Paris: Haute Culture et Haute Couture

Three Underrated Cultural Delights in Paris

Brimming with art, literature and fashion, Paris holds a special place in my heart. Having spent almost a month there in 2014, I feel at home in the city.  Visiting for four days, I felt surprisingly familiar with the streets, instinctively retracing my old daily route from Le Jardin du Luxembourg to the Shakespeare Bookshop. With only a small window of time and the blockbuster museums already under my belt, I had fun exploring some of Paris’ quirkier cultural haunts. Staying with ma famille française adoptive, I benefitted from a keenly curated itinerary – a trove of underrated delights for anyone headed for Paris…




Atelier des Lumières:

Set inside an old iron foundry in the eleventh arrondissement, Atelier des Lumières has created a unique art experience. Through the magic of light projection, the gallery immerses viewers into the heart of iconic paintings, magnifying every detail so that small fragments of the original composition become larger-than-life. I was lucky enough to see their exhibition on Viennese artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Accompanied by a soundscape by Phillip Glass, walking into the exhibition space is like slipping into another world; a total sensory immersion.

From the dull ticket office you enter a huge, three-storey room with projections on every surface, including the floor and ceiling. Constantly moving and evolving, it is breathtaking to see how the exhibition designers have deconstructed and reconstructed the iconic works. With Klimt, for example, they had isolated mosaic-like patterns from his dresses, projecting them on an enormous scale across a whole wall. It reinforces the degree of detail and beauty in every corner of his paintings. The magnification is extraordinary: to see such fine details in the original artwork you would have to have placed your nose against the canvas.







I admired how the project embraced the architectural features of the old foundry. Full of water tanks, pipes and derelict walls, the designers of the exhibition cleverly incorporated these industrial forms into their creative vision, utilising their geometric shapes as interesting surfaces for projections.

There was something democratising about this exhibition concept: unlike a traditional gallery, where formality and tradition make certain people feel more welcome than others, in the dark, industrial space people were free to digest the art as they liked. Some people sat on the floor, others leaned on the walls. Kids cartwheeled up and down the huge concrete floor, and ran their hands along the changing patterns on the walls. Many people photographed themselves with patterns projected across their faces, forging personal connections with the artworks. With loud music constantly playing, there was no need for quiet reverence. Instead, people spoke openly with those around them. It was impossible to isolate a single demographic – there was everyone from to yuppies and pensioners – which is a testament to the inclusivity of this space.

The inspiring things about Atelier des Lumières is it reunites artworks from galleries all over the world in a single space. It offers Parisians a trip around the world without leaving their city. Interestingly, it is a concept that could easily be replicated anywhere in the world. In fact, as I was walking through the space, I couldn’t help but think there must a warehouse in Sydney’s Inner West that could easily carry off an exhibition just like this. If someone wants to help me get this concept off the ground, let me know. The possibilities for different artists are also endless. I can’t wait to return to Paris to see which artist gets the Atelier des Lumières treatment next.

Musée du Yves Saint Laurent

Since I first saw the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A, I have been a huge fan of fashion exhibitions, believing more than ever in the artistry of couture. The Musée du Yves Saint Laurent is set within the original fashion house, where the designer met his private clientele throughout the twentieth century. There are still ateliers above the museum and as we waited in the queue outside (behind red velvet ropes no less), we watched as chic people traced up the marble staircase to private fittings.

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The museum narrates the history of both Yves Saint Laurent the man and the fashion house. Entering the first room, you can see the naive artworks of a young Yves: hand-drawn fairytale stories, fashion illustrations based on costumes from the opera and paper-dolls with hand-coloured paper outfit. It is a time capsule to Saint Laurent’s youthful optimism and creativity. As you continue through the rest of his rooms, which showcase the highlights from his collection throughout his career, it is inspiring to see how this innovation and playfulness continued throughout his creative life. So much wardrobe envy, oh my word!

Centre Pompidou

The Centre Pompidou has been on my gallery bucket list for a while. It is an absolutely enormous space, and with only an hour and half to spare, I had to fly through its huge galleries at lightning speed. Even then, I only managed the top two floors. But at least I know it is worth returning. Their collection of modern and contemporary art is incredibly strong.

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Their curatorial choices are interesting too. Where collections have been reinstalled in new spaces, there are huge historical photographs of the paintings in their old hanging, giving the viewer an insight into the history of the artworks as physical objects. Within the gallery, many of the walls are made of glass which means that the artworks talk directly to the city outside. The modern and contemporary galleries have obviously been placed on the top two floors to maximise this dialogue, boldly situating the art within Paris, a city of romantic ideals.

The view is worth a trip on its own. The rooftop boasts an uninterrupted glimpse of the Paris skyline with the Eiffel Tower on the left and Montmartre on the right. Without even looking at the temporary collection I had to fly out the door but I can’t wait to return. Lots of unfinished business…

I think I will always yen to return to Paris. Even without a trip to the Louvre, it is so damn cultured and chic…




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