Underground art in France

Under the radar art experiences in France

Already completed Jean-Luc Godard’s Louvre challenge in record timing? Then on your next trip to France’s capital explore some overlooked and under the radar art experiences. Time Out takes you through them.

You could fit all five of these venues inside one wing of the Louvre, yet together, they represent a vast cross-section of the French capital’s alternative art scene, ranging from street art to anonymous photography. It’s no coincidence that many of them are situated in squats or beyond the Périphérique – in a city where space is at a premium and rent is through the roof, the suburbs and abandoned public buildings are often the only option for penurious artists. The result is that few people make it to these places, drawn instead to the massive marketing campaigns of the Musée d’Orsay or the Centre Pompidou. So with this list, we hope to correct that. Read on to discover our five favourite galleries and museums overlooked by the crowds.

Les Églises – Centre d’art contemporain de la ville de Chelles

When two adjoining churches in Chelles were earmarked for demolition, the local council intervened, determined to convert them into a contemporary arts venues. Franco-Hungarian designer Martin Szekely and urban landscaper Marc Barani were called in, and they transformed the site into a model of stark, austere beauty: stained-glass windows, a jasmine garden, bold architectural lines. It’s unique among arts centres in that it focuses on art that above all questions notions of territory (urban, architectural, or even historical). Opened in 2008, Les Églises boasts four exhibitions a year, with some performances, conferences and workshops sprinkled in there for good measure.

Le Shakirail

One of those semi-official squats seemingly always on the brink of closure, Le Shakirail has nevertheless found the time to flourish into one of the city’s most spirited contemporary art venues. This is thanks to the careful curation of Curry Vavart, the collective responsible for converting this former SNCF office into the artists’ residence that it is today. The sixty-odd habitants cover a wide range of disciplines between them: depending on the day, Le Shakirail’s sizeable rooms variously play host to fine art exhibitions, indie gigs, dance classes, experimental plays and themed film screenings, all delivered with the enthusiasm and professionalism that have come to define the collective’s projects around the city.

Galerie Lumière des Roses
Opened in 2005 by Philippe and Marion Jacquier, long-time devotees of what the French call ‘le huitième art’ – the eighth art, or ultimate expression of art that comes from deep within – the gallery has swiftly built itself a reputation as the centre of anonymous photography in France. This is partly thanks to its owners’ remarkable dedication: the couple routinely rummage through flea markets and even rubbish dumps with the aim of salvaging beautiful images that would otherwise forever be consigned to oblivion. Thanks to their sharp artistic eye, they’ve put together one of the most striking and downright surprising photography collections in the capital. The gallery, situated beyond the périphérique in Montreuil, is open on weekdays (reservations necessary) and it also participates in Paris Photo every November.

Musée Zadkine
This is one of the most intimate museums in Paris, a rare peaceful, almost secret corner where you can also get a good dose of modern art. The former studio of Russian-born Cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine was converted into a museum in 1932 and has always had a particular charm, conserving the spirit of the place where the sculptor and his wife, painter Valentine Prax, lived for more than 40 years. A renovation and re-opening in autumn 2012 has cemented and invigorated this success. The reception area is complete with a traditional samovar providing tea for visitors. Beyond this is a procession of small light-filled rooms, all glass ceilings and dark wood floors, white walls and fittings. The sculptures in wood, stone, plaster and clay are given new life in this fresh setting (particularly ‘Rebecca’, a large sculpture of a water-carrier that’s bathed in natural light). Don’t miss the garden planted with stylised bronze statues, including the famous ‘Monument à la Ville détruite de Rotterdam’.

La Galerie des Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville
This collective is known above all for its annual Portes Ouvertes event, as part of which hundreds of artists based in and around Belleville open their workshops to the public for a few days in May. If the opportunity to see inside bohemian digs tends to overshadow the art on show, La Galerie des AAB, nestled right in the heart of the quartier, seeks to redress the imbalance with its year-round display of local artists’ works. Art produced by collectives based in Belleville is given priority, but this snug one-room gallery’s remit is otherwise fairly wide, and the exhibition is changed up at least once a month in order to give voice to as many artists as possible. This fantastic Belleville project is extremely valuable because it reconciles bohemian appeal with the strong community spirit that characterises the neighbourhood.

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