When I say I love Montmartre, people often ask me to explain myself. Surely I don’t mean that I actually like the Place du Tertre and its surrounding tourist traps? (No, of course not, you fools.) Do I realise there are many more hotels and 1 million-euro apartments than there are artists’ hovels these days? (Yes.) What about the crowds around the Sacré Coeur? (Obviously, that’s not what I love.)
I’ve written about loving and hating Montmartre before, and feel like I’ve done my justifying already. But having recently visited one of the most unusual museums in the city, I want to add another notch to the pro-Montmartre tally.
Nestled in a surprisingly pleasant corner of the bustling space between Abbesses and Anvers lies the Musée d’Art Naïf- Max Fourny. A minute’s walk to one side and you’re in the throes of the Sacré Coeur crowds (and pickpockets- beware). A minute’s walk to the other and you’re in the clamorous streets of Barbès, with its African restaurants and many glittering fabric shops. A minute’s walk to the north, along the edge of the wooded precipice that separates the cathedral from the street below, and you’re on the rue André del Sarte with its pretty boutiques.
It would have to be one of the most diverse and confused little spots in the city. And smack bang in the middle of it is the Halle Saint Pierre, a lofty hall that houses the museum, with its artistic bookshop, rambling cafes and collections of naïve, tribal, folk and ‘outsider’ art.
The Max Fourny is like a Matisse painting come to life, all colour and vibrancy and weird new forms. The museum shows temporary collections throughout the year, with a focus on the avant-garde and brut (roughly translated as ‘primitive’). Far from a staid or established exhibition space, the Fourny evokes that exciting atmosphere of the new and left-of-centre that the Salon des Refusés was known for at the end of the c19th.
Take that, Montmartre haters.