If you were to draw up a list of cities best known as historical centres of the art world, Paris would be near the top. The Orangerie is bathed in Monet, the Musée D’Orsay is packed Degas, while of course, the Louvre houses a little portrait that is probably the most famous artwork in the world. Not forgetting the fact that any artist worth a grain of salt has lived in the City of Light at one point or another (try Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, or Dalí, for starters).
The trouble is that modern Paris is not all about pristine boulevards and quaint cafes. Urbanisation and globalisation have drastically altered the city’s demographic, while a flurry of activity and growth is going on beyond the Périphérique – a ring road surrounding Paris that traditionally marked the city’s limits. Nowadays, the banlieues, or the suburbs where widespread riots took place in 2005 and 2007, are where some of France’s most relevant art is coming from. So, here are ten of the most interesting artists in Paris greater right now.
Adel Abdessemed is thought of as the enfant terrible of Parisian art. Although born and raised in Algeria, Abdessemed moved to a rough banlieue of Paris in 2004, just before the street riots of 2005 kicked off, and where he has been based ever since. For one of his works, Abdessemed folded the crushed fuselage of a commander jet like rolled pastry dough (naming it after the Middle Eastern pastry Bourek), and in doing so, played on the association of Arabic culture with terrorism.
In his paintings, Damien Deroubaix combines art references to Dadaism and Francis Bacon with the trash aesthetic and political ideology of metal groups such as Napalm Death and Carcass. In his own words: “For me, paintings are successful when all the elements come together to create the most violent outcome possible”. His chilling piece, Abattoirs, involved the installation of two rotten trees, draped in dozens of microphones: a damning indictment of modern “progress”.
Born in Paris, and a graduate of both the Sorbonne and the École des Beaux-arts de Paris, Patrick Bernier’s formation sounds about as institutional as you can get. After several projects focussing on the distinction between the virtual and the real, Bernier worked with Olive Martin on Project for a Legal Precedent, juxtaposing the legal status of an author versus that of an undocumented immigrant. It cut close to the bone in a country that is gripped with immigration struggles.
After studying philosophy at Paris’ historically radical university, Saint Denis, Benjamin Swain turned to painting and drawing to tackle matters of the mind. Known for recounting episodes of deep psychosis, Swaim explains: "The pictorial representation of sexualised bodies, that's the subject of my work." Everything is eroticised, and sometimes forcibly aggressive and provocative, especially in Swaim’s set of sculptures of his mother.
Julien Creuzet was born in Martinique, often thought of a junction where African, Indian, and European civilisations meet. This indelibly marked his approach to art, which centres on the search for identity and the development of creolisation. His project Standard and Poor's contrasted conventional still life paintings that depict a bouquet of flowers with photographs of the many rose sellers in modern Paris, who are invariably immigrants.
As a member of the artist-run gallery Glassbox, Dominique Blais looks at the connection between time and space, and particularly how this relates to the role of the museum. Taking the two dichotomies of visible/invisible and audible/inaudible, Blais wants us to question why we find some things more noticeable and important than others. His piece Sans Titre (Melancholia) is a broken record that is locked in to play only the last groove of the track.
Samir Ramdani spent his childhood in the tough suburbs of Rouen, and so focuses his work on the distinction between centre and periphery in cities. “The ‘banlieue’ isn’t a theme in itself, but rather, a stage for my projects,” he claimed. “It goes beyond the concept of the suburb — every city has to face the issue of exclusion.” For one of his projects, Ramdami recorded a series of short films about street dancers in the Compton suburb of LA, with allusions to the equivalent in Paris, Saint Denis.
Through sculpture, painting, etching, photography, video, performance and large scale interventions in public space, Cyprien Gaillard questions the mark that mankind has left on nature. He follows French philosopher Denis Diderot's dictum that “One must ruin a palace to make it an object of interest”. Gaillard likes to think of himself as an upmarket vandal, and in one work he even recycled cement from a housing-project demolition by turning it into a grand Egyptian-style cenotaph for an exhibition.
Echakhch was born in Morocco and left for France at the age of three. Her work addresses contemporary globalised culture through simple, elegant gestures and formal restraint. She re-imagines and displaces cultural relics in order to give new meaning or take it away. Her Tumbleweeds project saw Echakhch place dozens of tumbleweed in an urban park, undermining the idea that a certain object (or person) must belong in a certain geography.
AURÉLIEN FROMENT - MEMORY AND TRICKS
As a consequence of his early days as a projectionist in a Parisian cinema, Aurelien Froment often borrows from theatrical or cinematic conventions, while his films weave fact and fiction with unusual narrative devices. The complex film Camillo’s Idea features a mnemonist in the Theatro Olimpico in Vicenza, using a system devised by the Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos, to Giulio Camillo’s fifteenth-century ‘Theater of Memory,’ to methods devised by Gregor von Feinaigle in the eighteenth century. In a digital world, Froment wants to discover maximum mnemonic capacity.