Paris, la Ville Lumière. The city of nice bistros and high-end boutiques. And a lot of contemporary art. If New York is where contemporary art thrived in the 20th century, Paris is where it all started.
And despite the fact that it now looks like an elegant lady, Paris is still a vibrant city where contemporary art has a special place.
The French capital is one of my favorite cities in Europe, if not my favorite at all. I used to have, and actually still have, a few friends that live there, so over the years, I have been lucky enough to visit Paris a few times, living the city and hanging around like a real Parisian girl. Or at least I tried my very best!
Paris is style and confidence, nothing compares to the effortless yet very chic look of its inhabitants. And even though it has its rough sides, it is an enchanting place to visit.
Whether you like to walk along the Champs-Élysées or have a verre in a local wine bar, sit on the Canal St. Martin or explore the Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris will always show you all its charm.
Just like Parisian people, the city is effortlessly cool, nonchalant if you wish, with a touch of harshness and a good dose of charisma. And the Paris contemporary art scene is just the same. Here you can find some of the biggest and most important works of art of all times, but also a great network of spaces dedicated to contemporary art, with museums, art centers, fairs, and galleries.
So let’s brush up our French skills and discover five major contemporary art destinations in Paris.
The one and only I should say. Reasonably the most famous contemporary art museum in Paris, both for the grandeur of its collection and exhibitions, for the beautiful building and its long history.
Centre Pompidou is actually home to a few different institutions, a library, a center for music, and a museum, the Musée National d’Art Moderne, the largest museum for modern art in Europe.
Developed in 1977, the building was designed by a team of architects directed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, and it is the first example of an “inside-out” building. The Centre overlooks Place George Pompidou, with its street performers and the Calder free-standing mobile “Horizontal”. Nearby you can also find the Stravinsky Fountain, with sculptures by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle and the Atelier Brancusi.
With millions of visitors every year, it is one of the most important art centers in the world and a defining landmark for Paris. The Musée National d’Art Moderne hosts a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection comprises both modern and contemporary artworks, with artists divided into two main categories, art between 1905-1960 and art after the 1960s.
Needless to say, temporary exhibitions, events, and every other activity are of top quality. This is hands down one of the top places to visit in Europe, not only Paris, and it deserves a trip to France on its own. Plan in advance, give yourself a full day to visit the museum, ride the escalators, and immerse yourself in the Beaubourg atmosphere. You won’t regret it.
Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France
Open daily, 11 – 21. Closed on Tuesday
Info and tickets:
Not far from the Centre Pompidou, dans le Marais, you will find one of the most interesting international galleries. By now, you probably know how much I love this gallery and its artists, and how fond I am of its NY Lower East Side location. But it all started here in 1989, when Emmanuel Perrotin, 21 years old at the time, decided to open its gallery. Since then, it has become one of the major art galleries both worldwide and in Paris, with other locations in NY, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo. In Paris, they have three different spaces. The main gallery is housed in an 18th-century mansion, but they also have a showroom nearby and another space in west Paris.
The gallery works with some of my favorite artists, French as well as international. They host amazing exhibitions in their spaces, and the quality of their projects is always very high. But they also encourage artists to work outside the gallery locations, as they recently did with JR and its incredible work in the Louvre main court and Pyramide.
76 Rue de Turenne, 75003 Paris, France
Info and opening hours:
Palais de Tokyo
Located near the Trocadero, Palais de Tokyo is yet another place you don’t want to miss. The original palace was built on the occasion of the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology of 1937 and over the years it has hosted several different projects.
Right now its east wing hosts the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, a museum dedicated mostly to modern art from the 20th century, with a great collection of French and European artists from the major avant-garde movements of the last century.
The west wing of the palace on the contrary is dedicated to one of the largest art centers in Europe, the so-called Palais de Tokyo / Site de création contemporaine. Opened in 2002, it is entirely dedicated to the production and promotion of contemporary art, through the display of temporary exhibitions. It works like a kunsthalle, with no permanent collection. It produces only temporary exhibitions, specializing both in French and international emerging artists.
Completely renovated in April 2012 by the architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vasall, the center offers a number of different exhibitions year-round, plus meetings, screenings, concerts, and performances across its 4 floors.
Palais de Tokyo
13 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris, France
Info, tickets and opening hours:
Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain and Fondation Louis Vuitton
After all this art, you might want to relax in a beautiful garden before diving into another museum. Paris offers you not one, but two different locations to do so. The Fondation Cartier and the Fondation Louis Vuitton are both surrounded by beautiful gardens, a little secluded but easy to reach at the same time.
Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain was the first one to open in 1984 but it moved to its current location ten years later. The Foundation is located in a beautiful glass building designed by Jean Nouvel and surrounded by a modern woodland garden landscaped by Lothar Baumgarten. It comprises more than 1000 works by some of the most recognized international artists, on display year-round. It also hosts major temporary exhibitions, as well as a wide range of special events.
Fondation Louis Vuitton is also surrounded by a beautiful garden, located next to the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. It was opened in 2014 and it is housed in a stunning building designed by Frank Gehry. It displays part of the collection owned by LVMH and Bernard Arnault, as well as some site-specific installations by artists in the likes of Ellsworth Kelly, Olafur Eliasson, or Adrián Villar Rojas.