Paris is a city of paradoxes, both positive and negative. The metro is not only one of the most efficient and logical transport systems in the world; it can also be one of its most bordélique circles of hell during peak hour or a strike (which occurs far more frequently than you might expect). Food shopping in the city centre can be an eye-opening adventure of artisanal delights, or a stressful fiasco as you try to stuff your groceries in bags while the cashier glares at you and throws the next customer’s items on top of yours. Depending on your perspective, navigating the Paris streets on any given weekday can be a picturesque journey or a test of patience.
And museums are not exempt from these paradoxes. Standing in the busier parts of the Louvre, you can feel lost in a crowd of museum-goers, but in quiet spaces like the Musées Clémenceau, Moreau or Camondo, it can feel like the museum is all your own.
Some museums are clear examples of contrasts, like the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature or the Musée des Arts décoratifs, where historical objects and décor are juxtaposed with contemporary art installations. But one place that feels entirely based on paradoxes is la Gaîté Lyrique.
In a north-western corner of the 3rd arrondissement, housed in an elegant C19th building with an imposing stone façade, the Gaîté Lyrique’s interior is surprisingly modern; all polished surfaces, neon lights and open plan spaces. The centre is less of a museum and more of a cultural hub. The building includes a temporary exhibition space, a library with a focus on digital arts, a bar and a boutique. I was delighted to see a wiki workshop taking place with locals when I visited, with a Gaîté Lyrique librarian explaining how to fill gaps in the world’s open-access encyclopaedia in a helpful and ethical way.
The Gaîté Lyrique is both gallery and cultural centre, both library and café, both Marais museum and République bar, both neon lights and classical stones. It is modern and classic, avant-garde and established. It is a place of paradoxes, much like the city of Paris itself.