For years, the Paris art scene was associated with the masters of the past – Monet and Manet, Picasso and Degas – while the contemporary art scene was overshadowed by New York and London. No longer. In the past decade, thanks to new galleries, major museum overhauls and artistic centres opening up in previously gritty neighbourhoods, the City of Light has undergone a serious art renaissance.
No one would tell an art lover to skip the Louvre. But for those who want to explore today’s Paris, including its cutting-edge art scene, hip boutiques and modern restaurants, these are our top picks.
One of the biggest gallery openings of the past decade, the Gagosian’s Parisian outpost debuted in 2012 in a 17,760sqft 1950s airport warehouse in the city’s northern suburbs. Redesigned by Pritzker Prize-winning starchitect Jean Nouvel, the cube-like white space is flooded with light through skylights and tinted windows. Mezzanines provide different perspectives on large-scale pieces – perfect for viewing works like the modernist mobiles of Alexander Calder or the installations of Anselm Kierfer – and an adjacent airstrip allows easier access for collectors with private jets.
Other major cultural spaces planned for the outskirts of Paris include the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la Création, a cultural centre in the Bois de Boulogne that will display the lavish contemporary art collection of billionaire and Louis Vuitton CEO Bernard Arnault; and Jean Nouvel’s Philharmonie de Paris, the new auditorium for the Paris Philharmonic orchestra in the Parc de la Villette, both expected to be completed in 2014.
Idem, a light-flooded industrial printing shop in Montparnasse that opened in 1880, was where Paris’ lithography renaissance took place, with Matisse, Chagall, Picasso and Miró using the printing stones and inkpots. Today, the workshop is put to use by art-world celebrities such as David Lynch and Karl Lagerfeld. Pop in to watch artists rendering images, etching old limestone plates and sending their inked stones through massive, whirring antique presses to produce prints.
Parisian artists have long drawn inspiration from Africa, a relationship recently reinforced thanks to an influx of African immigrants into the city. For a window on the colonial connection, head to La Maison de la Revue Noire. The intimate gallery, located in a sunny little Montparnasse townhouse, grew out of the eponymous art and culture magazine that ran from 1991 to 2001. It features paintings, photography, drawings and video exhibitions from developing countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
While not a new opening, Yvon Lambert, in the hip Marais district, remains a top draw: the gallery has been at the forefront of the city’s art scene for more than 30 years. The main space shows international names such as Conceptual Art movement founder Sol LeWitt, while up-and-comers such as South African video artist Candice Breitz are featured in the basement. For a window on up-to-the-minute art news, stop at the gallery bookshop for independent, edgy magazines and lush tomes in both French and English. Also make sure to pop into Galerie Xippas, which was restored in 2003. The gallery, which wraps around the glass roof of Yvon Lambert, features works such as the large format photography of French artist Valérie Belin and the realist still life paintings of Anglo-Canadian Lisa Milroy.
Few cities have one top-notch contemporary art museum, let alone three. In Paris, the grandfather of the bunch is the Richard Rogers- and Renzo Piano-designed Centre Pompidou, which opened in 1977 in the 4th arrondissement. The Pompidou now has a collection of more than 50,000 works from the 20th and 21st Centuries, plus performance spaces and a public library. From February through June, the exhibition Paparazzi! explores the line between photographer and celebrity with works by Andy Warhol, Richard Avedon and Cindy Sherman.
Reopened in 2012 after a renovation, the Palais de Tokyo near the Trocadéro is the largest contemporary art museum in Europe without a permanent collection. The funky space, a mix of industrial grit and Art Deco grandeur, hosts about 40 exhibitions a year, concentrating on French artists, while its late-night film screenings and indie rock performances have turned it into a nightlife destination.
In the 14th arrondissement, the Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain offers edgy international exhibits – from painting to performance art, fashion to graphic design – in a light-flooded glass building designed by Jean Nouvel. Through April, the blockbuster show America Latina explores Latin American photography from the 1960s through today.