Category Archives: libraries

Sophie Calle at Paris Richelieu National Library : “Take care”

Once upon a time, you just had to cross Sophie Calle‘s road to become part of a work of art, so sending her a mail on her cell phone to end up a relationship was looking for it. The private message has become a public installation called after its final worlds :“Take care”.

It was first shown In Venice Biennale 2007, where Sophie Calle was representing France with this work. Now it is being shown in Paris National Library, on its ancient site rue de Richelieu.

The exhibition takes place in “salle Labrouste” which was the former reading room before the new National Great Library was built, and it is a most beautiful place with a touch of magic.

Staged by Daniel Buren, on screens put on reading tables, some of the 107 women who have been given the message written to Sophie Calle read it in their own language, and react to it in their own way.

Diam’s, a young French rap singer, in a recording studio.

Arielle Dombasle reads the message in French but curses the author in English.

Ingrid Caven reads it in German.

And Miranda Richardson reads an English version to her cat before tearing the paper to pieces.

It is sang by opera singers, danced by an Indian dancer and a ballerina, told in deaf and dumb language, eaten by a parrot… It is analyzed by psycho analysts, semioticians,  literary critics, specialists of computer writing, translators…It is treated by a wedding counselor. A large screen on the room’s central upper vault shows a loot of all these films.

All these voices mixed with a low repetitive music make a kind of hypnotic murmur. Open drawers are full of copies the letter.

As Daniel Buren says : ” Sophie has made out of this personal letter a raw material, an artistic object. Still this doesn’t mean that there is no feeling left.

An intriguing experience in an exceptional setting.

Sophie Calle, Prenez soin de vous, up to June 8. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Site Richelieu – Salle Labrouste. 58 rue de Richelieu 75002 Paris Metro Bourse, Palais-Royal et Pyramides. Tel 33(0)1 53 79 59 59. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 to 20, Sunday 12 to 20, Thursday up to 22. Closed on Monday. Enter 7 euros.


A highly controversial photo exhibition at Paris Historical Library

Usually, I would have categorized a post about Paris Historical Library as another chapter of “Paris Grand Siècle”, for it is located in one of the fine Renaissance style hotels of Paris Marais.

It was built in the last years of sixteenth century for Diane de France, a legitimated daughter of King Henry II, and bought in the mid seventeenth century by a sir de Lamoignon who was the president of the first Paris parliament.

Many of the “classic period” famous writers, like Racine, Madame de Sévigné, Boileau, or Malesherbes used to visit the place, which quite naturally became the Historical Library. Besides the interest of its catalog, the reading room has the most beautiful Renaissance painted ceiling.

If you go down the street, you get to the modern building where the book shop and exhibition room are located.

This is the place where opened on March 20 the exhibition of photos by André Zucc, first called “Parisians during the Occupation”.

The main point of his exhibition was to show the only color pictures taken by a French photographer during the German Occupation in Paris on world war 2. We are used to black and white pictures of this period, and these are really striking. The contest came first from the press, who pointed out that at least this needed some explanation, and then the guy in charge of culture at Paris town hall got mad about it, said it was outrageous and wanted to close it (maybe he was that mad mostly because he should have known better and earlier about it – historical library is part of Paris municipal libraries).

Finally, the title was changed into “some Parisians under the occupation” , Paris town hall edited a foreword in several languages given to visitors at the exhibition’ entrance and hired an historian to write commentaries about some of the pictures – maybe the Historical Library staff cold have thought of it in the first place.

André Zucca : place de la Concorde.

So what was the big deal? André Zucca, who was a quite well known photographer was hired during the Occupation by a newspaper called Signal, which was the organ of Nazi propaganda in Paris, to take pictures of German officials, and Paris social and political events – involving Vichy government and collaborationist spheres. These published pictures were black and white. But thanks to Signal, Zucca got some color film, which only Germans could afford, to achieve his private work (he took over a 1000 color photos). He certainly was not a Nazi militant, we was just taking advantage of the situation, without questioning it – and no doubt that he knew for whom and what he was working for, and he did not bother.

The color film needed a lot of light, so most of the displayed pictures show Paris streets under a bright spring sun, just as it was when I came and took the street pictures you see on this post. And of course, life looks more cheerful under the sun. Even this refugee moving out with his children after a bombing does not look that miserable.

So there is no set up, it was really sunny and Belleville street was crowded, these pictures point that a photographer’s eye is not objective, it chooses his subject and and shows his point of view : Paris as a lively and cheerful town, where people went on enjoying their life, not bothering about German occupation, just the way Zucca felt.

His color pictures have a strong impact, because these images make the war years closer to ours than black and white photos, and in the same time, they look a little like fiction – because the first German colored films had the same color and light effect. And sometimes, in spite of the carefree mood of the photographer, some harshness shows up -as the text on Nazi posters, and the so bright yellow stars pinned on the chest of people passing by in a Marais street.

