Musée des Arts Forians

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I have a good friend that once lived here in Paris, near Bercy in the 12e arrondissement, that would frequently babble on about a private museum that was situated only a few blocks from her apartment. She would gush about the vintage fun fair rides, games and lights that they kept there and made it out to be a marvellously magical place.
The fact that it was open only a couple weeks a year or by special appointment added to its allure and mystery.

One time, whilst we were out having a coffee at Bercy Village, we especially detoured by the M. Eiffel-student designed pavilions, which once stored all of the district of Bercy's tax-free wine, so she could show me the place. There must have been a private event being set up as the garden gates were open and various events people were lugging equipment around as only events people can do. So we wandered in, savouring every moment until the certain arrival of security staff. What I saw, as my craned-neck could allow, were chandeliers hanging from trees, pre-railroad circus wagons, vine-covered painted billboards and a wooden horse-adorned carousel.

Costume worn by Joséphine Baker

 Costumes from the early 80s Moulin Rouge revue 'Frénésie' set up in a faux loges

I became obsessed with the place almost instantly. It certainly didn't help matters when I went to see Woody Allens' 'Midnight in Paris' and recognised the museum as the venue for the Fitzgerald's party, where Marion Cotillard's character Adriana gushes about the still working bicycle-powered, Belgian-designed carousel, created in 1897 that features English mechanics, Italian paintings and a French organ.

Screengrab from the film 'Midnight in Paris'

It suffices to say that when I noticed a billboard in the metro some day before Christmas advertising that the Musée des Arts Forains was going to be open to the public for two short weeks just after Christmas I stopped in my tracks and stared at the pub for probably a full minute, holding up metro foot-traffic, hyperventilating. Yesterday I finally got to go inside and was not at all disappointed.

For more than thirty years Jean-Paul Favand, the private owner of the Musée des Arts Forians, has been collecting, repairing and showcasing his wondrous funfair finds, music-hall and showgirl costumes and objets de curiosités. Starting off with a small antiques shop in Les Halles, M. Favand's collection today takes up four halls of the Pavillons de Bercy. The vélocipede that so enamours Adriana is one of 14 carrousels and amusement rides in the collection, which also includes 16 attractions and fair stalls, 18 historical works and over 1500 independent works and documents from the golden age of the fairground.

The absolute magic of this place is that due to the tireless efforts of M. Favand and his team of expert restorers everything is in working order and punters can enjoy the games and rides as people did 100 years ago.

The funfair lives on...

Musée des Arts Forians (incl. Le théâtre du merveilleux and Les salons vénitiens)
@ Les Pavillons de Bercy
53, avenue des Terroirs de France, 12e
Open 10h - 18h Mon - Sun
Adults: 12€, 11-2yrs: 5€ (admission price includes one ride/amusement ticket)
Until January 6

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