Not so long ago, critics routinely accused Paris of resting on its laurels and failing to innovate when it came to museums. Compared to major cities like London or New York, the French capital seemed lacking in new centers for art, culture, and performance that challenged reigning conventions or offered something genuinely new. Modern art hubs such as the Centre Georges Pompidou opened in 1977; the Palais de Tokyo was inaugurated in 2002. But over the past decade, a fresh crop of galleries, museums, and interactive exhibition spaces have significantly changed the landscape. Here are six of the best new museums in Paris: ones worth adding to your radar.
Atelier des Lumières: An All-Digital Art Gallery
One of the most successful new museums to launch in Paris took a significant gamble: rather than display original pieces in traditional media like paintings, sculpture, or photography, the Atelier des Lumières revives existing artworks and artists through digital multimedia displays.
If that sounds a shade gimmicky, you're not alone in thinking so. Many expected the all-digital shows at the recently unveiled space to feel underwhelming, especially when compared to the beloved artworks and movements they aimed to bring back to life.
But thousands of people lined up to see the inaugural show at the Atelier, a multisensory exploration of early-twentieth-century painter Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and other artists of the Austrian "Secession" movement. Crowds were so mesmerized by the show that it came back for a more limited run in the autumn of 2019. Visitors couldn't get enough of wandering through a room transformed into a kind of living tableau, bringing the world of Klimt and Schiele into the present in delightful, startling ways. More than a mere "re-creation" of the artists' most-recognized works of art, the show is a thematic itinerary whose aim is to plunge visitors into Klimt's Vienna; it also offers some crucial context on the classical sources that informed and inspired the Secession artists.
A second major show, "Starry Night," pays tribute to the work of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and has also proven wildly popular with both locals and visitors. The visual and musical work was conceived by the same team behind the inaugural show and runs through January 2020.
In addition to the significant, long-running shows at the Atelier, the space reserves smaller rooms for temporary multimedia exhibits from contemporary artists.
The Fondation Louis Vuitton: A New Modern Arts Giant
When this ambitious new modern art center and exhibition space was unveiled in 2014, it was hard to know whether to get more excited about the shows being held inside, or the building itself. The Fondation Louis Vuitton was designed by award-winning American architect Frank Gehry, ever-inspired by forms native to the natural world. The result is a grand facade that looks to many like a futuristic glass-and-steel ship with wind-beaten sails, or perhaps an alien mollusk of some kind.
Constructed from 3,600 panels of glass and thousands more of reinforced concrete, the Fondation is arguably worth visiting for its facade alone. But for anyone interested in contemporary art, spending a couple of hours inside is undoubtedly something we recommend.
The bright, light-bathed exhibition halls host a roster of significant shows on modern and contemporary creation, from painting to photography, design, and video. Meanwhile, the Fondation holds a permanent collection of around 330 pieces from 120 artists, curated around four major themes: Pop, Expressionist, Contemplative, and Music & Sound. These pieces regularly feature in temporary displays.
Recent temporary shows have focused on the work of artists and designers such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Charlotte Perriand, and Lauren Halsey. A parallel exhibit on Frank Gehry's sources and inspiration for creating the building has also been popular with visitors.
We recommend visiting the Fondation as part of a day trip to the adjoining Bois de Boulogne, a vast wood at the edge of western Paris complete with walking paths, human-made lakes, fountains, and grottoes. The onsite restaurant at the FLV, featuring bright orange fish sculptures that were also conceived by Gehry, is ideal for a lunch break or even a sit-down dinner.
Fluctuart: A Floating Urban Art Center on the Seine
Paris' first floating art space opened in the summer of 2019, following years of anticipation. Referring to itself as an "urban art center" and the first worldwide to be suspended over a body of water, Fluctuart is primarily dedicated to street art, graffiti, hip-hop, and other artistic forms native to global urban culture. It's drawn flocks of young and arty Parisians over to a part of the city they'd all but abandoned, near Invalides and the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
Temporary exhibits on the middle of three floors are generally free to the public and focus on contemporary artists working in different media, including music, photography, graffiti art, film, and video.
Even if street art isn't mainly to your taste, a visit to the premises is worthwhile for the setting, and you can also enjoy onsite drinks, casual lunch, or dinner at the café. Perch on the rooftop for a drink and enjoy views over the Seine River, the Grand Palais exhibition center across the way on dry land, the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and numerous other Parisian landmarks. Weekend brunch, evening DJ sets, and dance parties complete the offering at Fluctuart.
Interested in fashion history, or in how the world's most iconic designers craft their collections and form a visual identity? If so, consider a trip to the Musée Yves Saint Laurent, which opened its doors in 2017. Highlighting the work, life, and legacy of the French designer who made the women's tuxedo fashionable and broke all manner of assumptions about clothing and personal identity, the museum has won accolades for its engaging, beautifully curated exhibitions.
It's housed at the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent, in the former location of "YSL's" haute couture workshop.
Temporary exhibits at the museum focus on different periods and themes in Saint Laurent's work. Full pieces of clothing, accessories, sketches, and drawings and correspondence paint a complete picture of the designer's enduring, decades-long contributions to style. From YSL's iconic Mondrian dresses to "Le Smoking" women's tuxedos, safari jackets to elegant trench coats, significant pieces in the collection trace the designer's influence not only on fashion but on culture writ large.
Meanwhile, pieces that draw inspiration from the traditional clothing and styles of cultures, including Spain, India, Morocco, and China, are another focus of individual shows. At the same time, a "technical cabinet" unveils how YSL sourced and used various materials for his creation, including leathers, sequins, and feathers.
Claiming to be the first museum in Europe dedicated to economics and economic history, Citéco (short for Cité de l'Economie et de la Monnaie) is centered around an interactive and educational permanent exhibit. It was commissioned by the Banque de France (French National Bank) with the goal of better-educating citizens and visitors on both current-day economics and significant currents in economic history. The museum is housed in the Hotel Gaillard, a listed neogothic building dating to the nineteenth century. It once served as a branch office for the Banque de France.
Inside, though, the vibe is decidedly contemporary. While it isn't necessarily for everyone, the permanent exhibit can offer young travelers and adults a stimulating, educational look at how economics shape our everyday lives. Explore interactive displays and multimedia games that tell the story of economic crashes and booms, or explain how the global stock market works. The museum's collection of rare European coins, bills, money printers, books, prints, and other objects related to economic development and industry are worth a look, too. Visitors can even print out bills with their faces impressed on them.
While this popular, community-centric exhibition and performance space is a bit less recent—it opened its doors in 2008—it merits fresh attention as one of the newer centers of contemporary creation in the capital.
Tourists rarely venture here, but should. Situated in a rather remote and residential corner of northeast Paris, the Centquatre (104) is a multifunctional space dedicated to arts, culture, and community. Stretching over almost 420,000 square feet, the 104 sits on the refurbished site that once served as a city morgue, then a slaughterhouse.
If that sounds less than appealing, don't let the history of the place detract you. Art studios, exhibitions, and performance spaces offer a full program of intriguing "happenings," from full-scale installations to sculpture shows, dance performances, and photography. You can also browse artisan creations at onsite shops, eat delicious pizza from a cart in the airy courtyard, or perch in the café for a break after enjoying an exhibit or show. Finally, travelers with young family members in tow will be interested to know that this is a kid-friendly space: it boasts an entertaining play area and interactive areas for children.