This is a poster which has been removed from today’s Paris street, but all this fuzz has made a great deal for this exhibition, which is a big success, and is really worth visiting. The bookshop ran out of catalogs, but they will be soon reprinted – around May 10 – and for 35 euros, it is really an exceptional document.

Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris, hôtel de Lamoignon, 24 rue Pavée, métro Saint-Paul, open Monday to Friday 13 to 18, Saturday 9.30 to 18, closed on Sunday. Information on 33(0)1 44 59 29 40

Exhibition : “Des Parisiens sous l’occupation – photos en couleur d’André Zucca”, bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris 22 rue Mahler 75004 Paris Metro Saint-Paul, up to July 1, open everyday 11 to 19, entrance 4 euros.

A beautiful house for selected films : Paris Cinémathèque

Since September 2005, French Film Library has moved in the building created by Frank O.Gehry in 1993 for the Paris American Center.


Frank Gehry used to call it “the ballerina pulling up her tutu”.


It’s located rue de Bercy, next to the former Paris wine market, which for one part is now a shopping center set up in the ancient streets and brick houses, and for another a beautiful park. It’s doors open on a lawn that stretches to the Seine embankment.


And if you prefer books to films, National Library is just across the river, related by Simone de Beauvoir footbridge. Film Library also houses a bookshop and a library dedicated to film. You can visit it’s permanent collection and usually very interesting temporary exhibitions. Finishing February 18, a great monography of Sacha Guitry, including posters, paintings, sound recordings and film excerpts.


And of course, you can also watch films, now running a tribute to Jeanne Moreau (up to March 3) and a retrospective on African Cinematography (up to March 2)

Inside setting matches perfectly with the outside style.


If you’re interested in the building, every first Sunday of a month at 11 AM, you can join an architectural visit. ( 8 euros)

La Cinémathèque Française, 51 rue de Bercy 15012 Paris tel 33(0)1 71 19 33 33. Metro Bercy. Exhibition Sacha Guitry “une vie d’artiste” up to February 18, Monday to Saturday 12 to 19, up to 22 on Thursdays, Sunday 10 to 19. Entrance 8 euros.

For more information and program, go to :

Top of Paris Subway Lines charts : Line 14, also the best way to go to hell

It is the latest metro line built in Paris, the shortest, with only nine stations, and the fastest, for its automatic trains run faster than any other Paris subway trains.


Line 14 is very different from any other, not only because it’s trains having no human driver, they’re always running even on strike days. It has a special look, a special mood, and even a special smell.


A mysterious blue light hovering on line 14 platform in Châtelet, a major subway junction in the city center. Northwest the line starts at Saint-Lazare, which is also a railway station, and stops at interesting shopping or touristic places like Madeleine, Pyramides and Châtelet.


Then it heads south east, stopping at Gare de Lyon, where all trains leave to or arrive from south France.


There grows an underground exotic garden no one can walk in except the gardeners.


Going south east in new built areas, the stations get more and more monumental.


Like Bibliothèque François Mitterrand station, which makes me think a bit of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” settings.


Though it goes up to the Olympiades, a renovated place in the south east Chinese area, I suggest to stop here if you haven’t visit the National Library exhibition, “L’Enfer de la Bibliothèque : Eros au secret“.


Going there, you’ll pass the small wood planted in a square pit in the middle of the library ‘s four towers: just like the gare de Lyon garden, it is a kind of virtual wood, since nobody can go in.


You can look at it through the window in a sunny corridor, while waiting to visit the exhibition.


By the way, did you know that Georges Bataille, who was a great provider for National Library’s hell, worked there as a librarian, and that “Histoire de l’oeil” was written on the back of library’s book files?

Exhibition “l’Enfer de la Bibliothèque : Eros au secret” up to March 2, everyday except Monday 10 to 19, Sunday 13 to 19. Bibliothèque Nationale, site Mitterrand, 11 quai François Mauriac, 75013 Paris, station “Bibliothèque François Mitterrand”, on line 14.

Paris Centre Pompidou will blow its 31 candels on January 31

Though it opened 31 years ago, Centre Pompidou looks still young. As always, there had been a competition between several plans, and unusually the winner was a most daring project, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and the British Richard and Sue Rogers. and when it opened, with a mono-graphic exhibition of Marcel Duchamp, as far as I remember, it was a very controversial matter. beaubourgrue.jpg

With its colored tubes and white pipes, it looked as a playful kind of skeleton factory, and for museum it was not at all dignified.


It was instantly a huge success: its large public library was very popular among students and young people, as well as its great exhibitions and its modern art permanent collection.


In the first years, one could use freely the escalators to go up to the terrace and have a drink or just enjoy the sun and the view.


Instantly, the place was called Beaubourg, after the name of the area it’s built in, and that is still the name Parisians use rather than Centre Pompidou (it was named after the French President who signed for it, Georges Pompidou, who was really interested in modern art. )


Nowadays, you have to go in and take a ticket to go up.


