Oops, I did it again.
I attended an exposition’s “vernissage” (literally, the “varnishing”—how the French refer to a preview or opening of an art show), and became smitten with the show and its fine-looking catalog. Obsession activated. Hit hard, and a post card just wouldn’t do.
But, how can I get an art catalogue on the cheap? Walk this way!
1. Check out that rack of glossies!
Most museum shops sell “les albums de l’exposition” (guides, magazines, and portfolios). Published by Beaux Arts Magazine, Connaissance des Arts, Le Figaro, or the museum itself, these slim gems are usually prominently displayed, lightweight and affordable, costing just €2 to €10. Chockfull of visuals with punch, they’ll satisfy your head, pocketbook and suitcase. Translated versions are often available, too.
2. Crack Da Chintzy code
La Boutique du Musée du Louvre not only carries current and back issues of “albums de l’exposition” (see above), but also discounts catalogs from its previous expositions by up to 60% off their original cost!
Other museums like the Centre Pompidou, Musée Carnavalet, and The Palais de Tokyo also slash art catalogue prices throughout the year. Recently at the Musée Galliera (museum of fashion), I purchased the Madame Carven catalogue for just €12, marked down from €30. Memorize one of my favorite French words, “soldes” (“on sale”), and you too will start spotting bargains everywhere. (As Anaïs Nin wrote, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”)
3. Ch-ching at Fuh-nack!
Even my French friends were surprised to learn that Fnac (pronounced “fuh-nack”), the largest French entertainment retail chain, discounts its inventory of books. This includes the latest catalogues from current blockbuster shows, like Le Grande Monde d’Andy Warhol at the Grand Palais, Kadinsky at the Centre Pompidou, the David LaChapelle Retrospective at the Musée de la Monnaie, and Valadon et Utrillo at La Pinacothèque!
Fnac is a bustling combination of Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Staples, and Ticketmaster. With everything from laptops and DVDs to French comic books and concert tickets, it’s one-stop shopping. You can also pick up museum admission tickets.
4. Flâneur-tastique! That’s how we stroll.
I’ve been known to spend entire days in the aisles of Mona Lisait Librairies. Although this funky bookstore chain that specializes in new and used art books has shops scattered all over Paris, its Marais location at 17bis rue Pavée (Metro: St Paul) is closest to my heart. Its creaky wooden floorboards, uneven brick flooring, tinny classical music, helpful staff, and free gift-wrapping all add up to real atmosphere.
Another favorite is at Place Joachim du Bellay, not far from the Centre Pompidou. Each of the seven locations has its own charm, and definitely worth a visit. (By the way, “Mona lisait” means “Mona was reading.”)
For another take on the arts, go meet the artists or at least their wax replicas at the Musée Grévin (Paris Wax Museum). Then visit the Librairie du Passage just a few feet away at 39 and 48 Passage Jouffroy (near Grand Boulevard–pictured above). Open since 1846, it’s in one of Paris’ classic 19th-century shopping arcades. Rumor has it that Victor Hugo, a renowned bargain hound, got his Cheapo on at this very shop.
6. Mosey on to Glory
Here I weep. At La librairie de l’Avenue in the middle of Clignancourt Flea Market (Métros: Garibaldi or Porte de Clignancourt), the angels sing on high from a little CD player located just below the cashier’s desk. The sweet smell of coffee and frankincense tickles the nose.
This large but still intimate bookshop is well stocked with new and used art books, catalogues, vintage prints and antique magazines. Deciding exactly where to start my quest is the only glitch I encounter here as I make my way though the narrow labyrinth of floor to ceiling bookshelves, stocked with discounted books that have been meticulously organized by category, author or genre.
7. Don’t forget to look in the ‘hood
Neighborhood bookstores (“librairies”) all over the city occasionally stock and discount catalogues from current and past expositions. The handsome books are usually displayed in the windows.
How to find out about current art expositions in Paris
Pariscope: Invest 40 cents in a copy of Pariscope, available at any newsstand or kiosk. The pocket-sized weekly listings magazine covers the week’s happenings from theatre, cinema and arts, to music and restaurants. It hits the stands on Wednesdays.
An important note on pronunciation:
You risk raising a few bemused eyebrows if you ask for directions to an “exhibition.” “Exhibitions” (with an “h”) are peep shows—which is fine, if that’s the sort of display you’re after. However, if you’re looking for art, give that word a “p”–“exposition”!
Tell us. Do you have a favorite bookstore in Paris? Tell us below.
About the author and photographer: Theadora Brack is a writer working in Paris. Her fiction has appeared in more than 30 literary publications, including 3AM International, The Smoking Poet, Beloit Fiction Journal, Mid-American Review, and the Haight-Ashbury Literary Journal.