The best art shows to see in Paris this summer
Open air museums
The best open air museums in the capital for a dose of fresh air AND culture.
Contemporary art museums
From hard-hitting photography exhibitions to offbeat multi-media installations.
Secret galleries in Paris
You could fit all six of these venues inside one wing of the Louvre; yet together they represent a vast cross-section of the capital’s alternative art scenes, ranging from street art to anonymous photography.
50 artworks not to miss
Which key artworks on display in the city's museums and galleries tell the story of art in Paris?
The best exhibitions on now
The best theatre on now
Quartier d'Eté festival
A fantastic summer programme of dance, theatre, concerts and circus.
For those unschooled in Putin's mother tongue: 'semianyki' is the Russian word for 'family'. Indeed, this posse of zanily attired clowns is a family of sorts, united by a common sartorial eccentricity and taste for the absurd. Founded in 2002 at St Petersburg's Teatr Licedei (the fulcrum of Soviet theatre), the troupe have spent more than a decade honing their bombastic comic routine; after the runaway success of their show 'La Famille Semianyki', they return to the stage with 'Semianyki Express'. Prepare to crack up.
L'Anatomie de la Sensation pour Francis Bacon
Seeking to match the expressivity of Francis Bacon's paintings in dance, English choreography prodigy Wayne McGregor has tried to recreate the tensions, fractures and contradictions of human bodies. McGregor has experimented with these ideas already in ‘Genus’, a piece about Darwin’s discoveries – this time, it’s the textures and patterns of painting which inspire the dancers’ moves. The soundtrack is based on the Mark Anthony Turnage track ‘Blood on the Floor’, itself inspired by a Bacon painting. Alternating between rock‘n’roll and jazz rhythms, the Ensemble Incontemporain and a selection of jazz soloists animate the almost acrobatic movements of the dancers, full of unique gestural elements. In search of new movements and the limits imposed by the human body, McGregor turns each of his shows into an initiation for the artists as much as for the public.
In Aurélien Bory’s troubling Wellsian vision, two dancer-acrobats compete with a massive robotic arm (the sort used to build cars), proving no match for its inexhaustible, mechanised rhythms. ‘Sans objet’ belongs to a growing genre of ‘physical theatre’, which – inspired by mime and theatrical clowning schools – imagines the performer’s body as a contested and dramatized site, combining circus techniques (acrobatics and pantomime) with the expressivity of contemporary dance. In many pieces, performers reckon with the limits and restrictions of their own bodies: struggling against fatigue or enervation before, finally, wearing themselves out. As Bory writes of ‘Sans objet’: ‘we are living in a new era, where the relationship between human beings and technology is increasingly widespread. Where once there existed an indisputable, clear frontier… between the inert and the living, we now see a zone of latency, dominated by two opposing questions. Will the living extend its territory in the machine, or is it technology itself which will take over the land of the living?’ The director definitely has notions as to which way this contest will go. In his frenetic dystopian ballet, human and mechanical gestures compete for space and attention, although the two dancers’ struggle is ultimately ‘sans objet’, which is to say: groundless, irrelevant.
French acrobat Clément Malin and Italo-Brazilian juggler Caio Sorana will début their first collaboration, ‘Inbox’, during Paris’s Festival Quartier d’Été. ‘A domestic illustration of the Sisyphus myth’, this hybrid piece (part contemporary dance performance, part acrobatics) sees the two performers dressed in ill-fitting clothing – the taller man’s costume is too tight while the shorter man’s is too baggy – and interacting with cardboard boxes: folding and unfolding them, carting them around the stage, balancing them against their bodies only to spectacularly lose grip. You wouldn’t think this scenario, pointless and repetitive as it is, would make for riveting theatre, but Malin and Sorana’s conceit is rich with implied meaning. Are they movers? Shopkeepers? Amazon employees? Fascinated by the relationship between man and object, the two artists explore Beckettian themes of futility, precariousness, resistance and (naturally) collaboration.
What’s on at...
Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais
Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the Grand Palais was the work of three different architects, each of whom designed a façade. During World War II it accommodated Nazi tanks. In 1994 the magnificent glass-roofed central hall was closed when bits of metal started falling off, although exhibitions continued to be held in the other wings. After major restoration, the Palais reopened in 2005.
Once you’ve navigated Métro line 5, it’s a good few-minutes walk to the Maison de la culture de Bobigny (MC 93), but it’s worth the effort – especially if you’ve come for the winter Standard Ideal festival. Introduced in 2004 it brings the cream of European directors to Bobigny, showcasing international shows from countries such as Hungary, Germany, the UK and Italy (often in the original language). During the festival you’ll also find the ‘Atelier des 200’ workshop, which see 200 amateur performers go behind the scenes for acting tips from the season’s directors. The MC 93 is a crowd pleaser the rest of the year too, with a wide-ranging programme that frequently includes Shakespeare, Chekov, works by contemporary playwrights and even opera.
