Paris: Free art galleries worth visiting

Courtesy Vingt Paris
Susie Hollands

In Paris, the visual arts aren't limited to what you'll find hanging on the walls of its famous museums. The city also has a vibrant contemporary art scene—one that's best appreciated by visiting some of its smaller, more intimate galleries.

To better understand the Paris protocol for gallery-going, we asked Susie Hollands for some advice. As the founder of Vingt Paris—a comprehensive hub for visual arts information and resources in Paris—Susie knows better than anyone how to help new arrivals navigate the local arts scene. She and arts Vingt's art writer Aran Cravey put their heads together to offer this gallery guidance:

How is a gallery visit different than a museum?

Susie: Galleries can be a great way to find out about young artists or even more established ones, who have gone unrecognized in the institutions. The smaller space offers a more intimate experience for the viewer, and provides the opportunity to take one's time with the art without distraction, a luxury not always available in Paris' museums. And while one can find a myriad of museums here in Paris that offer the richness of its artistic heritage, the galleries provide a great way to see what artists are creating in France now.

Am I allowed to visit if I'm not looking to buy?

Susie: Often people feel intimidated by the whole gallery experience and come away feeling snubbed. Most of a gallery's sales don't come from walk-ins, so if the person behind the desk doesn't fall over themselves to help, its only because they expect that most visitors are there purely for the pleasure of viewing. Feel free to browse!

Does Paris have a gallery row—an area with a large concentration of galleries?

Susie: Unlike New York's Chelsea or London's Mayfair, Paris doesn't have one particular avenue or district. What it does have are lots of little pockets of gallery spaces. Each quartier has its own distinct character, and one will find that the art in that area reflects that style. For example the Saint-Germain des Prés area in the 6th arrondissment is one of the more chic addresses in the city. Likewise, you'll find a tasteful and stylish selection of art galleries here. Streets like the rue de Seine have a long history of being a hangout for artists and dealers with galleries spread out along the narrow streets and the Academy of Beaux-Arts around the corner. The Marais is another great corner in which to get lost. Galleries here tend toward a younger and more contemporary audience, so one is more likely to find an edgier and riskier selection of artists. The closer one strolls towards the Pompidou Center, the more established names one finds. Galerie Daniel Templon is an example of a gallery that has been showing some of the biggest names in the contemporary art world for close to 30 years. Galerie agnès b is a younger gallery, but it shows powerful exhibitions in a generous space.

What are vernissages, and what makes these interesting to Paris visitors?

Susie: A vernissage is another name for an exhibition opening. They usually take place at night, after working hours, and they give the dealers, clients, artists and friends a chance to look as the new work in a more relaxed environment.

Do you need a special invitation for these openings, or are they open to the public?

Susie: The big misconception about vernissages or openings is that they are private parties. If people are in the gallery and the door is not locked, then it's probably not a private party. Granted, walking into a room filled with strangers chatting amongst themselves and sipping (free) champagne may feel like crashing the party, but really, you have just has much right to be there as they do! My best advice is don't be shy and step inside—these openings are a great way for visitors to experience a little of the local Paris art scene. Cheers!

How can visitors find about these gallery shows and openings?

Susie: Finding out about vernissages is not always easy. This is one of the reasons why they can seem so exclusive. There are a few websites that list vernissages in their calendars, but these are mainly in French. However, Vingt is now publishing a weekly calendar of vernissages and other art events happening at night. This calendar is the most inclusive and up to date on the Web.


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