Squart Goes Legit
|Art for sale amid the chain stores on the Rue de Rivoli.|
March 30, 2005: Paris doesn’t have a lot of empty buildings, but when certain activists spot one, they quickly find a way to enter it and move right in, often staying for long periods before being evicted by the police. Many of these squats are turned into artists’ studios (becoming “squarts”) or venues for cultural events. One of them, on the Rue de Rivoli, a busy, chain-store-lined artery in the heart of Paris, was taken over in 1999 by a group of artists calling themselves“Chez Robert, Electron Libre,” who have opened up their studios to the public every weekend since then. In 2000, the city began proceedings to evict them, but the ensuing sympathetic media coverage led to a very different outcome: the city (which has an employee whose job consists of dealing with squats) ended up buying the building for 9 million euros, with the intention of turning it into a “collective space for artistic creation” after it was pointed out that the squart was the third most-visited contemporary art space in Paris. Then the city decided that the building’s doors must be shut to outsiders for safety reasons. After protracted negotiations, the now legitimized squatters have finally agreed, as long as they can eventually reopen to the public. On March 26 and 27, the last weekend the building was open, it had more visitors than the nearby Gap store. They tramped up and down the spiral staircase and peeked into rooms filled with paintings and sculptures (some of them surprisingly good) and installations of miscellaneous junk. Plan ahead for your visit – the erstwhile squat won’t be open to the public again until February 2008 (the artists will continue to work there until January 2007), but you can always admire the gaily decorated façade or visit their Web site. We’ll have to wait to find out what effect legality will have on these anarchic yet well-organized artists.
Chez Robert, Electron Libre: 59, rue de Rivoli. 75001 Paris.
© 2005 Paris Update
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