In a hidden courtyard (reminiscent of Swiss chalets) off rue de Charonne, the 100-seater La Loge offers performances that merge theatre, dance and music. Every summer, the “Summer of Loge” festival invites eight theatre companies for performances, followed by post-show festivities that have previously included pyjama parties and concerts. The rest of the year, from Tuesday to Thursday, there are two shows a night, at 7pm and at 9pm.
Théâtre de la Ville
Programming in this vertiginous concrete amphitheatre, hidden behind a classical façade, features hip chamber music outfits such as the Kronos and Takács Quartets and Early Music pioneer Fabio Biondi. The agenda for 2011 includes Vertical Road, a new piece by Akram Khan, as well as an adaptation of Jean Genet's Le Funambule, choreographed and performed by Angelin Preljocaj. The season spills over to sister venue Théâtre des Abbesses (31 rue des Abbesses, 18th), and between the two sties the 'City Theatre' turns out the most consistently innovative performances in Paris.
Finally, after many years of building works, the Musée Picasso re-opened its doors on October 25 2014 – once again, the people of Paris can enjoy masterpieces such as La Celestina, The Suppliant or Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter. Set in the great 17th century Hôtel Salé in the heart of the historic Marais area, Picasso’s masterpieces hang on the walls of bright, spacious exhibition rooms. First opened 29 years ago, the Musée Picasso is one of the city’s most precious and prestigious institutions – now that it's finally re-opened, it feels like the Parisian art scene is back on track. That said, after five years of expensive and controversial building works, the venue falls a little short of the innovative modern museum that was promised. This museum holds the largest collection in the world of Picasso’s masterpieces, and yet they are haphazardly exhibited, following no particular chronology or themes. There's a lack of historical and political analyses, depriving visitors of a useful framework in which to grasp the agenda of the 20th century avant-garde artist. Although it is interesting to view Picasso’s work independent of other references, it's a shame not to have made the experience more cohesive.
Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme
It's fitting that a museum of Judaism should be lodged in one of the grandest mansions of the Marais, for centuries the epicentre of local Jewish life. It sprung from the collection of a private association formed in 1948 to safeguard Jewish heritage after the Holocaust. Pick up a free audio-guide in English to help you navigate through displays illustrating ceremonies, rites and learning, and showing how styles were adapted across the globe through examples of Jewish decorative arts. Photographic portraits of modern French Jews, each of whom tells his or her own story on the audio soundtrack, bring a contemporary edge. There are documents and paintings relating to the emancipation of French Jewry after the Revolution and the infamous Dreyfus case, from Zola's J'Accuse! to anti-Semitic cartoons. Paintings by the early 20th-century avant-garde include works by El Lissitsky and Chagall. The Holocaust is marked by Boris Taslitzky's stark sketches from Buchenwald and Christian Boltanski's courtyard memorial to the Jews who lived in the building in 1939, 13 of whom died in the camps.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
The Fondation Louis Vuitton modern art gallery opened in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris’s second largest public park, in October 2014. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the impressive new space plays host to Louis Vuitton Group CEO Bernard Arnault’s art collection. Visually stunning, the FLV is shell-shaped and made up of twelve glass sails that soar above the park's greenery. Inside is a huge auditorium and 3,850m2 of exhibition space divided into eleven galleries; comparatively modest next to Gehry’s Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. Skeptics see this new building as an excessive expense on the Louis Vuitton Group’s part: A trophy rather than an innovative art gallery that simply goes to show the luxury goods industry’s hold over modern art. The gallery is pointedly located in the wealthy outskirts of Paris, and you won't find any new young talents on the program – Bernault’s philanthropy is more likely to boost his artistic investments rather than lend a hand to struggling artists. Nonetheless, this grandiose modern art gallery will excel where it intends to: welcoming the celebrities of contemporary art to its walls. While it may not revolutionise our cultural landscape, it should enable Paris to see some of the world's greatest works of art in a beautiful setting.
Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain
Jean Nouvel's glass and steel building, an exhibition centre with Cartier's offices above, is as much a work of art as the installations inside. Shows by artists and photographers often have wide-ranging themes, such as 'Birds' or 'Desert'. Live events around the shows are called Nuits Nomades.
Jeu de Paume
The Centre National de la Photographie moved into this site in 2005. The building, which once served as a tennis court, has been divided into two white, almost hangar-like galleries. It is not an intimate space, but it works well for showcase retrospectives. A video art and cinema suite in the basement shows new digital installation work, as well as feature-length films made by artists. There's also a sleek café and a decent bookshop.