Pixel Perfect!: New Paris Museum a Landmark for the Digital


Opening installation at la Gaîté lyrique, by United Visual Artists

Opening installation, by United Visual Artists. Photo: © UVA

You think a wired city means just Apple stores and cybercafes? Think again! Here a new Paris museum, la Gaité lyrique, has just opened: dedicated entirely to the digital. This is a legendary 1862 theatre transformed (for 83 million euros) into a Centre Pompidou for iPhone users. Among its features: art, music, games, films, talks and performances. Not to mention a library stuffed with books and magazines on fashion, style and design—in English as well as French. Also a bar in its most stunning space, where you can sip a cocktail in gilded Second Empire splendor.

The historic foyer of the Gaîté lyrique museum

The historic foyer. Manuelle Gautrand Architecture. Photo: © Philippe Ruault

La Gaîté is one of the city’s most ambitious spots and, whether you adore the digital or not, it’s one Paris museum not to miss. Thanks to eight years of careful redevelopment, la Gaîté has offerings for any age (almost half of which are completely free of charge). Its elegant foyer, once graced by Victor Hugo and Jacques Offenbach, is now the portal to a menu of modern adventures. All share a single aim: to give digital art a world-class showplace in Paris.

The video-games space.

Photo: Cynthia Rose

Only steps from Réamur-Sebastopol on the metro, la Gaîté could not be easier to visit—and the fun commences the minute you’re inside. Kids, teens and geeks will love the free video games (state-of-the-art works including special commissions by artists). There are also 3-D installations, “soundscapes,” live music, DJs, classes, films, talks, presentations and conferences. The bar’s mise-en-scène and its gorgeous view speak for themselves. Plus, weekends feature special “Ambient Sunday” concerts. Even for Paris, this museum is something special.

La Gaîté lyrique, on the rue Papin

The museum’s façade on the rue Papin. Manuelle Gautrand. Photo: © Vincent Fillon

There is also plenty for fashionistas at Amusement: la Gaîté’s sleek, niche gift shop. Here, you can commission a video game of your own or check out museum works re-created for iPhones, iPads and Androïds by Touché.In short, la Gaîté is a digital pleasure garden. This Paris museum offers its visitors an alluring maze, where stairways snake around varied studios, salles and theatres. What looks like a box may contain pop-up seating or a floor of different sections to be raised and lowered. Such a windowless design might have been claustrophobic; instead, any room can go from theatre to cinema, dance hall to cocktail gathering. All is enlivened by a zillion funky touches: quotes that run along each floor in bright LED lights and electric colors (orange, fuchsia, citron) that are literally eye-popping.

The Petite Salle at la Gaîté lyrique

The Petite Salle. Manuelle Gautrand Architecture. Photo: © Philippe Ruault

Not to mention all the futuristic “furniture”: clusters of glowing cubes plus the mobile units dubbed les éclaireuses (“girl guides”). These éclaireuses are sleek, cozy booths, equipped with snazzy touch screens. Anyone can use their comfy couches to research the theatre’s history, relive its renovation or explore the programming.

Les éclaireuses at la Gaîeté lyrique

Les éclaireuses, or “girl guides.” Manuelle Gautrand Architecture. Photo: © Philippe Ruault

Not every corner of la Gaîté is always open, but any visit will be full of epiphanies. That’s exactly what artistic director Jérôme Delormas wants. “It’s a destination where things will be continually changing. The place where Empress Eugénie once listened to operettas, but where people now come to see Brian Eno. We want the kind of Paris museum teenagers drag their parents to.”

La Gaîté lyrique

Photo: Cynthia Rose

Certainly, there is plenty to offer all the family—and just as much for singles, solo travelers or the curious. If you love the city, you’ll love this new shrine to the digital.
Related links:
La Gaîté lyrique (closed Mondays)
Amusement (closed Sun–Mon)
Victor Hugo
Jacques Offenbach

Other digital tips for Paris:
• Paris Wi-Fi
Here, the city’s official website lists where to find free Wi-Fi in the city, including all the sites that provide it and instructions for use (sessions last two hours)
• All Apple stores here stock downloadable Paris apps, including those provided free by museums like the Louvre. Find them at:
Apple Store Opéra
12, rue Halévy, in the 9th. 01 44 83 42 00.
Apple Store Carrousel du Louvre
99, rue de Rivoli, in the 1st. 01 43 16 78 00.
FYI: Stays open Mon– Sun, 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
FNAC Digitale Odéon
81, blvd St.-Germain, in the 6th. 08 25 02 00 20.
Dedicated to new technologies, this FNAC offers chances to meet authors and game designers, as well as a dedicated Apple shop.