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By Theadora Brack in Paris—
Trekking to Paris? Interested in the arts? Don’t forget the smaller museums, galleries and institutions. While running the streets in the city, I’ve spied a few recent trends. A great deal of the town halls (“mairies”) in the various arrondissements are sponsoring many of the coolest shows. And they’re usually free, to boot. Cha-ching.
For example, check out the striking “Marcel Storr, Bâtisseur Visionnaire” (“visionary builder”) exhibit at the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin. Sponsored by the Mairie of the 20th arrondissement, it will shine through March 31, 2012. Calling all connoisseurs!
Meet Marcel Storr
Cheapos, lean in because Storr’s story is an interesting one. Born in 1911, he was abandoned as a child, and raised by nuns in a convent. He later worked as a miner, and then as an unloader of trucks at the old Paris central food market of Les Halles before he found a job sweeping leaves in the Bois de Boulogne.
Fascinated by towers and tall buildings, he started drawing in secret during his spare time, filling spiral bound notebook after notebook with pencil and colored ink drawings of cathedrals and utopian cities of the future.
Here’s what caught my little eye
The intricate, exquisite drawings mirror both the golden autumn leaves, along with the towers at La Defense, which were built before his very eyes during the 1960s while he swept away the falling foliage. As a leaf sweeper in Bois de Boulogne, he had quite the catbird seat. And he loved it. “We need towers! We need towers!” he said.
Liliane and Bertrand Kempf discovered his stash of drawings one night in 1971 while the artist was away from home. Storr’s wife introduced them to his dreamy world, which had been hidden under the bed and oilcloth of the kitchen table. And now forty years later, for the first time ever, the works have been put on display. The 60 drawings in the current show have never been on public exhibition before.
Organized by France’s legendary visionary and outsider guru Laurent Danchin, his dedication and passion for visionary, outsider and self-taught art shows through every inch of this thoughtful and exciting presentation. Looking very much like a dashing, modern day Victor Hugo, Danchin has organized numerous exhibitions, and written several books on the subject. Cheapos, he knows.
Keira Knightley, where are you?
For the love of epic historic films, I ask. Great news! The exhibit is in the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin, an 18th-century “folie” (country house). Rocking colossal columns and a villa vibe with a neoclassical twist, this former party crib for the rich and famous is located about six blocks from the Mairie of the 20th arrondissement.
And yes, this old house pushed me back in time and beyond the present-day city walls. If it’s a pretty day, book it there with a book and a snack. The garden is divine.
And there’s a catalog!
Here’s a tip for the road! If you can’t make it to the show itself, there’s a catalog and it’s a beauty. You can pick one up nearby at the bookshop Le Monte en L’air (71 rue de Ménilmontant) or at the Musée Halle Saint Pierre (2 rue Ronsard, 18th arrondissement).
As curator Laurent Danchin said, “Creation is elevation of the mind. If you want to know what the word ‘genius’ really means and to see a paramount case of genuine ‘art brut’ or ‘outsider art’, just go see the show. Marcel Storr is a great master of highly inspired non-professional art.” Just do it, Cheapos.
Snack options abound!
Looking to lunch before or after visiting the gallery? I recently enjoyed a coffee with Laurent at Le Gambetta café. Located just outside the Gambetta Métro station at 104 Rue de Bagnolet, the jaunty joint is very charming and affordable, too. Plus, the piping hot beverage is served with a scrumptious piece of dark chocolate. (Goodbye, heart.)
Laurent also recommends Chez Luna, conveniently located nearby at 108 rue de Ménilmontant.
For the love of classic French neighborhoods, the Gambetta ’hood is chock-full of trees, cafés and shops. It’s totally worth the hike up the (gently steep) rue des Pyrénées. Oh, the places we will see. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for the cheese shops and brocantes, along with some fun, infectious street art too. Wear comfortable shoes.
Multi-taskers, the Cimetière du Père Lachaise is located nearby at 15 Boulevard de Ménilmontant.
Got a hankering for still more visionary art?
If you’re in Paris, stop and visit Halle Saint Pierre (2 Rue Ronsard, 18th arrondissement). This international jewel features both contemporary and historic works by self-taught and outsider artists. Housed in a former 19th-century food market, HSP also boasts one of the best art bookshops in Paris and a homey café with a striking view of Sacré Coeur. Great quiche!!
Pavillon Carré de Baudouin
121 rue de Ménilmontant, 20th arrondissement
Métro Gambetta or the “96” bus line (Pyrénées/Ménilmontant)
Open: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 AM to 6 PM
Also in our guide: Planning your trip to Paris and looking for an affordable place to stay? Our editors have visited, inspected and reviewed hotels that are central, clean and cheap. Read the reviews in our Paris guide.