If you crave a Paris art experience that’s off the beaten path and has a little something more to offer than the standard process of “stare, think, admire,” then the Paris tradition of Portes Ouvertes (Open Doors) is right up your alley. Taking advantage of the lovely weather in spring and autumn, this free event, held on the weekends, offers visitors the chance not only to see up-and-coming artists, but also to see (and buy) their art right in the very spaces it’s made: the artists’ ateliers.
Portes Ouvertes is usually organized by neighborhood: one weekend the event might be held in the Montmartre area, while on another it might be solely near Ménilmontant. I went to the Portes Ouvertes in Belleville on a bright spring Sunday for my first experience and was delighted with the freedom that the open walk provided, with some 200 artists on Paris’s east side opening their work spaces to give visitors a unique view of the city’s art scene. The experience is somewhere between a gallery walk and a private viewing. At the welcoming center, my friend and I received a map with all participating artists and their atelier addresses, and from there, we were on our own to explore the area, with ateliers clustered in nooks around the quartier, and visit as many or few locations as we pleased.
With artists ranging in age from 19 to 95 and specializing in all kinds of media, including painting, photography, sculpture and jewelry making, there’s something for every taste at a Portes Ouvertes. At Belleville I was impressed by the kindness and generosity with which many of the artists opened their doors to visitors. One artist offered us cups of coffee and chatted with us about the neighborhood (which, by the way, is a joy to see from the inside!); another had reggae music playing in his atelier as he explained his creative process; still another was hard at work crafting ceramic brooches (many already finished and for sale in front of her) as visitors milled about her home/studio and drifted in and out.
What I love about this singular Paris art experience is that there is no sense of obligation or urgency. You can stay as long as you like, absorbing the art of a favorite new painter and talking to the artist about his or her process, or, if the work is simply not to your taste, you can move on to the atelier next door. Not only is it a chance to discover new art and a new neighborhood, it’s also a fascinating way to get an inside look at how an artist lives and creates, as many of the ateliers are also the artists’ homes.
If you’re a fan of the Paris art scene and visit a Portes Ouvertes event, there’s a good chance you’ll also get a great deal on some original pieces. Though many large-scale paintings and sculptures can be on the expensive side, numerous artists have smaller pieces or drawings for sale that are very affordably priced. And what a unique souvenir to take home from your trip to Paris: an original painting by an artist not only with whom you spoke but whose personal studio you had the chance to visit.
If you’re visiting Paris or live there, keep your eyes open for notices on Portes Ouvertes, or consult the Paris Visitors site to learn about upcoming open atelier dates.
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