I am standing on a floating barge in the shadow of Paris’s Grand Palais and it’s pouring. Beyond the sounds of rain, there’s also hammers hammering and saws sawing. But Nicolas Laugero Lasserre, cofounder of the world’s first floating art museum, wants me to come “listen to the noise of the beach.”
Dressed in at least four shades of gray—Adidas shoes, jeans, a blazer, and a hoodie sweatshirt emblazoned with the word OBEY—the street art enthusiast brings me down a few steps to a horseshoe-shaped section across from the entrance. Here, architect Gérard Ronzatti has designed a 15-foot-wide ramp onto which water crashes.
“Hear that?” he asks, gesturing to the small waves hitting the side of the stainless steel structure docked on the Seine. “It’s poetry.”
Indeed, at the moment it’s perhaps the only art on display, but come June (on a date yet to be announced), Fluctuart—a cultural project four years in the making—will open to the public with a permanent collection featuring signature work from the likes of urban artists including JR, Keith Haring, and Shepard Fairey, as well as a temporary exhibition from Brooklyn-based artist Swoon, who is famous for her lifesize wheatpaste portraits of humans.
“Since years and years and years, we’ve dreamed about a place for this movement,” says the 44-year-old with a near 500-piece collection at home. “Street art, graffiti, urban art. It was a big frustration because everybody loves it, but we had no institution. We made the place we dream to have.”
Much of it can be attributed to Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s “Reinventing the Seine” campaign, launched to find new ways of living, working, and moving on (or around) the river. But it’s also the culmination of Paris having become a hub for public art—be it a rotating mural wall on Rue Oberkampf in the 11th arrondissement or a 15-story permanent piece in the 13th.
Despite the genre’s growth, Laugero Lasserre claims it still wasn’t getting the recognition it deserved, hence his pride over the boat’s primo location in Paris’s tony seventh arrondissement: “We have credible artists. It is time to show in an exceptional location.”
During a tour of the three-story structure, which will be free to the public and open seven days a week, Laugero Lasserre hopped up and down steps and over planks of wood, eager to explain its layout and purpose.
“The architects said, ‘How can we build something more beautiful than this environment?’ So, they put glass,” he says, speaking of the boat’s 13 windowed walls. “To live within the Seine, and the bridge, and the Grand Palais. It’s harmonious with the elements nearby.” The main level will house the permanent collection, a bookshop, and a bar. By day, the pieces will be displayed in the center on rolling panels. Grab a coffee from the bar and meander as you will. Come nightfall, trade the caffeine for a cocktail when the partitions are wheeled to the windows, allowing the museum to become a destination for socializing in style—or, more simply put, “a party,” says Laugero Lasserre. It will be open until midnight.
You’ll be able to roam around downstairs where the temporary exhibits will change every four months. Some will be solo, some will be collective, but all will give the visiting artists carte blanche to create site-specific pieces within the space.
“Art is to share,” says Laugero Lasserre. “They’ll do what they want. It’s their boat. It’s an ever-evolving place for celebrating and discovering art.”
Finally, upstairs on the roof—where you’re practically parallel with the Invalides Bridge 20 feet away—you can admire the weatherproof sculptures, the nearly perfectly placed mosaic by the French urban artist Invader across the way on the quai, or the hundreds of riverside strollers below, while taking advantage of the second bar and mini restaurant. In addition to offering a Sunday brunch, healthy dishes like crab and grapefruit salad or a smoked tuna with avocado and mango tartine will be available all day. Food will be served in specially designed compostable bento boxes—art pieces themselves.
“For centuries, it’s been tradition that all the museums are in the center and on the Seine,” adds Laugero Lasserre, listing them with his fingers: “The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Palais de Tokyo, the Grand Palais. They’re all on the river.”
But only one of them is practically in it.
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