Purple Magazine
— Purple #31 The Paris issue

eric troncy

i don’t like paris anymore

text by ÉRIC TRONCY

I came to Paris in 1983 to study art history at the Sorbonne and the École du Louvre. I grew up in a provincial city with a population of 50,000, and in those pre-Internet days, that inevitably meant an incredible cultural isolation. This was two years after François Mitterrand was elected, and France had already changed quite a bit. There was a feeling, or an idea, that art production in general and the avant-garde in particular were something to be valued. In fact, in 1989, I saw Jessye Norman sing “La Marseillaise” wrapped in a French flag on the Place de la Concorde during a parade, for the bicentenary of the French revolution, a performance that the president had commissioned from Jean-Paul Goude. It was really another era.

I was very interested in contemporary art, fashion, and music. That eclecticism, which is commonplace today, was starting to gain traction with people of my generation (to be interested in both Carl Andre and Thierry Mugler wasn’t so obvious). In fashion, this was the era of young designers, and they seemed to be doing something different in their field, just as artists were. Paris’s avant-garde galleries (Yvon Lambert, Éric Fabre, Chantal Crousel, Daniel Templon, and Durand-Dessert) had no reason to envy colleagues abroad. Suzanne Pagé led an astonishingly high-quality program at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of  Paris — she never missed anything new or interesting. I bought B-52’s and Talking Heads t-shirts at Harry Cover, a shop in Châtelet; it was the only place in France where you could find those gems. I also listened to this new music, which was so inventive.

Not far from where I lived, on the Boulevard de Strasbourg, there was a nightclub called the 120 Nuits (120 Nights), which I went to in 1983-84. There were performances and music shows there, and Xavier Veilhan had done all the decor. I saw concerts by Alan Vega, the Comateens. You could bump into Jacno, Alain Pacadis, and all kinds of regulars. They were all invested in this idea of the avant-garde and the rupture with what preceded it. Paris was on a par with London and New York in that regard — though few people know this. Everything was really easy. I saw The Smiths’ first concert in France on May 9, 1984, at the Eldorado, a little concert hall on the Boulevard de Strasbourg, where I also saw Kas Product. I heard about the concert that same afternoon, probably on free radio, and bought a ticket at the box office. On the ticket, it said, “Bring your flowers,” so I bought a bouquet and went to the show. Young revelers organized parties all over Paris that squatted one night a week in a nightclub. We hung out at Les Halles in the afternoon, checked out the clothes at Serge Krüger’s shop and at Try Me on the Rue de la Grande Truanderie. At night, we went to La Sébale at Opéra Night, the Fantasia party at Porte Maillot, Acid Rendez-Vous, the Baldi, Privilège, La Piscine (a club inside an old pool). After 1987, we went to the Megatown, an old movie theater turned into a 22,000-square-foot nightclub, which was really special. And La Luna, on the Rue Keller, a cellar where this young guy, Laurent Garnier, deejayed.

It was really incredible, but the French punk band Taxi Girl sung, “There’s nothing to do in Paris” (in “Paris,” 1984) and spelled it in the lyrics “PARIS M-E-R-D-E” [SHIT]. Today, Thomas Dutronc sings, “I don’t like Paris anymore,” and, as a matter of fact, neither do I because, as a Parisian friend recently said to me, “To live in Paris today has nothing to do with having a Parisian lifestyle.” In any case, it’s not the same Paris I knew — that carefree, easy, generous city, seized by a desire to invent new things, new formats, without taking yourself too seriously. People spent an insane amount of time trying to come up with something completely new for only a few hundred people to experience, and the next morning they’d wake up wondering what to invent next, as if they were just starting out. You were generally content for only about 24 hours, and certainly not because you went shopping in a grocery store where the carrots are still covered in soil and presented in little wooden crates. Since 1995, I’ve lived in Burgundy, where the carrots you buy at the market have always been dirty, and no one makes a big deal out of it. For me, it’s not about comparing Paris with other capitals — I think the 21st century isn’t a century of capitals (most of them look the same, anyway, though Parisian inhospitality is still without parallel). I visit certain capitals to see exhibitions, but in general, most of the artists I admire aren’t exhibited in Parisian museums (Katharina Fritsch and Charlene von Heyl are two names that come to mind) and don’t even have galleries in Paris. It was interesting, in fact, to compare David Hockney’s exhibition at the Tate — with its rather unconventional pale pink, canary yellow, and almond-green walls, which took the delicious risk of displeasing but really said something about the paintings — with the same exhibition on view a few months later at the Georges Pompidou Center, installed on safe and graceless white walls, which unnecessarily gentrified the paintings. That’s kind of the Parisian syndrome: everything that happens there is instantly gentrified, and this gentrification seems to be the very reason anything happens there at all. This isn’t the case in other capitals I know, where a good Internet connection and proximity to an airport link you to the world and art production without subjecting you to false pretenses and exhausting futility.

END

[Table of contents]

Purple #31 The Paris issue

Table of contents

Subscribe to our newsletter