centre. Apart from three different performance venues (full of different types of music every night), you can also find expositions, ateliers, artist shops, video gaming area as well as a library with an impressive amount of paper and digital materials on topics connected to modern art (including graffiti and video games design). All that under that XIXth-century roof. Talk about mixing modern and classic.
No, you’re not seeing things. This is one of the many faces this building wears every few months. This place is literally off the wall. The 59 Rivoli opened its doors to suarts (squatting artists) on November 1, 1999 after the building sat abandoned for fifteen years. Its new purpose was to create a place for artists to live and work as they pleased. With that came conflict with the French government. They made complaints and threatened to evict the artists that lived there, but the media as well as political allies helped keep this artist safe haven afloat. Today it has 30 studios open to the public six days a week. They have as many as 4,000 visitors stop by per week for expos and other gatherings, and what’s stopping you from being among them? It’s within walking distance from the Louvre making it the perfect counterculture answer to the gold standard.
Want to catch some short, artsy films? Look no further. Since being anchored on the Canal de l’Ourcq in 2008, this barge serves as a crossroad of creative ideas and energies with the general public. She’s hosted several film festivals, movie-making workshops, film screenings, and discussions. By their own admission, their programs are ambitious, demanding, and eclectic. Most of the films that premier here haven’t been shown anywhere else. Anyone can stop by to glimpse the creation of a film right before their very eyes.
On April 10, 1942, this barge premiered and set sail. For the next 60 years, she would serve as a freight barge carrying cargo back and forth through countries. Then in 2002, the Abricadabra theatre company purchased the vessel and redeveloped it into a cultural space. Not too long after, she dropped her anchor in Paris where she remains to this day. You can see concerts, cabarets, screenings, and improv shows on board. Abricadabra’s performances are meant to be enjoyed by levels of blasé ranging from toddlers to adults. They perform 300 shows a year and have attracted as many as 10,000 spectators in that same period of time.
Le Petit Bain is not so much a barge, nor a boat, nor even just a piece of floating equipment. It’s more so an island providing an artistic cornucopia of entertainment. Its continuing mission has been to welcome artists into the space since its mooring in May 2011. Its three-level building consists of a concert hall, rooftop garden, canteen, and terrace. The roof garden offers a 360 view of Paris and the Seine, and the concert hall has a capacity of 450 people. Music of any and all varieties is welcome. All this so that you can tell yourself those Aperol Spritz’ are in the name of Art and Culture.
Starting out as a public fridge keeping perishable food from all across the country safe, Les Frigos went into service in April 1921 before being decommissioned in 1985. Thankfully in 1997, the City of Paris bought the facility and it has been serving as a safe haven for creators. Les Frigos offers a melting pot of artistic trades such as botany, craftsmanship, graphic designers, and so on. You name a trade, and chances are you’ll find it here. From an industrial wasteland to a cultural wonderland, this is one art space you can’t miss!
There are few places that let people see the genesis of music in real time, but the Maison de la Radio is one of those places. Its auditorium, built on the former sites of studios 102 and 103, has about 1,461 seats and is equipped with an organ. Its acoustics were made so they’d circulate throughout the space. The Maison also has the Agora in its heart. Here, the public and artists collide and congregate in the square. Studios 105 and 106 also have live broadcasts and intimate concerts for the public to hear and see. In this place, music is being made and heard all at once, so it could be a reason to check it out for yourself.
ADDRESS: 116 avenue du Président Kennedy (16th arr.)
It’s rather remarkable how Paris can repurpose industrial buildings to help artists create. In 1907, this building started off as industrial warehouses on the banks of the Seine. The design included a reinforced concrete structure that wasn’t covered, making it one of the first modern docks of the day. In 2005, a team of architects were brought in to start a reconversion project for the docks. It became fully reborn and transfigured, so to speak, by 2009. Its skeleton was kept, albeit covered with a skin that gives the buildings its bright color. Its purpose now is to showcase various talent, from photographers to fashion designers and stylists to landscapers, like never before. The building has hosted fashion shows, fairs, parades, conferences, launches, and so on, so artistic life never gets too boring.
In 1936, this guy named Henri Langlois was all “Hey, I want to create a space for the movies.” Not only is this place made to celebrate movies, but it also celebrates everything that makes a movie, such as archives, costumes, cameras, books/scripts, advertisements, posters, etc. Almost every country has a film preserved here, including some Hollywood classics. Name a flick and chances are that you’ll find it in the Cinémathèque Française.
Willy Wonka, eat your heart out! Here’s a chocolate factory-ish worth checking out. The original chocolate museum was built in Belgium in 2004, but it wasn’t too long before such a magical experience made its way to Paris, as long as you don’t consider six years too long. Awaken the senses by exploring the collective 4,000 years of chocolate, how it’s made, what its uses were, and how it’s evolved to the sweet treat it is today. BUT, that’s not all. You can try their homemade chocolate made by their chocolatiers, and this place also offers workshops that can help you create your own chocolate treats. It also has recreations of Paris monuments made entirely of chocolate.
P.S. If chocolate, but not like normal chocolate is your thing, hit up Josephine Vannier in le Marais.
Espace Shakirail has dedicated itself to harboring artists since its opening on February 2011. The site has two buildings that were previously unused: a former railway cloakroom and training center. The Collective Curry Vavart reached an agreement to use the space as an artist safe haven. Not only are there workshops and residencies, but there are also shared gardens, beehives, and orchards. According to their website, the site was threatened with closure in 2023, and patrons are encouraged to keep the place preserved.
Fluctuart prides itself on being the world’s first floating urban art center, as well as one of those places that want to make art accessible to everyone. Walls (literal and figurative) do not belong here: it’s the passion for art that matters. The permanent exhibit is dedicated to urban art in various shapes and techniques, and its cultural calendar is almost bursting with workshops, conferences, debates and screenings. Artists vary as well, from pioneers to contemporary artists, or even students. Not into urban art? With its two creative spaces, a bookstore, a restaurant, two bars and a perfect location near the Invalides, Fluctuart is a perfect spot for everyone. Stop in for a drink on the rooftop and take advantage of the amazing views of the Eiffel Tower — and let the art speak for itself.
ADDRESS: 2 port du Gros Caillou, Berges de Seine (7th arr.)
HOURS: Winter: Wen-Sun 12p — 01a; Summer daily from 12p
MÉTRO: Invalides (lines 8 and 13) or Franklin D. Roosevelt (lines 1 and 9)
In 1835, this gallery was the Chemin-Vert Foundry, a factory geared to help meet navy and railroad needs for iron works. It closed in 1929 with the property sitting in semi-limbo for a number of decades. Then in 2013, someone rediscovered this building and said, “Hey, why don’t we make this into a digital art gallery?” The property owners agreed, and in 2018, this place ignited to life. As you walk through the halls, you may notice the featured artwork moving around the room as if it’s a whale looking in on aquarium visitors. Each visitor is immersed in art no matter where they go. In case you’re wondering: no, there isn’t a chance of finding the singing candlestick from Beauty and the Beast here (in fact, you’ll have better luck in Euro Disneyland). However, you might see art as you never have before.