59 Rue de Rivoli is an unassuming six-storey, Haussmann-style building situated in the very heart of the 1st arrondissement of Paris. Opposite a McDonald’s and sitting beside one of the entrances to Chatelet metro station, you’d never guess what lies behind the walls of the building.
That is, if you look past the larger than life-sized blue figures rappelling off the building! Oh, and the golden door…
If you’re looking for something unusual to do on an afternoon in Paris, then 59 Rue de Rivoli is one of the most unique things to do in town. A cross between a gallery, a museum and a studio, you don’t just see a selection of the artist’s best works, but also their works in progress. There’s also the chance to meet the artists themselves.
Close to the Louvre and not far from the Notre Dame, as soon as you step through the golden doorway, you’re greeted by the sound of piano music. It’s the kind of piano music that tells you right away that the atmosphere is warm and friendly. And anyone is welcome to have a go at playing…
History of 59 Rue de Rivoli
Like with most things in Paris, 59 Rue de Rivoli began life by breaking the rules- but in an all so chic Parisian kind of way. The kind that can’t be found anywhere else in the World.
Although the building was originally owned by a National Bank, it was eventually abandoned in favour of new premises and left empty. The door to the building was bricked up and covered in cement.
In 1999, a trio of artists managed to break down the doors and began cleaning the place up. They started exhibiting their works to members of the public. Within weeks, a dozen more artists moved in and began exhibiting their art to the public as well. 59 Rue de Rivoli had become a movement in itself. Although, it’s important to note that when the artists first moved in, the building was known as Galerie Chez Robert Electrons Libres.
In 2000, the French state tried to evict the artists. However, luckily this failed due to the combination of a good lawyer and growing attention from the media. ‘Squart’- a mixture of squat and art- was the name given to this unique atelier that was rapidly growing in popularity.
For years, the artists remained in residence; tolerated by the state- although still officially illegal. Finally, in 2005, the newly elected Mayor of Paris purchased 59 Rue de Rivoli on behalf of Paris so that it would be safe for generations to come. Prior to his election, he had visited the building and fallen in love with it. One of the key points of his campaign was to make the ateliers legal.
He kept true to his word. In 2009, the building was re-opened and can be visited today.
Today there are up to 30 artists in residence at any given time. The ateliers are free to visit (although there are donation points dotted around the building). Lots of the works are available to purchase. And all of the works on display are incredibly interesting.
There are 20 permanent artists in residence as well as 10 artists who are on 3-6 month contracts. Every weekend, there are concerts. This means that no two visits to 59 Rue de Rivoli will be the same. If this doesn’t convince you that the place is worth a visit, maybe the fact that up to 4000 people a week visit will.
59 Rue de Rivoli is open from 11:00 AM – 20:00 PM on a daily basis (apart from on Monday). (The galleries are also closed on Christmas day and New Year’s Day).
You can visit their website here.