On November 1, 1999, the KGB (Kalex, Gaspard, Bruno), managed to open up the cemented-over door of 59 rue de Rivoli in Paris. The building had been abandoned by the Crédit Lyonnais and the French state for 15 years. A dozen artists showed up to lend a hand in the clean-up which was a mess full of dead pigeons, syringes, rubble, etc. The purpose of this operation was threefold:
- Revive an unused empty place
- Create a place for artists to create, live, and expose
- Prove the validity of a cultural alternative
The group thus formed was called "Chez Robert, Electron Libre." They organized show openings, performances, concerts and opened the building to the public daily from 1:30 -7:30 p.m. The French state made a complaint against the artists and they were scheduled to be evicted on February 4, 2000. Thanks to the digilence of their lawyer, Florence Diffre, they got a delay of six months on their eviction. The press became very interested in the phenomenon "squart" (a contraction of 'squat' and 'art') and, forced by the media, the government didn't pursue that matter for several years. However, the situation of the squat on the Rue de Rivoli remained precarious as they awaited eviction.
The most important political alliance was that with Bertrand Delanoë, a candidate for the mayor of Paris. During his campaign, Delanoë came through the squat, loved the place and promised that if he were elected mayor, he would legalize the squat so that the artists would have a place to work without worrying about being thrown out. And Monsieur le Mayor kept his promise!!
Today, the building is now called 59 Rivoli with 30 artist studios open to the public 6 days a week from 1:00 p.m. to 8 p.m. This formula has generated popular enthusiasm of tens of thousands of visitors each year, sometimes as many as 4,000 visitors a week coming for expos, concerts as well as studio visits and the 59 Rivoli has become one of the three most visited sites of contemporary art in Paris, one of the ten most visited places in France.