The History of 59 Rivoli


On 1 November 1999, the KGB (Kalex, Gaspard, Bruno), managed to open up the cemented-over door of 59 rue de Rivoli in Paris. The building had been abandoned by the Crédit Lyonnais and the French state for 15 years. A dozen artists showed up to lend a hand in the clean up which was a mess full of dead pigeons, syringes, rubble,etc. The purpose of this operation was threefold:

Revive an unused empty place
Creat a place for artists to create, live and expose
Prove the validity of a cultural alternative

The group thus formed was called “Chez Robert, Electron Libre”. They organized show openings,  performances, concerts  and opened the building to the public  daily from 1:30 -7:30 p.m. The French state made a complaint against  the artists and they  were scheduled to be evicted on February 4, 2000.  Thanks to the digilence of their lawyer,  Florence Diffre, they got a delay of six months on their eviction. The press became very interested in the phenomenon “squart” (a contraction of squat and art) and, forced by the media, the government didn’t pursue that matter for several years. However, the situation of the squat in the Rue de Rivoli remained precarious as they awaited the eviction.

The most  important political alliance was from Bertrand Delano¨, the former mayor of Paris. During his campaign, Delanoë came through the squat, loved the place and promised that if he were elected mayor, he would legalize the squat so that the artists would have a place to work without worrying about being thrown out.  And Monsieur le Mayor kept his promise!!

Today, the building is now called 59 Rivoli with 30 artist’s studios open  to the public 6 days a week from 13h to 20h.  This formula has generated popular enthusiasm of tens of thousands of visitors each year, sometimes as many as 4,000 visitors a week coming for expos, concerts as well as studio visits and the 59 Rivoli has become one of the three most visited sites of contemporary art in Paris, one of the ten most visited places in France.
This is a real cultural alternative way to present art that allows for a more democratic access to the creation,for both the artists and the public. Right in the center of Paris, 59 Rivoli creates interest by their fun, unique, creative façades.

Gaspard, President of the Association 59 Rivoli, with the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, at the re-opening September 2009.