Paris: A Contemporary Art Itinerary

Discovering the Parisian art scene with Natasha Edwards

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Natasha Edwards

Natasha Edwards
HomeAway travel expert

Contemporary Art ItineraryParis has always been a magnet for art and artists, with its world-class collections, lively gallery scene and constantly changing programme of exhibitions. The cultural season here runs from September to mid-July, so look for major openings in September, February, April and May, and a whole set of busy art fairs and salons in spring and autumn.

International collectors flock into town for the FIAC international contemporary art fair at the Grand Palais in October (with a new offshoot in 2014 at the Cité de la Mode et du Design), and the Paris Photo salon in November. Private galleries are concentrated in Le Marais and St-Germain-des-Prés, along with a cluster of young art galleries up in Belleville.

The centre of the art market may have migrated to Berlin, London, New York and even China since Paris's avant-garde heyday in the early 20th-century – but it remains a great place for artists to work. The city is still sprinkled with artists’ studios (look for large north-facing windows) and converted industrial spaces. There are several opportunities to visit studios in Portes Ouvertes open weekends – often in May – in different districts such as Belleville and the Bastille, or at Les Frigos in the 13th arrondissement.


Five places for keeping your finger on the art-world pulse


Centre Pompidou Centre Pompidou

With its colourful pipes and ducts, this glass and steel building designed by Piano and Rogers has become an architectural icon since its controversial opening in 1977. Inside, the national museum of modern art provides a tour through western art history from 1914 to the present, including breathtaking displays of Matisse, Picasso, the Surrealists and Nouveaux Réalistes, whilst also taking in photography, design and architecture. Keeping up its original multidisciplinary philosophy, it's also home to cinema, experimental dance and theatre, a library and design shop, not forgetting trendy restaurant Georges at the top — or the incredible view as you ride up the escalator.

Centre Pompidou: Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, 01 44 78 12 33

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Palais de Tokyo Palais de Tokyo

This colossal 1930s building is probably Paris's most happening art space, with a deliberately experimental approach to exhibitions that take in installation, photography, video, performance and all the media of art today, with a focus on young artists. It's easy to get lost as you descend into three levels of semi-derelict, concrete basement – and the works aren't always easy to understand. But there's a team of mediators on hand to explain. Team your visit with the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in the opposite wing of the building, home to the municipal modern art collection.

Palais de Tokyo: 13 avenue du Président-Wilson, 75116 Paris, 01 81 97 35 88

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La Maison Rouge  La Maison Rouge

This place stands out from other art venues in Paris: it was created by collector Antoine de Galbert, and alternates solo shows by contemporary artists with fascinating exhibitions of private collections from all over the world. In short, it gives the chance to see works that you'd normally never get to see. The space is a former factory, concealed within an apartment block. The "red house" – that is, the little building in the middle of the gallery – is home to the café, and a tiny glass-sided patio that is used for unusual one-off installations.

La Maison Rouge: 10 boulevard de la Bastille, 75012 Paris, 01 40 01 08 81

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Marais Galleries Marais Galleries

To see what’s happening in the current art scene, head to northern Le Marais; this is where many of Paris's best art galleries lurk behind the beautiful stone facades of historic 17th-century mansions, especially on rue de Turenne and rue Vieille du Temple. Here, galleries such as Emmanuel Perrotin, Yvon Lambert, Chantal Crousel, Thaddeus Ropac and Michel Rein present an international spectrum of contemporary artists. The area is buzziest on vernissage evenings, when artists and critics do the round of show openings before decamping off to local cafés. Pick up the Galeries mode d'emploi leaflet with its map and agenda in one of the galleries or find it here.

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Jeu de Paume Jeu de Paume

International art photography and video exhibitions are presented here in what was once the real tennis court of the Tuileries palace. There are generally two exhibitions at a time: usually one great historic photographer (among them retrospectives of Erwin Blumenfeld, Robert Adams and Garry Winogrand), and one contemporary artist, in a programme that has included Laurent Grasso, Lorna Simpson and Ai Wei Wei. Film seasons are screened in the basement cinema, while the "in-between" spaces like the foyer, café and mezzanine are used for more experimental projects.

Jeu de Paume: 1 place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris, 01 47 03 12 50 

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La Maison Rouge © Florent Darrault 
Marais Galleries © Ted Drake 
Jeu de Paume © Sunny Ripert

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