second posters agreeing with the restriction

“D’Accord” poster in Montparnasse, Paris (all photos by the author Hyperallergic)

PARIS — The City of Light is rightly recognized as an interesting place for street art, especially in the Right Bank’s scruffier neighborhoods, where I am used to seeing plenty of it. But when it pops up in the rather chic areas, such as my Montparnasse, it tends to stand out even more. The more modish surroundings frame and contrast the work better, enhancing its presence and impact. This has been the case this summer with a spate of interesting examples along Boulevard Raspail.

I first noticed two discreet but hilarious small posters that, through Duchampian understatement, cheekily tweaked establishment rule. Next to official metal plaques announcing a restricted area that forbids posters were placed rectangular posters agreeing with the restriction: “D’accord.”

Then came a wave of full-sized human figure posters that confronted and provoked. This work consisted of a series of young people holding announcement cards presenting themselves to the street as queer, lesbian, and of alternative sexual preference.

There was a fourth and different lesbian poster immediately across the street from my front door, but that one was torn down the day after it was placed there, leaving behind a ghostly witness.

I don’t exactly know what meaning the posters are trying to convey, but I take them to insist something like: “We are queer, we are here, get used to it.”

And we are used to it. Directly around the corner from the destroyed lesbian poster, at 27 rue de Fleurus, sits the permanent marble plague announcing the abode of the famous lesbian couple Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

*   *   *

D’Accord stickers in Montparnasse

“Lesbian” poster

“Queer” poster

“Altersexual” poster

Traces of removed “Lesbian” poster

27 rue de Fleurus, former home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

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Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an artist whose computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums throughout the world. In 2011 his book Immersion...

2 replies on “Street Art Subversion Goes Retro in Paris”

  1. It’s strange the entire Manifestation scene in Paris. Somethings are worth protesting others worth mentioning and most simply a cheeky comment on what is already there. I love the conversation between “Defense d’Afficher” and “D’accord” … It’s like de Kooning talking to Rubens (sort of). However the political nature of the nearly full sized folks proclaiming sexual orientation comes at us to say what exactly? I’ve been working as an artist here for 20 years and I’m a keen observer of the street and its frequent eruptions of text and image, as well as social/political oppression. Are gays and lesbians oppressed in France (or Paris)? I don’t think so. In fact for years, the argument has been made by gays and lesbians about the total acceptance of LGBT lifestyle that too little attention was paid to the scourge of AIDS. Not enough press, perhaps, and therefore too much death. There was no SILENCE = DEATH pink triangle graffiti in Paris. Or very little.

    Other Paris street art often employs stencils – usually of a poetic nature (MISS TIC) is one and there’s usually a French pun or clever turn of phrase to go along with a portrait of the artist in some sex siren (NO WHERE NOW HERE), or the Bristol, UK artist who comes to Paris to paint his bowler hat people on public structures in the process of spray painting red hearts. It’s clever in the Banky-tradition. Lots of folks don’t like the bulk of graffiti here, but seem to tolerate the more aesthetic manifestations.

    The plaque (illustrated here) is a kind of French badge of honor, an architectural medal, rewarding the building and neighborhood with an historical marker that something and someone significant passed this way. It’s small and carved and believe it or not, has been lifted and used as an appropriation in and of itself by artists. (I’m working on one for my building, actually.) I love coming upon them as I roam about Paris – they often give meaning to place when you think you’re just walking.

    Years ago I collected poster strips all over Paris that asserted: UN MINISTRE and another calling out: UN LUNDI (A Minister and A Monday). I was baffled but liked them, kept them, and still don’t understand the message. These were often pasted to the edge of steps so you’d see them as you climbed upwards. I liked the placement, as I like the placement of these “Lesbienne” posters in now unused (except for the homeless folks occasionally living there) transparent telephone booths. Might be more interesting if she were making a phone call with her iPhone – in an ad for Apple. But hey…

    That said, I love and agree with what art dealer Sidney Janis once told me about street art (in talking about DAZE and Basquiat and Futura 2000) : “It’s urban folk art.”

    Matthew Rose / Paris

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