There you will also find a shop selling design things and small clothes, a bookshop, and an expansive self-service café. (Do prefer outdoor cafés around)

Outdoor, you can take a private elevator if you have made a reservation at le Georges, the quite expansive – but not gastronomic – restaurant on top. Though the setting designed by Dominique Jacob and Brendan McFarlane matches perfectly with Beaubourg’s style, it is mostly worthwhile outdoors on sunny days.


For its thirtieth birthday, the permanent modern art collection has reopened in a new presentation, and it is extremely rich and impressive.
As part of this celebration, Beaubourg is now showing, since November 2007, a mono-graphic exhibition of Richard Rogers work over the 40 past years.


The place is often crowded on its plaza side, the museum entrance side, people watching street performers, as in most touristic places.


I do prefer to go nearby to Stravinsky Fountain, featuring mobile sculptures by Niki de Saint-Phalle and Jean Tinguely.



It is a great place for children too.


Centre Pompidou, place Georges Pompidou, 75003 Paris, Metro Rambuteau tel 33(0)1 44 78 12 33. Open everyday but Tuesday 11 to 21, Price 10 euros for all museum and exhibitions. Exhibition “Richard Rogers and architects” up to March 3.

For more information and reservation, go to :

Le Georges : reservation tel 33(0)1 44 78 47 99, fax 33(0)1 44 78 48 93, virtual visit on :


Hell’s gate wide open at Paris National Library

Paris National Library historical site rue de Richelieu (just behind Palais-Royal gardens) was getting too small and obsolete so it has been completed by “the Very Large Library”, on east southbank. It was first opened to public on 12/20/1996 and the transfer of most collections was achieved in October 1998.


Designed by Dominique Perrault, it is made of four 79 meters high towers, each closing a private garden corner and figuring an opened book : The Tower of Times, The Tower of Law, the Tower of Numbers, and the Tower of Literature.


And beneath this noble knowledge, Library’s Inferno : locked rooms where are hidden books supposedly dangerous to read or to look at .

Since December 15, and up to March 2, all these shocking texts – among which well known by Marquis de Sade, Guillaume Apollinaire or Georges Bataille – as well as hot pictures, engravings and photos are exposed to all visitors over sixteen.


Echoing this X rate exhibition, RATP has brought back to a form of life its completely forgotten station “Croix Rouge” (red cross) – nothing to do with the charity organization, but named after the place where its entry was located, between Mabillon and Sèvres-Babylone. No trace of it outside, no mention on any map, it has been closed since world war 2. Up to January 15, all passengers of line 10 can get “a sensory experience” (quite a Lynchean concept) for the price of subway fare.


The ghost station is animated with red veils waving in a pink light, coming suddenly into view and shortly fading in the dark. If the driver slows down you might even take glimpse on some licentious picture.


L’Enfer de la Bibliothèque : Eros au secret, Bibliothèque nationale, site Mitterrand, 11 quai François Mauriac 75013 Paris, Metro Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, tel 33(0)1 5379 59 59. Everyday except Mondays, Christmas Day, January 1, 10 AM to 19 , Sunday 13 to 19. Entrance 5 euros, forbidden under sixteen. For amateurs, beautiful catalogue : 38 euros. For more information, go to :

Subway line 10 : Gare d’Austerlitz – Boulogne Pont de Saint-Cloud. Ghost station between Mabillon and Sèvres-Babylone.

Back to the roots of our alphabet in Paris Institut du Monde Arabe

Located near the Seine, in front of Sully bridge, Paris Institut du Monde Arabe is celebrating its twentieth birthday. The glass building designed by architect Jean Nouvel always looks as bright and attractive as in 1988.


It’s walls are made of glass squares adorned with a geometric Arabian looking design. Each center circle works like a lens opening or closing at outside light changes.


Presently running up to April 20, a thrilling exhibition about Phoenicians, who over three thousands years ago used a linear alphabet, traded all over Mediterranean sea and built Carthago.


As I was there on Friday, which was the museum’s birthday party eve, I took a glimpse at the library which was being cleaned, and loved the idea of reading a book leaning on a red carpet and cushions in the middle of this high tech all glass and metal setting.


On the top of the building, the terrace overlooks a beautiful panorama on Notre-Dame and the Seine. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation, as well as the panoramic restaurant, and should reopen on December 15.


Also just opening, and up to March 9, an exhibition showing about a hundred and twenty works of modern art from fifteen Arabic countries, which sounds really interesting to see.

Institut du Monde Arabe, 1 rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 75005 Paris, métro Jussieu, tel : 33(0)1 40 51 38 38. Closed on Monday, opened 10 to 18, up to 19 Saturdays and Sundays, up to 21 on Thursdays. Entrance 10 euros. Top (very good) restaurant “le Ziryab ” reopening December 15, lunch 12.30 to 14.30, dinner 19.30 to midnight, reservations on 33(0)1 40 51 38 38.

All information on the Institute activities on :