Your Guide to Paris’s Traditionally Avant-Garde Art Scene

Artsy Editorial
May 28, 2015 9:00PM

Take FIAC’s current takeover of the Grand Palais or Ragnar Kjartansson’s performative solo at Palais de Tokyo as proof: Paris, long a hotbed for the creative avant garde, continues to be a center for the global contemporary scene. Its rich history positions it as a venue for the (often provocative) coexistence of artistic tradition and cutting-edge practices.

Portrait of Almine Rech © Geert Joostens, 2015; portrait of Florence Derieux courtesy of Florence Derieux.

We asked two experts on the city—seasoned gallerist and Paris native Almine Rech, and Florence Derieux, director of the FRAC Champagne-Ardenne since 2008 and curator for the Parcours section at Art Basel—to let us in on their favorite destinations in this unique milieu. Below, we combine their insights with our own Paris must-sees for a curated guide to the best of the local art scene, and a forecast of what promise to be this summer’s most talked-about exhibitions.


16th arrondissement


Palais de Tokyo, 2013. Photo : Florent Michel / 11h45.


Paris is well-known for its long list of world-class museums, and you could while away an entire day in three of the most impressive: the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Palais de Tokyo, and a personal favorite of Rech’s, the Musée Marmottan Monet. As she notes, the collection’s location just off the beaten path makes it one of Paris’s most serene, crowdless gems.

on view thIS FALL

At Palais de Tokyo, Ragnar Kjartansson activates the museum with a specially commissioned live performance, an immersive video installation, and a series of large-scale paintings. Concurrently, Ugo Rondinone fills select galleries with an homage to American poet John Giorno, a Beat Generation pioneer and fixture at Andy Warhol’s Factory. This is the experimental poet’s first major retrospective and includes a recreation of his seminal 1968 work Dial-A-Poem, where calling 0800 106 106 connects you to a spoken word or sound piece by artists from Giorno to Louise Bourgeois to Serge Gainsbourg.

At the Musée d’Art Moderne, see “Warhol: Unlimited,” a sprawling exhibition of the pop artist’s work that brings his 1978-1979 “Shadows” series to Europe, in its entirety, for the first time. As a contemporary counterpoint, don’t miss “CO-WORKERS – Network as Artist,” a show that juxtaposes young artists (Aids-3D, Darja Bajagić, Ian Cheng, DIS, among others) who use internet-based networking as fodder for multimedia practices.

Just a short walk north, Paris Internationale is the city’s newest fair—a refreshing emerging counterpoint to the long-established FIAC. It hosts progressive young galleries, ranging from Mexico City’s LULU to Los Angeles’s Paradise Garage to Glasgow’s Koppe Astner.




Image of Place Vendôme ca. 1800-1900 via Wikimedia Commons.

Preface your walk down Paris’s most famous avenue with a stroll through the Place Vendôme—whose Hôtel Ritz has long been a center for some of the city’s most prominent artists and intellectuals and which most recently played home to a controversial public installation by Paul McCarthy.

While there’s no shortage of institutions along the Champs-Élysées, Derieux suggests making time for the Jeu de Paume—a building with a fascinating history, from its original use as a court for “real tennis” to its stint as a storage facility for anything the Nazis termed “degenerate art,” now home to one of the city’s most prestigious collections of modern and postmodern art—as well as the Fondation d’entreprise Ricard and the Petit Palais.

Just off the main drag, you’ll find Gagosian Gallery’s Parisian home; we recommend venturing a bit further north to Galerie Lelong, before withdrawing to Le Bar du Bristol, one of Rech’s ideal places to wrap up a day of gallery-hopping.


At Jeu de Paume, don’t miss the delightful retrospective of Philippe Halsman’s pioneering portraits, where creative luminaries like Salvador Dalí, Alfred Hitchcock, and Marilyn Monroe assume exuberant, and sometimes delightfully absurd, poses.

Across Gagosian’s two Paris galleries, see an ambitious spread of Sterling Ruby’s new paintings and sculptures, representing his first solo exhibitions in the city.


3rd & 4th arrondissements

Le Marais

Image of Musée Picasso © Fabien Campoverde, courtesy of Musée Picasso

Start your tour of one of the city’s most charming—and art-packed—neighborhoods with the Centre Pompidou, then take your pick of some of the city’s leading galleries, from Rech’s own space to Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Marian Goodman Gallery, Galerie Perrotin, Nathalie Obadia, and Galerie Christophe Gaillard.

Take a break for lunch at another of Rech’s favorite post-galleries spots, le Café des Musées, then tour the area’s wealth of design-focused galleries, including Galerie BSL and, a little further to the east, Galerie Patrick Seguin. Among Rech’s other neighborhood must-see is the Musée Picasso, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Head north to check out Magnin-A, which focuses on contemporary African artists and whose recent booth at New York’s 1:54 brought some of the fair’s most stimulating works. Wind down with a browse at Ofr. Bookshop, where you can comb through artist editions, and then retire to one of Derieux’s haunts, the cozy modern bistro Pramil.


