Contemporary art in the suburbs

The galleries and creative centres blossoming beyond the périphérique

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Tadashi Kawamata, 'Gandamaison', La Maréchalerie, Versailles, 2008

Tadashi Kawamata, 'Gandamaison', La Maréchalerie, Versailles, 2008 © Laetitia Tura

Those who don't believe that contemporary art (think 'pretentious, highbrow, trendy, urban') and the suburbs ('rough, dodgy, uncultured, rude') could ever go hand in hand should pop over to the other side of the périphérique from time to time. In the last 20-odd years, between the narrow belt covered by the underground and the oh-so-distant terminuses of the RER lines, contemporary arts centres and galleries have been cropping up all over the place, each bolder and better than the last. Artists' residences, shiny new exhibition spaces, restored historical monuments: here, between concrete and countryside, is where you'll find all the region's best contemporary art.

The essential venues

Vitry • MAC/VAL

Opened just days after the 2005 banlieue riots ended, this contemporary art museum has earned a fearsome reputation for artistic savvy. Its collection offers a stunning snapshot of French art from 1950 to the present, including installations by Gilles Barbier, Jesús Rafael Soto and Christian Boltanski. Recent acquisitions have branched out into contemporary art, representing artists of all nationalities including Yvan Salomone, Tsuneko Taniuchi and Jesper Just. Add to that its

Ivry • Crédac

In September 2011, Crédac (Centre of Contemporary Art of Ivry-sur-Seine) moved from its premises in the Centre Jeanne Hachette to a disused factory, taking its base of artists – emerging talent and established names alike – with it. Eyelets were once manufactured here; now the production of artworks takes pride of place, which also includes a large exhibition space and several smaller workshop studios – the result is a contemporary art space that’s even livelier than its

Chelles • Les Eglises

When two adjoining churches in Chelles were earmarked for demolition, the local council intervened, determined to convert them into a contemporary art venue. 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

Noisy-le-Sec • La Galerie

Installed in the former notary’s house tucked away in the middle of the Noisy-le-Sec (Seine-Sainte-Denis) housing projects, the Galerie has been going since 1999. Since 2005 Marianne Lanavère has been at the helm, and under her direction the space, which welcomes painting, installations, photos and videos, has become one of the liveliest centres for contemporary art in the Parisian banlieue. Don’t miss the ‘Sunday tea’, a guided tour that includes a hot drink, or the

Saint-Ouen-l'Aumône • L'Abbaye

Once the site of a Cistercian convent, this building retains some of its medieval splendour: ribbed vaults, stained-glass windows and the like. The Val d’Oise council, which has owned the abbey since the 1970s, has turned it into a centre dedicated to the plastic and visual arts that uniquely fuses medieval and contemporary aspects. Exhibitions are now held in the former barn, chapter house (where the religious community would assemble), toilets, hall and bedrooms. The artists

Saint-Ouen • Mains d'Oeuvres

A hub for fringe musical and performance activity just outside Paris, the Mains d'Oeuvres is a huge former leisure centre for car factory workers that provides rehearsal and performance space for bands and specialises in leftfield electro, rock mavericks and multimedia artists. It also frequently hosts the Festival des Attitudes Indé (end Sept-early Oct) – an indie music festival for up-and-coming bands. Occasionally the whole building is turned into a club venue, with rooms

Créteil • Maison des Arts

With over 300 performances a year and a newly added third stage – the satellite – this suburban arts centre is a vibrant hub of artistic creation, featuring an eclectic programme of theatre, dance, music and digital art. Workshops and training days are held in the Studio, and the centre is also involved in local youth programmes, teaming up with social workers on educational projects. Don't miss the International Exit Festival of contemporary dance, which takes place during March.

Noisiel • Ferme du Buisson

A recent facelift has turned Ferme du Buisson, formerly a chocolate factory, into one of the hottest spots on the city’s cultural map. The venue hosts all kinds of concerts and plays in its 800-capacity barn; two cinema screens and a three-floor contemporary arts centre complete the picture. With this setup, Ferme du Buisson is uniquely suited to multimedia events: here, theatre rubs shoulders with the plastic arts, and films merge with dance and music. Come here for film

Gennevilliers • Galerie Manet

Despite bearing the name of the father of impressionism, the Galerie Edouard Manet is in fact one of the oldest dedicated contemporary art galleries in the city. Opened in 1994 as part of the Gennevilliers Fine Art School, the venue has been promoting and distributing new artworks for almost 20 years, often exhibiting them in its showroom. Its status as a mainstay of Paris’s contemporary art scene has been bolstered by associations with such notable artists as Loris Gréaud,

Enghien-les-Bains • Centre des arts,

The Centre des arts d’Enghien (CDA) is a melting pot of different disciplines – a kind of hybrid venue that combines the plastic and digital arts with audiovisual and live performances. Its programmes are no less eclectic; the ‘Bains numériques’ festival may be the highlight of the CDA’s calendar: not only is it the first French festival dedicated to digital art from across the world, it also offers the public the opportunity to go behind the scenes and converse with

Malakoff • Maison des arts

While visiting his friend Louise de Vilmorin, André Malraux – writer and sometime Minister for Culture – first laid eyes on the estate of Remise de l’Orme (a favourite of Louis XV’s). An enthusiastic Malraux put the 18th century house firmly back in the public eye, and it wasn’t long before the Malakoff council bought it and converted it into an art gallery. Devoted exclusively to contemporary art, the venue puts on five temporary exhibitions a year, where photos,

Versailles • La Maréchalerie

There was a time when the corridors of La Maréchalerie rang with the strikes of the blacksmith’s hammer; nowadays, they echo art lovers' footsteps. The venue, located behind the Petite Écurie section of the Palace of Versailles, is now home to an contemporary arts centre. Affiliated with the École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Versailles, an architecture school located opposite, the centre unsurprisingly blends the artistic and the architectural. Restored in

Montreuil • La Maison Populaire

Located a stone’s throw away from the Montreuil town hall, the Maison Populaire has housed the Mira Phalaina centre for contemporary art since 1995. Although it regularly showcases works by both established and emerging artists, the centre sees itself above all as a kind of breeding ground for art theory: leading cultural figures come here to discuss the implications of the latest exhibitions in academic terms. The debate is continued in the detailed catalogues that the centre

Pontault-Combault • CPIF

The study, production and promotion of the photo is CPIF's raison d’être, and this it achieves by juggling temporary exhibitions, conferences, workshops and educational programmes (which are open to anyone, regardless of experience). It is also home to a clutch of artists in residence, who work both within and outside the centre.

Nanterre • La Terrasse

The western suburb of Nanterre is known for its banks, insurance agencies and fast food outlets, but hardly for its art scene. Yet despite (or because of?) the local dearth of cultural hotspots, this is precisely the site that the team behind the Villa des Tourelles gallery has picked for its new venture. An isolated patch of lawn situated squarely on the Louvre–Arc de Triomphe–Défense axis has been converted into La Terrasse de Nanterre, described by Nanterre's arts

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