Winter in the city of art
Has Paris has lost its place as the city of artists? Manhattan, its lofts flickering with video installations, or London, where the galleries and studios of Shoreditch produce artistic shocks that are not all by Tracy Emin, might seem to have a better claim. But, although the annual Festival d'Automne is just finishing, visitors to the French capital this winter will find plenty of new art as well as the old favourites in the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay.
Traditionalists who can't wait for the splendid Turner Whistler Monet exhibition to come to Tate Britain in February can immerse themselves in the show's 100 works at the Grand Palais until January 17 (closed on Tuesdays).
Still on the Right Bank, the avant-garde buzz is coming from the Palais de Tokyo on avenue du President Wilson, which calls itself the "site de creation contemporaine". The director of this centre for contemporary art, Jerome Sans, says it is "a place for energising culture" and he looks worldwide for his exhibits.
There is a fast turnover. "Shows last a day, a week, a month," says M Sans.
Open from midday until midnight (except Mondays), it's the kind of place where people turn up and hang out, just to see what might happen. Of course, there's a very nice cafe attached.
Until January 2, visitors can explore a huge multimedia tunnel by Chinese artist Wang Du that expels its viewers feet first down a playground slide.
Aptly, Thomas Hirschhorn's "Foucault Map" hangs on a wall that looks, like all the others in the 1930s building, as if it has been attacked by crazies with lump hammers. Here, even the gallery has been deconstructed.
From December 8, work by Carole Benzaken, winner of France's answer to the Turner Prize, the Prix Marcel Duchamp, will be on show at the Centre Pompidou's new Espace 315, which is dedicated to showing work by younger artists, and it's not far from there to the contemporary art galleries of the Marais.
For more edgy art, head for the 13th arrondissement, once home to meat and veg warehouses, now transformed by chic modern buildings, clustering around the newish Biblioth que Nationale, whose buildings stand like open books by the Seine. Here is a cluster of small pioneering galleries, collectively called Louise, after rue Louise Weiss, where many of them are situated. These are the kind of galleries where you actually might consider buying a limited edition video installation of popping shampoo bottles (a snip at f150; so what if it's only three minutes long?). I enjoyed making art, too, by throwing a metal boule at a wall to help demolish the Galerie Corentin Hamel: more deconstruction in a work in progress by Vincent Laval.
Les Frigos, nearby, is a hulking former warehouse, squatted in 1985 by artists who now pay rent to the city of Paris. Every wall outside and in is covered in a palimpsest of paint. Up to 150 artists work here every day, most of them the original squatters. They include painters, sculptors, video artists, photographers, dancers and musicians. "Maybe it will eventually become our retirement home," says sculptor Eric Saint Chaffray.
Les Frigos holds open studios in the spring and autumn, but visitors can arrange to meet an artist and see work by email through the Les Frigos website.
My guide, Eric Mezan, starts telling me about the tours organised by art galleries in the 7th arrondissement (you just pick up a leaflet), an ultra-stylish bilingual magazine called Bag, which lists all the latest galleries, shops and restaurants in English as well as French, and the "artbus" he organises (a "contemporary art shuttle to map out the creative zones of energy", he calls it).
But I've had my fill of la vie boh me. I want some time in my familiar haunts. Slinking back to the boulevard Haussmann I start to plan some shopping in the grands magasins - my old favourites Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayettes - or maybe I'll see if the Christmas market at the Maison d'Alsace is open yet in the Champs Elysees.
But first I stop off at my hotel, the smart, comfortable Hotel Ambassador, where, reassuringly, the walls have no holes, ever.
For Paris information and details of Christmas markets: www.paris-touristoffice. com; www.festival-automne.com; www.rmn.frturner-whistler-monet; www.palaisdetokyo.com; www.centrepompidou.fr.Association Louise, email: email@example.com; www.les-frigos.com; www.bag-magazine.com.WysiwygArt tours, email: firstname.lastname@example.org; tel: 00 33 147 00 90 85.Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) offers returns to Paris from pound;59.Hotel Ambassador, 16 boulevard Haussmann, Paris 75009 (00 33 1 44 83 40 40; email: email@example.com), double rooms from E495 a night. See www.paris-touristoffice.com for a wide range of accommodation