Centre Pompidou hosts a score of ambitious shows this fall, with an immersive installation by French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster headlining the schedule. Titled “Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, 1887-2058,” the exhibition visualizes the passage of time across the globe, through a series of shifting landscapes (tropical, nostalgic, dystopian) that incorporate stage sets, videos, and games. An extensive retrospective of Cuban Surrealist Wifredo Lam’s work is also on view.

At Almine Rech, a mini-retrospective of Julian Schnabel’s paintings, including Virtue (1986), a breakthrough work exhibited at the 1987 Whitney Biennial, for the now-canonized Neo-Expressionist.

Thaddaeus Ropac shows new work by Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie, whose swirling figurative paintings were a favorite at this year’s Venice Biennale.


5th & 6th arrondissements


Image of L’École des Beaux-Arts via Wikimedia Commons 

Before you head down the Seine into the heart of Saint-Germain, journey through the legendary Impressionist collection of the Musée d’Orsay. Then make your way to the Monnaie de Paris, the city’s first mint—founded in 864—and its only one still active. But, as Derieux points out, the institution’s contemporary arts programming may be its most intriguing component, mounting exhibitions of artists like David LaChapelle and Paul McCarthy.

Galleries dot the streets of this vibrant neighborhood—stop by Galerie Agnès Monplaisir and Cahiers d’Art, home to the journal and publishing house that followed the rise of Modernism and whose programming has recently been revived by a young new owner.

For lunch, take your pick between the (amicably) warring Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, who have passed the title of the neighborhood’s chicest—and most intellectual-packed—cafe back and forth since the 19th century.

For a more academic afternoon, take a stroll through the collections of the École des Beaux-Arts, the institution that schooled many of France’s most famous artists—from Degas and Delacroix to Monet and Moreau. And if you’re in the city before June 14th, make sure to stop into the beloved art/philosophy bookshop La Hune, which is sadly closing next month after some 65 years.

In the evening, cross the Seine to find the Musée du Louvre all aglow—on Wednesdays and Fridays, its galleries stay open until 9:45. Then head around the corner to Le Fumoir, where Derieux likes to head after a long day of art-going.


Organized by Christian Boltanski, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Chiara Parisi, Monnaie de Paris mounts “Take Me (I'm Yours),” an immersive exhibition bringing together the conceptually-driven practices of 44 international artists, including Hans-Peter FeldmannCarsten Höller, and Yoko Ono, among others. 

And at Musée d’Orsay, don’t miss “Splendour and Misery. Pictures of Prostitution, 1850-1910,” where the influence of dance halls and brothels on important works by Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch, and Picasso, among others, is on view through mid-January. 



Belleville and Montmartre

Tour a handful of Derieux’s favorite spots in Belleville, a haven for artists filled with studios and an impressive accumulation of street art. She recommends checking out castillo/corrales, a nonprofit exhibition space, publishing house, and bookstore; Shanaynay, the enigmatic space run by artist Jason Hwang and curator Romain Chenais; and the local FRAC (regional contemporary art collection) of Île-de-France.

Head further south to Le Comptoir Général, which describes itself as “an art museum dedicated to ghetto culture: the result of creativity that springs up in poor or marginalised places all over the world.” The museum focuses especially on the complicated legacy of France in its former African colonies.

Start off in Montmartre with two of Derieux’s most unconventional highlights: LE BAL, a project space that explores the social and political roles of images, and Kadist Art Foundation, which augments its residency program with conceptual presentations by contemporary artists.

While you’re in the area, you can stop by Derieux’s favorite out-of-the-way spot: Neva Cuisine, a great place to sample contemporary French cuisine. Just around the corner is La Gare Saint-Lazare, the subject of homages by artists from Monet to Cartier-Bresson.

on view this FALL

In “A Handful of Dust: From the Cosmic to the Domestic,” LE BAL uses Man Ray’s pioneering photograph, Dust Breeding (ca. 1920), as well as T.S. Eliot’s modernist classic The Waste Land (1922), as a jumping-off point to track how artists have used dust to explore a range of subjects from daily life to environmental perils.


13th & 14th arrondissements and beyond

Further Afield

Aerial view of Château de Fontainebleau, courtesy of Château de Fontainebleau; view of the Latona Fountain at Château de Versailles, courtesy of Château de Versailles

In Montparnasse, you’ll find the Jean Nouvel-designed home of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain; to the east, look out for one of Derieux’s highlights, Bétonsalon, a center for art and research associated with the Université Paris Diderot. Just outside the city limits, you’ll find two other contemporary art centers on Derieux’s list—La Galerie, centre d’art contemporain de Noisy-le-Sec, and MAC/VAL (Musée d’art contemporain du Val de Marne), devoted to exploring the French art scene from the 1950s to the present day since its opening a decade ago.

A bit further out, there are of course the Château de Versailles and the Château de Fontainebleau, iconic and not to be missed. For a real immersion in the artistic heritage of France, Rech suggests, visit some of the villages in Normandy, where major artists lived and worked—from Monet’s Giverny to Van Gogh’s Auvers-sur-Oise, Pissarro’s Eragny to Picasso’s Gisors.

on view this FALL

Through January 10th, Fondation Cartier hosts “Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko,” exploring art made in the Democratic Republic of Congo from the 1920s through today. 

—Artsy Editors

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