PARIS -- Thirty square pieces of paper exhibited at a SoHo gallery in April, smartly framed and completely blank, summed up for Pontus Carle his reasons for leaving New York. For him and many others long attached to lower Manhattan's cliquish contemporary art scene, New York isn't happening, while Paris is starting to move.

"What I remember most about that trip last April was I felt somehow there was a statement from that gallery owner that there's nothing happening right now. As if he was saying, 'I'm waiting to see what will turn up,' " says Carle, 35, a Swedish abstract expressionist painter.

Definitively installed here for barely a year, Carle has joined a modest but growing number of young artists who are looking to Paris for new ideas, a flourishing art market and a more open -- and far safer -- environment in which to work.

"The art scene in New York in the 1980s was very exciting -- the East Village was small, there were clubs where you could go and see your friends, there were new galleries popping up all the time. Now it seems more anonymous to me," says Carle, blond, blue-eyed and 6 feet 3. He lived there for most of the decade. "There are times when in certain places there is a certain enthusiasm, a stimulation. Maybe in New York it will happen again in a few years, but now... ."

Like the East Village of 10 and 15 years ago, the spacious factories of Paris's Bastille and Republique areas have attracted artists looking to re-create their SoHo lofts in Europe. Those who cannot afford or find space in the Bastille have headed north toward Montmartre. The soft-spoken Carle has converted a Chinese furniture factory -- no heat, no bathroom, one tap, what he calls a "raw space" -- into a light-filled home: plants, kilim rugs and 5-by-6-foot canvases of black and purple abstractions. An attached room lined with windows serves as his studio.

Dozens of new galleries for contemporary art, many of which are promoting new artists, dot the Bastille and neighboring Marais areas. For the first time this fall American galleries and artists were featured at the annual government art fair at the Grand Palais museum. It coincided with a private exposition of about 30 young American artists called "All Quiet on the Western Front."

Dealers and artists speak of a new receptiveness to contemporary art in traditionally conservative Paris. There is active encouragement by the government, which since 1981 not only has been investing heavily in works at the regional and national level for its own collections, but now offers small grants of studio and living space to promising artists. A government foundation that supports young artists has been, since 1990, open to applications from foreigners.

"Since 1981 there has been a government policy to support the creation and diffusion of contemporary art, which is beginning to produce results," says Francois Barre, president of the National Center for Visual Arts. "What we do is incitement," he says of French policy, which, among other things, created the center in 1982. "It is support and encouragement for creation. And it works because there is fertile ground -- if there was not a living force to create, then we would not get anywhere."

Not surprisingly, Barre fervently believes that Paris's time has come. "There is an intensity in this city, an argument, a debate that is magical. It is happening all at once -- what is true now for the visual arts is also true for architecture, music. There is a certain sentiment here that is hard to analyze objectively, but which exists."

But the verdict on Paris is far from final. Daniel Templon, owner of one of the Marais's most established modern galleries and an active promoter of American art, says Paris could never replace the Big Apple.

"Perhaps Americans are tired of the routine. The institutions {in New York} aren't working well, there's a higher quality of life here that attracts people. ... But it's an illusion to think that Paris could replace New York," he says in his tiny office filled with Hans Hartung paintings.

"It's true that I've heard artists -- Eric Fischl, Robert Longo -- say that they are considering coming to Paris. ..." Templon, however, reels off a list of drawbacks: There are not enough buyers in Paris to support the bulk of the market; there is not enough studio space; museum donations are not tax-deductible as in the United States; the government is not serious about trying to attract artists. (In response, government officials point out that it does far more to encourage art than the United States.)

Others are less critical. Marc Meyer, cultural attache at the Canadian Embassy and Paris correspondent for the Journal of Art, believes that artists "want an alternative to New York where they can work and sell their work. A lot of people in the U.S. and Canada are very excited about Paris becoming a kind of New York of the European art market -- and not just the art market, but also as a place to exhibit, a place where the discourse is happening."

