From May 24 to 27, more than 250 artists in Paris’ Belleville neighborhood will open their studio doors to the public for the Open Studios festival. The focus of this annual festival is on the artists and public mingling, but a number of hidden courtyards and gardens — usually off-limits — will also be open for visitors to explore, making it the best time to visit the area.
Now in its 24th year, the festival (put on by the Ateliers D’Artistes de Belleville) is highly regarded on the art calendar. And while the Belleville galleries are a bit off the beaten path compared to the fat cats in the city center, guests have the rare chance to interact with artists from an impressive variety of backgrounds and disciplines such as painting, sculpture and installations.
Back in the 1990s, many artists flocked to Belleville in the 20th arrondissement — it was one of the few places in the city where rent was still affordable. In fact, Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, is buried at the Père Lachaise cemetery (the backdrop to most of the district) as is Oscar Wilde and a number of other great defenders of ideas. In some places, the walls are coated with city grime and covered with layers of indiscernible graffiti and street-art. Belleville’s strong ethnic essence and working-class identity make up a large part of its unpolished charm, and art has flourished in the community throughout the years.
This year’s Open Studios festival — from 2 to 9 p.m. daily — will consist of more than 100 galleries to peruse and explore, so visitors will be spoilt for choice. Survey rue Ramponeau, followed by rue de Tourtille and move northward — the main bulk of the events take place between rue de Belleville and rue de Ménilmontant. The AAB Gallery (1 rue Francis Picabia) will be showcasing the Mur de Petits Originaux (“Wall of Small Originals”) of artists taking part in the festival. At 45 euro (about $58) each, it’s a great opportunity to grab something unique to bring home.
But you don’t just have to observe the art. Head to the Belvédère (gazebo) in Belleville Park on Saturday and Sunday (2 to 5 p.m.) to take part in a collaborative project with artist Françoise Gasser, or check out a street mosaic workshop put on by A Table for Orientation Belleville — there will be one at the Belvédère at Belleville Park and another at the art squat, Maison de la Plage on rue Dénoyez.
For some of the best art around, try La Forge (18 rue de Belleville), one of the area’s most established artist workspaces. This year, the gallery will show work by Hubert Amiel, Tom Bervoets and Thierry Cox, among other artists who are at the center of the Brusselois contemporary art scene. Bridging the gap between art and the neighborhood is photographer François-Xavier Bouchart’s exhibition of Belleville in the 1970s, which can be found at the Centre d’Animation Rébeval (36 rue Rébeval). Meander the streets and see what you can find, too — it’s likely that more venues than noted on the official AAB itinerary will be participating.
To make life a little easier, the AAB plots all of the main participating venues on a handy map, which you can download here. And for a helping hand around key galleries, there are guided tours at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday — upon reservation only: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos Courtesy of Ateliers D’Artistes de Belleville