On my recent stay in Paris I visited 59 rue de Rivoli – a contemporary art gallery and studios unlike anything you might see in Paris. I took photos of the impressive six-story spiral staircase – la cage d’escalier – adorned with work from some of its resident artists. Just like the art on the facade of the building does, the staircase art changes periodically to reflect the creativity of the artists associated with this vibrant and special building.
59 Rivoli’s history can be traced back to November 1999 when three artists – Kalex, Gaspard and Bruno (collectively called the KGB), along with other artists broke open the cemented-over door of the state-abandoned 59 rue de Rivoli in the centre of Paris, with the intention of turning the premises into a creative workplace for artists.
Once inside, the group took over as squatters and called themselves “Chez Robert, Electron Libre.” They opened the premises to the public, organising shows, performances and concerts, while facing eviction orders from the French state scheduled for early as the following year. Intervention by the collective’s lawyer, Florence Diffre, earned them an eviction delay of six months, while the press became interested in the phenomenon of to “squart” – a contraction of ‘squat’ and ‘art’. The media interest was such that the French state didn’t pursue the eviction matter for several years, though, for the collective, the threat of eviction still hung over the rooftop of N°59 like a swirling cloud ready to unleash its storm.
Then along came a political ally… Bertrand Delanoë was the then candidate for the mayor of Paris, and during his campaign Delanoë visited the squat and fell in love with what the collective was doing, promising to legalise the premises if he were elected mayor. Following his electoral success, Delanoë kept to his word and made 59 rue de Rivoli a protected site for artists. Merci, monsieur le Mayor!
Today, the building and its collective is called 59 Rivoli and remains open to the public. It has 30 artist studios, exhibition and performance space, and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year, claiming its spot of one of the three most visited sites of contemporary art in Paris.
Information adapted from the official site: History and life of the place – 59 Rivoli
My photographs of the spectacular six-story spiral staircase, going down…