Sean Scherer, 22, whose work is displayed by the prestigious Stux gallery in SoHo and who was included in the Paris exhibit of young American artists, is feeling the pinch of studio space. "I'm having trouble finding the equivalent of my loft in TriBeCa -- the work and living spaces here are not the same size as in New York," he says. A recent trip to Paris failed to turn up the loft he sought.

Like other young painters, Scherer's mind is on the bottom line -- the European Common Market of 1993 and the gulf crisis of the moment. Since August the New York art market has taken a steep, downward dive.

"It's going to be nice to get in on the ground floor {of 1993}," he says. "The government here is working hard to reclaim the cultural title that it once had, to be the European center for art. America has been the center for a long time -- it's time for a change."

Young artists who are fed up with New York sound very much like all the other people who have reached their personal thresholds for the worsening violence, poverty, drugs, noise and dirt of the city.

"I love Paris. It's so beautiful, so clean," says Janice Storozum, a watercolor painter who grew up at 92nd and Broadway and moved to Paris in October. "New York has gotten rapidly worse -- the homeless, drugs, crime. I had chosen to ignore that -- I'm not a criminal, it's a world I don't operate in. But it had gotten to the point where even I can't ignore it. It's on every block -- it's right in your face, you're walking over people living in the steet. I've made my life very beautiful, but it's really hard to constantly turn your face away."

Carle agrees. "New York has become more dangerous, I really sensed that. You are confronted everywhere by these human wrecks, begging. You don't know what to do anymore."

For some transplanted New Yorkers, Europe has brought cultural discord and meant quick adjustment. The exuberant (to say the least) Storozum, 35, is a real New Yorker forcing herself to adapt to Parisian snobbery and Old World reserve. So far with some success.

"Doing this was really a fascinating experience," she says, keeping a West Side accent in check. She stands in front of her paintings at the Gallery Medicis, a well-established showroom located on one of Paris's swankiest squares, the Place des Vosges. Two months ago she walked in with photos of her pastel still lifes and nudes, and walked out with a show.

"It was amazing the way they look at art here. It is so different than in America," she says. "Here they're very serious about art. They really look at your work and take it in -- it's not just some cute girl in a miniskirt with red lipstick who got the job in SoHo because she has an attitude. ... Here people said things like, 'This is gorgeous.' They really said nice stuff. And I was the whole time, you know, like all 'Enchante', Monsieur' -- you know what I mean, like 'Shut my mouth.' "

She adds, "I still practice being cool and reserved."

Douglas Black has been in Paris for a year and a half in search of inspiration and success.

He takes fake fur, stretches it over canvas and paints colored lines where the pelts -- if real -- would come together. He made a faux mink crucifix. The idea is fake on fake -- mocking the copies. He has also taken Monet-like fabrics and shellacked them to death so that at first glance they look like paintings.

Twenty-four and clean-cut, Black jokes that his fur works could raise the ire of animal protection leagues in the United States. More seriously, he suggests that the political ambiance of Paris is more conducive to creativity.

"There are a lot of people who are finding the censorship problems in New York a bit discouraging. It's frightening, I think," he says, referring to the Robert Mapplethorpe controversy. "Collectors here are never put off by things that are outrageous. This is affecting some people already -- they're looking to Paris for that reason."

As far as Europe goes, Black finds Paris more interesting than other art capitals on the Continent, such as Cologne and Milan. There is little competition from local French artists, and there is the historical resonance of art giants who worked here in the early part of the century: Picasso, Monet, van Gogh.

Then, of course, there is the dark side. Black, presumably in the minority, does not like the food. The natives aren't always friendly. Many others are discouraged by the high prices and scarcity of space in Paris. Sometimes they miss America.

But rarely. Mostly they are ready for adventure.

"Here I was being original, going out on the skinny branches, right off the cliff -- that's how I felt doing this whole thing," says Storozum. "Then when I got here, I found out that all these artists are thinking of moving here too.

"That's great," she says. "I love to find people to speak English with."