Every October, for one special night, Paris gives herself over to art. This year’s Nuit Blanche (“sleepless night”) runs from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on Saturday, October 5. During this time, landmarks open their doors for free and artists take over central public spaces. With projections, installations, sound and ephemeral art, the city becomes an almost magical realm. Once a local secret, Nuit Blanche has become a Paris must-see. So, especially if the weather is nice, your best bet is just to stroll around with open eyes. That way you can spy the shortest queues while enjoying the open-air spectacles.
This year’s Nuit Blanche boasts a feminine touch; its art direction is shared between two women, Chiara Parisi and Julie Pellegrin. They’ve invited artists from different backgrounds to unify the city’s unique streets, squares, quais and docks. Their aim is to architect “a one-night tale of struggles, fantasies and romance.”
Nuit Blanche is always focused around artistic “paths”—trajectories laid out through chosen neighborhoods. This year’s target paths will be along canal Saint-Martin, through the Belleville-Menilmontant and Marais-République areas as well as (my favorite) down the newly opened Berges de Seine. There are also “trans-Parisian projects.” My choice of those is Martin Creed’s All the Bells. At exactly 7 p.m., to kick off proceedings, Creed has all the church bells on the Nuit Blanche path set to ring in unison. This sound salute will last three minutes and you too can take part. Just download the iPhone app All the Bells, available via App Store and Google.
The Nuit Blanche always has a hefty website. But its projects tend to come together late and the city Web gurus overcomplicate their interface. So the most reliable guide is actually the paper program—a booklet available from the Paris Hôtel de Ville on the afternoon of October 5. It’s well worth your time to get one.
Here are six recommendations to help you shape the evening:
• Above the Seine, helicopters fitted with speakers will broadcast a string quartet by Karlheinz Stockhausen.
• The river banks (berges) host all-night DJ sets and pyrotechnics by Chinese fireworks specialist Cai Guo-Qiang. (Guo-Qiang designed the displays at the Beijing Olympics.)
• The newly renovated Place de la République welcomes “fog sculptures” by artist Fujiko Nakaya.
• The Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly) opens the doors to its home, the Palais Bourbon. The public will be admitted to the debating chamber, various rooms and the library. It’s a rare opportunity to view a great collection of contemporary art as well as, of course, classic paintings by the likes of Delacroix.
• The Carreau du Temple, an 1860s covered market currently under renovation, stands on the site of the old Temple prison. This was where the royal family was held during the Revolution. The Carreau won’t reopen until 2014 but, for Nuit Blanche, it houses projections by celebrated artist Huang Yong Ping.
• Also open, in the 19th, will be the Communist Party’s famous HQ (designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer). Go there to enjoy dramatic films by England’s Peter Watkins.
• Metro and other transport services run until 2 a.m.
• Metro Line 1 runs until 5:30 a.m., serving a shorter list of stations (but there will be trains every 7 minutes). Between 2:15 and 5:30 a.m., this service is also free.
• A more frequent night bus service is also available from 12:30 a.m. until 5:30 a.m.
NB: It always proves hard to tear oneself away from the Paris must-see features of Nuit Blanche. So schedule your preferred parts early in the evening.
Nuit Blanche: Berges de Seine
Nuit Blanche: Canal Saint-Martin
Nuit Blanche: Belleville-Menilmontant
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