Sometimes overnight sensations take a long time. As with chanteuses, so it is with city neighborhoods. Belleville, Paris, is the perfect example. Located in the 20th arrondissement, Belleville was once a sleepy working-class backwater dotted with Chinese, North African and Jewish enclaves. Artists have been gradually moving into the cheap housing and former factories on its steep-sloped streets that provide extraordinary Parisian panoramas. Sharing the fate of other artist frontiers, this neighborhood has now been “discovered” and integrated into mainstream Paris.
At Belleville, this artistic energy has been slowly building over decades, and the 23rd annual “Portes Ouvertes d’Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville,” or open studios, took place during the weekend of May 11-14, 2012. Over 250 painters, sculptors, woodworkers, photographers and performance artists opened their studios to the public, providing a wonderful opportunity see contemporary art, and perhaps more appealingly (given the quality of a lot of the art), a once-a-year chance to indulge our curiosity and peek behind closed doors and normally impenetrable facades.
Perhaps because of the cool, grey weather, this self-guided tour was low-keyed and overshadowed by a neighborhood-wide annual “flea-market”, providing a not-so-scientific observation that shoppers are more on the look-out for great deals on broken lamps than for an opportunity to buy art. Our exploration focused on several blocks, because very soon this small neighborhood seemed very large, especially trudging up the hills of some of the back streets.
Studios and galleries were identified by the Portes Ouvertes signs or little “AaB” banners (Ateliers d’artistes de Belleville) and were located in apartments, storefronts or within converted factories. As with many of these events, the journey and the studios were often more interesting than the art, and for that reason, most of my pictures focus on the venues. For a brochure and map, please check out the website: www.ateliers-artistes-belleville.org.
Belleville is also a Parisian center of street art, which with a few exceptions, is a changing landscape when whole facades are transformed overnight. Stencils, collage and paint are used.
Photos by Carol Berens