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Review: 104 Arts Center and Performance Space

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The interior of the 104 (Le Cent-Quatre) in Paris.

The interior of the 104 (Le Cent-Quatre) in Paris.

Nicole Smith/Licensed to About.com.
Formerly serving as a slaughterhouse and a city morgue, and now housing a vast communal art space and community center, the 104 (Le Cent Quatre) is an idiosyncratic and interesting addition to the Parisian arts and culture scene. Situated in an enormous red brick building, the cavernous art hub is home to an eclectic collection of performance spaces, shops, and studios where artists of all genres compete for free studio space (you can get a sneak peek of them at work, too). The large facility also hosts contemporary art exhibits, and boasts a restaurant, a café, a bookstore, a natural clothing boutique, a secondhand shop, and a play area for children.

The center's unexpected charm, however, lies in its vast outdoor courtyard. Equipped with orange and red lounge chairs, a bright yellow shed that serves as a lending book library (give a book, take a book), a pizza truck, hands-on art exhibitions, and occasional concerts, it's not hard to spend your entire day relaxing in the "backyard" alone.

Le 104 Location and Contact Information:

The arts center is located in the rather remote but increasingly gentrified 19th arrondissement (district) of Paris, not far from the Canal Saint Martin.

Address: 5, rue Curiel
75019 Paris
Metro: Riquet (Line 7)
Tel: +33 (0)1 53 35 50 00
Visit the official website

Le 104 Opening Hours and Tickets:

The center is open Tuesday through Friday, 12pm to 7pm, and weekends, 11am to 7pm. Closed Mondays and certain French bank holidays (check ahead). Check the website for opening hours for each of the restaurants, boutiques, and attractions.
Tickets: Admission into the space is free.

Sights and Attractions Nearby Le 104:

The Experience:

Walking into Le 104 on a spring Sunday morning, the first thing I noticed about the large interior was how bright it was. Lit almost entirely by rays of sunshine cascading through the glass ceiling, the feeling of tranquility was palpable. We sat on lounge chairs placed in the middle of the central space to watch a morning Tai Chi class go through their movements in virtual silence. It was also surprising (and pleasing) to see that most of the free communal space was being used for various activities: children who were on play dates, teenagers practicing dance routines, and personal trainers conducting workout sections.

Lining the center space are various shops, Le Grand Tables 104 restaurant, and La Maison des Petits, an artistically designed playroom that made me want to shrink down in size and go play myself. Perhaps the most interesting of the shops, however, is Emmaus, a secondhand shop whose window display had me drooling. Sitting front and center was an old miniature Guignol puppet theatre. I was ready to max out my credit card until I noticed the "not for sale" sign. The store featured a variety of odd items, from old park benches to creepy stuffed clowns whose faces immediately reminded me of Stephen King's "It" character.

Trying to Sneak a Peak:

Numerous corridors situated off the center of both the indoor and outdoor space of Le 104 contain the artist studios whose doors enable you to look in on the artist at work through a glass panel on the door. Unfortunately, as we arrived at the space around 1pm on a Sunday, the majority of artists were not yet at work. As our stomachs began to growl, we pushed open the doors leading to the breathtaking outdoor area, and quickly lined ourselves up at the pizza "truck" (which has the front of an old school bus, including vintage windshield wipers) parked in the courtyard.

Pizza, Sun and Art:

Lunch was incredibly affordable, as each pizza was around the €10 mark, with cans of Heineken beer at €3 each. While my companion waited online, I bolted to the railroad cart seating area, which equipped with an opening side door and wooden benches, served as the perfect place to eat our lunch as the afternoon sun shone directly down upon us. The nearby lounge chairs were filled with a terrific mixture of parents with children, young students, and older couples, all soaking in the sun and enjoying the quiet of the space. The pizza was baked in a coal oven and was absolutely delicious.

Activity Time:

After staring longingly at the Baitment (re-creation) installation by Leandro Erlich for close to an hour, I was relieved when the main exhibition space opened at 2pm. After paying a very small access fee, we were given blue bracelets that allowed us onto the interactive display. Erlich has fabricated the facade of a classic Parisian apartment building (equipped with real banisters and ornaments), and laid it onto the ground. A mirror is suspended 45 degrees above it, so that when you are on the flat facade, the standing onlooker sees you hanging, suspended or falling from the building. Visitors take their own pictures and have an unlimited amount of time to twist and turn their bodies in various positions and locations on the structure in order to capture a unique image. Due to its popularity, the installation has been extended for play until August 5.

Closing Thoughts on the 104

After spending an enjoyable afternoon taking in just a fraction of the activities offered by the space, we decided to take one final look around. Paris' Urban Film Festival was underway in a large projection room, organizers were readying the radio concert, which throughout this summer will feature music from a different country each weekend, and artist Anne-Flore Cabanis' streaming fluorescent "Connections" installation rippled gently in the wind. Overall, Le 104 is an ideal space for a lazy or activity-filled afternoon, and an excellent way to get acquainted with the city's contemporary arts scene.
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