The busiest of Parisian boulevards conceal the calmest of courtyards. From Wednesday to Sunday, an imposing green door on the Boulevard Raspail opens onto a dark passageway that leads to a spacious quad. There stands the Chalet Society art gallery, the brainchild of former Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler – though its spiritual father, according to its website, is Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen, the visionary 16th-century King of Poland and instigator of the concept of ‘poetic consciousness’. This term serves as the gallery’s watchword: only those who channel this consciousness – collectors and researchers as well as artists – are qualified for an exhibition here (there’s no permanent collection).
The building itself is a revelation: having served as both a school and a jam factory in the past, it’s a cavernous multi-storey edifice. The first and second floors house a maze of rooms, partitioned chambers and stairwells, while the ground floor is home to the resident artists’ workshops (open to the public on weekends) and a crêperie. The alternation between large and intimate rooms allows for sweeping murals to be exhibited alongside smaller displays, an arrangement fully exploited by the collection on show when we visited: artist Jim Shaw’s staggering collection of didactic art, which takes in everything from giant evangelical posters to nursery rhyme anthologies. Check out the venue while you can – the building’s earmarked for demolition in January 2014, though precedent with some of the city’s squats suggests that this deadline could be extended yet.