My Paris Stories

Chez Madame

Who is the lady? Madame is Monique Piffaut, 27th richest person in France, majority shareholder of the biggest processed food companies in France. Her assets are estimated at 220 million Euros. Such a pity that she didn’t show up yesterday night: her building was transformed into a colourful and amazing artwork. But she doesn’t care about her properties. She probably has too many.

A deep and endless sleep

Fact is, that the building on the corner of rue de Turenne and Rue Vieille du Temple has been unoccupied since 1995. When I arrived in the neighbourhood of the Upper Marais, in 1994 they were still selling wine and chocolates there. One day, the shop closed down and never opened again. The building fell into a deep and seemingly endless sleep.

Paris officials tried several times to convince Madame to sell her beautiful building. But she didn’t want to. She was forced to renovate it in order to avoid dilapidation. Once beautifully renovated, she wanted to rent it. At least, that's what she pretended. In fact, she was asking half a million Euros yearly rent, there aren't many people who would call that a bargain. But it’s Paris after all. So some companies were indeed interested in this very strategically placed venue in a highly hip neighbourhood. But Madame, alas, didn’t answer their propositions.

Stay and show your art

For the artists occupying the building now, there is one tiny chance: lately, Paris legalized several art squats. All over town, spaces have been bought and renovated. After that, a specially tailored agreement designed by the city allows selected squatters to stay in exchange for a minimal fee and the promise of continuous work accessible to the public.

The most famous case is 59 Rivoli. Illegally occupied since 1999, Paris bought, closed and renovated the building in 2006. It was part of a citywide effort to legitimize popular but technically illegal art venues. Today the building serves as studio space for 32 resident artists.

Madame should come!

I ask you what is the bigger crime: To leave a building unoccupied or to squat it and transform it into a gallery? In a city, where 120 000 people are desperately looking for housing the answer is obvious, no? If Madame shows up one day, I will not miss the moment.