It is below zero on a Wednesday morning, and the line at the Grand Palais is an hour long for ticket holders. Those without tickets will be standing in the cold even longer. And yet they stand: university students with a morning off, retirees, mothers who work only four days a week, lovers cashing in an RTT (floating days off), all of them locals and all of them waiting patiently in line to view art. Who is the artist and what was the incredible show that drew so many? I can’t recall, and it really doesn’t matter, because this is pretty much the scene every time I’ve attended a show here. From Klimt to Picasso, from Warhol to Rodin, the French love their art—which means there are great shows to attend throughout the year.
Current (and upcoming) shows include Yves Saint Laurent at the Petit Palais, Lucian Freud at the Centre Pompidou, Turner at the Grand Palais, Basquiat at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Doisneau at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson and photos of Versailles from 1850 to 2010 at the château itself.
If all this information seems rather rushed to you, you’re right. That’s because, in addition to these temporary events, there are several annual events that are worth the trip in their own right.
Parcours des Mondes
Usually first week of September
This is one of the most important tribal arts shows in the world. Galleries specializing in tribal arts from across the globe borrow space from the St.-Germain-des-Prés galleries to exhibit pre-Columbian artifacts, Egyptian treasures and African sculptures. Much of the work is museum quality, and the people-watching is almost as fantastic as the art itself.
Biennale de Paris
Last weekend of September
Founded by André Malraux, this art and jewelry show attracts dealers from across the globe, with pieces hailing from ancient Rome and Persia, all the way up through contemporary art. The presence of some of the greatest jewelry houses in the world—Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, Cartier—ensures some serious eye candy, and the participants spare no expense in decorating the jewel-box venue of the Grand Palais.
October 21 to 24
This contemporary art show is so huge that it requires two venues: the inner courtyard of the Louvre and the Grand Palais. And if that’s not enough for you, the local galleries put on their star collections, hoping to attract the roving eyes of the hordes of international art collectors who head into town the week after visiting Frieze, the London contemporary art fair.
November 18 to 21
This year Central Europe is the guest of honor at Paris’s annual photography show, held at the Carrousel du Louvre; Paris Photo features works from artists such as Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson alongside images from Africa, Asia and the Americas. The star of last year’s show was Marc Montméat, the winner of the phone company SFR’s Young Talent Award—he sold every photo available in just two days.
Editor’s note: Parcours des Mondes is an open event, but all the rest (exhibitions and shows) require tickets. Because the whole art world comes to Paris for these events, advance tickets are recommended. If the concierge at your hotel cannot help you, book them yourself online at FNAC.