The City of Light becomes the city of design
French artist Zevs creates an installation with invisible ink at the grand opening of the W Opéra Paris. (Ariston Anderson)
Paris has set the benchmark for some of the greatest art exhibits in the world, and tourists flock here year-round to see the next big thing. But now the City of Light is making waves with a new type of gallery that is blurring the line between art and design.
Graphic, product, and industrial design influenced by art and fashion, and vice versa, are the focus of this new design movement. Parisian boutique galleries function as both exhibitors and production studios, showcasing top designers as well as producing and selling their work in limited editions -- and hotels and restaurants are capitalising on this new talent to design their environments.
The epicentre of the Parisian design scene is the ultra-hip Marais district, home to the best shops and galleries. Carpenters Workshop Gallery, a studio founded in 2004 was the first to set the stage for design as art. Its aesthetic focuses on bold and iconic works, featuring both emerging and established designers. There is a playfulness and humour in many of the pieces here, such as Italian architect and designer Andrea Branzi’s shelving systems that place industrial steel next to birch tree trunks which are treated to last forever. A giant chandelier by Dutch designers Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta is made from individual dandelion seeds, each one meticulously plucked and glued to a state-of-the-art LED bulb.
The three-year old NextLevel Gallerie featuring French and international designers presents up to seven exhibitions a year with a focus in decorative arts and photography. NextLevel Gallerie maintains a rotating showroom and production studio of past and present artists. The current showcase is byfeatures Canadian designer Philippe Malouin, whose impressive chandeliers and furniture built entirely of brass tubes and connectors make for the most polished construction-site-looking decor imaginable.
In the northern end of the Marais is Gallerie BSL, which specialises in the contemporary industrial design of lighting as unique pieces or limited editions. A recent collection by gallery mainstay Nacho Carbonell showcases circular lamps dripping in natural crystals, seemingly ready to come alive at any moment. The works look as through they are lifted straight from an underground geomorphic wonderland, but the intense craftsmanship behind these sculptures made of epoxy resin and LED lights is evident.
Many local restaurants, hotels and shops pride themselves on being a part of the Parisian design movement with their own museum-quality interiors. After working up an appetite gallery hopping, head to Derrière, located in the heart of the Marais, for its simple dishes in a carnival-like environment. Algerian-born owner Mourad Mazouz collaborated with Franco-American designer Bambi Sloan to turn this former sweatshop into one of Paris’ most popular hangouts for creative types. Enter through the bamboo courtyard and step into a room piled with Moroccan rugs, old records and other flea-market finds and grab a drink around the ping-pong table. Head upstairs to find shabby-chic apartment decor and take a seat on the bed for lunch or walk through the antique armoire to find the secret smoking chamber.
The just-opened W Hotel Opéra is a decadent base from which to explore the city’s best design. The building, designed by the Rockwell Group, uses a flowing design throughout the hotel -- literally, through the lights moving up and down its walls, and symbolically, as people spill out onto the street corners from its ground floor nightclub. Two giant resin bar counters in its molecular-tapas Arola Restaurant bend and fold in a fashion similar to the melting watch in Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Much of the interiors are temporal, such as with ever-changing walls tagged by street artists shoboshobo and Zevs.
Make a stop at David Lynch’s own club, Silencio -- this member’s only club opens its doors to the public after midnight. Climb down a darkened staircase lined with rotating photography exhibit and walk through a sparkling hallway covered entirely in gold leaf. Inside, red curtains hang over the stage which features a different local avant-garde act every night of the week. Grab a flute of champagne and take a seat on the 1950s-inspired furniture, carefully selected by the auteur himself.