Art is everywhere in the green spaces, streets and avenues of Greater Paris. To see it, all you have to do is open your eyes – it’s free!
Art in the parks and gardens
Art is waiting to be discovered in many of Paris’s green spaces. With the work of Fabrice Hyber in the Parc de la Villette, the sculptures of Maillol in the Jardin des Tuileries and the sculptural creations of Zacharie Astruc in the Jardin du Luxembourg, art features prominently in many of the city’s parks and gardens.
In the centre, a stone’s throw from the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Musée de la Sculpture en Plein Air (open-air sculpture museum) has taken up residence in the Jardin Tino Rossi. Along the banks of the Seine, you can see some thirty modern sculptures, including a few by major artists such as César, Brancusi and Zadkine.
To the west, the Parc Départemental de l’Île Saint-Germain in Issy-les-Moulineaux is home to a masterpiece listed as a historic monument: the Tour aux Figures by Jean Dubuffet, created in 1988. Reaching a height of 24 metres, this colourful work is the largest produced by the artist. It is currently undergoing restoration and will be visible again in 2019.
Museum gardens are also special places to admire works of art in the open air. The garden of the Musée Rodin, near Les Invalides, has numerous masterpieces by the father of modern sculpture, including perhaps his most famous work – The Thinker. To access the garden, there is no need to pay to enter the museum; instead you can buy a garden ticket for a modest sum.
The Musée Zadkine has a wonderful garden filled with sculptures by the Cubist artist. It is free to visit. And finally, the French Senate organises photographic exhibitions twice a year in the Jardin du Luxembourg with the works displayed on the park railings.
Certain works of modern art are now fully part of the landscape of the French capital and have even acquired iconic status. This is true of “Deux Plateaux” by Daniel Buren, popularly known as “Buren’s columns”, installed in 1986 in the main courtyard of the Palais-Royal, or the celebrated Igor Stravinsky fountain near the Pompidou Centre, created by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint-Phalle in 1983. In the Place des Abbesses in Montmartre, the Wall of Love (Le Mur des je t’aime) created by Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito is another must-see, popular with lovers from around the world.
In west Paris, La Défense Art Collection includes sixty-nine monumental pieces visible from the Esplanade. An open-air museum, it is open 24/7 and completely free of charge! Some of the iconic works not to be missed include Calder’s Red Spider, Miró’s Fantastic Characters and César’s Thumb.
The southern suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine is another great place to see art outdoors. The town has more than 140 works of contemporary art freely accessible in its public spaces, thanks in particular to France’s “One percent for art” scheme whereby 1% of the cost of architectural projects is used to fund works of contemporary art integrated into the living environment.
The many works include the famous "Chaufferie avec cheminée" by Jean Dubuffet, a monumental sculpture erected in 1996. Don’t hesitate to go inside the Mac/Val to prolong the experience! Other works to see in the streets of Vitry are “Le Pin noir d'eau triche” by Didier Marcel, “Désir-Rêve” by Jaume Plensa, “Série de 8 vitraux” by Valério Adami, the “Siloscope” by the LAB(au) collective and “Ombres portées” by Bernard Monimot.
Ivry-sur-Seine also has some fifty public works of art. To give you the opportunity to discover, or perhaps rediscover the most iconic pieces, the Fernand Léger gallery has designed four walking tours through the town.
Orly-Ville has more than twenty works of outdoor art, including sculptures, fountains and street art, such as the “Fresque Léo Ferré” by Miss. Tic, “Les miroirs de vent” by Claude Courtecuisse, “L’Oiseau Pylône” by Olivier Agid and Catherine Fourniau’s monument for the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
Art along the tramline
The stations on the T3 tram line make up a genuine open-air contemporary art trail: all along the route from Porte de Versailles to Porte de Vincennes are some fifteen monumental works of art, including "From Boullée to Eternity" by the American artist Dan Graham (Porte de Versailles station), “Tchaïkovski” by the French artist Claude Lévêque (Montsouris), "Murmures" by Christian Boltanski (Cité Universitaire) and Didier Fiuza Faustino’s pole-like totem structure entitled "1SQMH" (One Square Meter House) at Porte d'Ivry.
Paris by night: light as art
Paris now boasts a number of monumental illuminations which bring the urban landscape alive with colour at night. In the 13th arrondissement, waves of light like the aurora borealis caress two cement silos that stand alongside the ring road at Porte d’Ivry. Designed by Laurent Grasso, “Solar Wind” is constantly changing to reflect solar activity. This 40-metre high installation is the biggest in the French capital.
In the garden of the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac is a light installation by Yann Kersalé called “L’Ô” consisting of thin fluorescent tubes whose colours vary according to temperature. Other buildings have been transformed with light by contemporary artists, like the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations which comes alive at night with an ever-changing light display created by the American artist James Turrell, or the facade of the Louvre des Antiquaires, revisited by the French artist François Morellet.
Patrice Hamel has created a trail of light that runs right through Greater Paris from the city centre up to the north. His “Répliques” (words written in neon) can be found on the facade of the IRCAM building next to the Pompidou Centre, on the Boulevard de la Villette, at the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie and at the Persépolis media library in Saint-Ouen. In the northern suburb of Pantin, don’t miss the impressive illumination of the Grands Moulins, designed by Eric Michel, and the graphic red neon sign by Pierre di Sciullo on the roof of the Centre National de la Danse.
The Passage de l'Ourcq, the bridge where the Boulevard Périphérique crosses over the canal, has a light installation called “De passage” where light is projected onto the roof. And finally, the Rue Saint-Maur boasts a work by Ugo Rondinone, consisting of the song title "Cry Me a River" in rainbow colours installed high up on the wall of a building.