Beware of Words – Paris, France - Atlas Obscura

Beware of Words

A French artist's vague warning hangs over Belleville. 


The square on the corner of Belleville and Julien Lacroix streets is the result of the unintentional destruction of buildings during the construction of Métro Line 11 in the 1930s. Four large works known collectively as “Paris Trois Temps” cover the bare walls of the structures that surround the intersection now.

One of the pieces was created in 1993 by the incendiary French artist Benjamin Vautier (who once declared his desire to be a “cactus in the ass of art”). It depicts two men stuck in the act of attempting to straighten a giant blackboard at the top of the hilly Belleville neighborhood. Paris is covered in Trompe L’Oeil, paintings that use realism and perspective to imitate three-dimensions, and this is one of the few examples with actual 3D parts.

The massive black-and-white sign is done in Vautier’s signature style, and implores onlookers to il faut se méfier des mots, “beware of words.” The sentiment is particularly strange considering that most of his works feature words and little else. But the sign is fittingly hung on the side of a building that houses a poetry bar. It might appear to mock those inside, but it seems a little more self-ridiculing than antagonistic, as those two men will never get the message straight.

Know Before You Go

To visit via Metro, take the 2 Line to the Belleville station and walk up Rue de Belleville three blocks.

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