On Saturday I visited Centquatre (104), one of the remarkable network of Paris community centers. It’s an enormous complex of buildings in a poorer part of the 19e that was formerly the city’s central morgue. Despite its grisly past it is now absolutely full of life.
The jugglers were white but there were several groups of mostly-black young people practicing hip-hop moves, as well as folks of all races and ages relaxing in the comfy chairs and either reading or just taking in the scene.
I had previously visited Centquatre in 2011 in connection with a literary festival. This time what drew me was a contemporary art exhibit that was talked up in Hyperallergic, a worldwide art site that I follow on Facebook. I just missed an exhibit of “Terracotta Daughters,” riffing on the terracotta warriors I had seen in Xi’an in 1994. But in compensation I was able to walk through (and on!) a wonderful exhibit that just opened, “Vestiges” by Alice Mulliez: a room entirely filled with sugar, granular and formed. Heavenly!
Even more fun was “La Liberté guidant la laine,” by Jérémy Gobé. This is a room in which odd furniture-like shapes on all four walls have been covered with stretchy woven cloth.
I was less thrilled by the other works in the group show, but this rotating globe called “Empty Gift” was worth a look.
The quarter is a curious mix of modern high-rises (probably public housing) and run-down older buildings. One hopes that the success of Centquatre will help bring new life to the neighborhood.