There is just so much to see and do in the Musée des Arts Forains (The Fairground Art Museum) that pictures cannot contain its grandeur. Between 26 december to 6 january 2013, the private museum of funfair objects opened to the public without any prior reservations needed, as is the usual case during the year.
I had the brilliant idea of visiting the museum on a Thursday, thinking that there would be less of a crowd, but it seemed like everyone in Paris – and their children and grandparents – had been thinking the same thing. The line snaked all the way down the street, but this didn’t kill the festive ambiance of the museum-goers; it was strange to be in such a good mood while standing in line. Perhaps it was because of the huge dragon puppet entertaining the children who were impatient to enter, or just the childish giddiness and excitement of going to the fair.
All the pieces which make up the entire museum belong to Jean-Paul Favand, a character as colourful as the objects in his collection. Having always been fascinated by rare objects and games, he owned an antiques shop dedicated to theater, cinema and funfair objects in Les Halles in the 1970s, which later became a bistot-galerie. In the early ’80s he participated in the creation of the Louvre Antiquitaires, organizing ten special exhibitions with themes ranging from toys to lost treasures. His expertise on the subject led to international exhibitions and collaborations, from Japan to Europe to Saudi Arabia.
After three years of being housed in an old Citroà«n factory in the 15th arrondissement, the Musée des Arts Forains settled into its 5,000 square-meter space in Parc Bercy in Paris in 1996. The oldest pieces date back to 1850.
Installed in three dreamy rooms (La Fête Foraine, Le Théatre du Merveilleux and the Salons Vénitiens) are Belle Epoque carousels, game tables from the 1900s, Folie Bergère costumes, Japanese billiard tables, hundred-year-old bicycles, and every possible funfair attraction you could think of. Adults and children alike lined up for a ride on the Velocipéde, a bicycle carousel, pedaling furiously and smiling widely at the flashing cameras of their companions standing on the sidelines, and others whiled away their time playing toss-ring games. Children dashed like mad from room to room, fueled by the carnival atmosphere or the amount of cotton candy they’d consumed (or maybe both – I find that most French children have a low tolerance for sugar, since they don’t get sweets very often).
After the lights and noise of the museum, I finally ended up at the charming gardens, browsing the Christmas displays and stands set up on the preserved cobblestone Bercy street.
A place unlike any other in Paris, the museum cuts you off temporarily from the real world and brings you back to your childhood days, where play was the most pressing matter of the day, not answering emails or beating a deadline. The concept of the Musée des Arts Forains is so simple: letting people ride, touch and enjoy rare objects that are meant to be ridden, touched and enjoyed. And as it turns out, it’s the simplest things, the simplest concepts, that work best.