DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture
Somewhere between 5 Pointz in Queens and the tenements of the Broadway musical Rent lies Paris' own incubator for art: Les Frigos, literally "The Fridges."

I ventured into Paris' 13th seeking a small art gallery for M-City's latest exhibition.  I've read on blogs that the 13th is a hotbed for street art, but that didn't prepare me for what I discovered.  Steps from the metro station, as  I fumbled through my map, bold Krylon colors began seeping into my vision.  I looked up and there before me was Les Frigos.

"What is this?!"

Jutting into the mid-day sky, amidst the clean steel and glass of the surrounding architecture, was a dilapidated castle, completely wrapped in art.  Everything from wild style graffiti to Matisse-inspired nudes adorned its outer walls and surrounding fences.  Add to that bass-heavy beats blast from its open windows, and all I could think of was "trashy Ivy League frat house?"  

If it wasn't already a condemned building, it was certainly shooting for that status.  

Though it seemed as though the building was off-limits, I made my way onto its grounds, and onto an open lot that perhaps once served as a moat.  Massive graffiti pieces, throw-ups, and tags crawled up the castle's walls.  And it wasn't some vestige of the past either.  There were three writers there at that moment, spraying paint in the October wind.
Exterior of Les Frigos
The trio comprised OFS graff crew.  Three 20-something white guys, dressed in hoodies, drinking Heinekens, and getting their creative vandalism on.  One of them wrote "JEN" with a very ornate, flowery style.  I asked him if "JEN" was his girlfriend.  "No, Jen is my name."  Woops.

"What does OFS mean?"

"It means Oh Fucking Shit crew."


Jen told me that in Paris there are very few places to paint without getting harassed.  This was one of them.  No one ever gets arrested here.  (Clearly, it was broad daylight and these guys sans disguises were painting away.)  And though the groundskeeper occasionally threatens to call the police, he never does.  

Jen gettin' busy.
Why? I asked.  Because the building is for squatters, mainly other artists, who obviously don't really mind.  And unlike the permission-needed walls of 5 Pointz, which Jen sort of scoffed at, this environment was pretty much live and let live.  So writers from all over Paris come to get up, go over other pieces, and maintain the authenticity of illegality.

This attitude reflects the essence of Les Frigos.  Once a 1920's cold storage facility for trains shipping produce, it has since been de-industrialized and taken to by artists and squatters for the past three decades.  They eventually transformed the building and gave it new life by installing water, electricity, bathrooms, etc.  It is now home to over a hundred rent-paying tenants and roughly 90 art studios.  If you step inside, you're sure to find a labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling graffiti coupled with lively music.  

However, the future of Les Frigos remains uncertain.  It's immediately clear that in the 13th, Les Frigos is the standalone holdout to the rehabilitation and dare I say gentrification of the neighborhood.  It's located right in between the National Library of France and the University Denis-Diderot.  Meanwhile, though this is a little unclear to me (damn Google translate!) the City of Paris has acquired the rights to the building.  What that means for the occupancy agreements of the current tenants has yet to be seen.

But until then, Jen and OFS will continue to decorate its walls, and so too will countless others.  And for an art form that has always upheld ideas of transience and the finite-ness of things, the future may not really matter.  So for now, Les Frigos may be in the cold, but it's still keeping art fresh.

10/28/2010 2:44pm

you may be the non-fictional version of thierry guetta (pre-MBW); would explain why mother mother jacquet refuses to be photographed

10/29/2010 3:40am

you are quite prolific with the writing.

06/24/2012 6:45am

First time here at your blog and wanted to say hi.

07/30/2013 6:03am

Street art is a new art form. Though it has come into publicity recently the work done by many street art artists are getting a lot of attention. The vibrant color and the theme in the art make them very attractive. Thanks a lot for sharing this page and giving the information about street art in Paris.


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    Brian is a writer, dancer, activist, and general hip hop head from New York City. He is currently working towards his Master's in Global Communications in Paris.  


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