Sculpture parks in The South of France for Art Lovers
1) Château La Coste
Château La Coste is a vast open-air museum for contemporary art and architecture in a vineyard, 15 kilometres to the north of Aix-en-Provence. In 2004, the Irish art collector Paddy McKillen decided to give artists and architects free rein in the grounds. The Japanese architect Tadao Ando built the elegant art centre with a water feature. A large bronze spider by Louise Bourgeois hovers over the water, greeting visitors, along with a colourful mobile by Alexander Calder. Wear sturdy shoes and protect yourself against the heat and the sun with a hat and a bottle of water because the walk takes at least two hours, the trail is hilly but it’s definitely worth it. En route, you’ll get to see sculptures by such leading artists as Franz West, Richard Serra, Jenny Holzer, Liam Gillick, Michael Stipe (yes, the lead singer of R.E.M.), Sophie Calle, Tracey Emin, Sean Scully and Ai WeiWei. Tadao Ando has converted the hilltop village chapel into an intimate, minimalistic space for reflection. Every year, new sculptures are added to the collection. The old wine storehouses host temporary exhibitions. There are a number of excellent restaurants in the grounds, for a quick snack or a full meal.
2) Venet Foundation
Monumental, minimalistic and conceptual. This is the Venet Foundation, the crowning glory of the career of Bernar Venet, the French sculptor who is mainly famous for his large-scale, often curved wood and corten steel sculptures. It’s not the kind of place you can visit on the spur of the moment, however. Venet was born in 1941 in France but spent most of his life in New York. He moved back to France in 2014, creating the perfect setting for his own sculptures on a 7-hectare estate near Le Muy. He confronts his own work with the minimalistic and conceptual works of such internationally famous artists as Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Tony Cragg and James Turrell. The open ‘chapel’ that Venet designed for Frank Stella’s relief sculptures is awe-inspiring. This is the most important French private collection of minimalist and conceptual art. You must book ahead, however, after which you will be allocated a slot and the exact address details of the Venet Foundation. The tour takes about two hours.
3) Poppy and Pierre Salinger Foundation
Pierre Salinger became internationally famous, serving as the White House Press Secretary under US President John F. Kennedy after which he managed the Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. He then went on to work as a journalist and was appointed to the US Senate. In 2000, he moved to France: he had always said that he would leave the USA if George W. Bush was elected president. At Le Thor, near Avignon, Salinger mainly concentrated on art, founding the Poppy and Pierre Salinger Foundation. Since 2004, they have been sponsoring annual contemporary sculpture exhibitions in the grounds of their estate La Bastide Rose. Sometimes the exhibitions are dedicated to the work of one artist, such as Keith Haring in 2006 and Alexander Calder in 2009. Other years, the exhibitions focus on a theme such as L’Amour (2018) or Totem (2016). Pierre Salinger did not get to enjoy the South of France for long: he died in 2004 in Le Thor and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington D.C., near the graves of JFK and Bobby Kennedy. There is an intimate Musée Pierre Salinger at La Bastide Rose, that offers an overview of his life and career in documents and pictures.
4) La Commanderie de Peyrasol
In addition to being a vineyard estate that produces outstanding wines, La Commanderie de Peyrassol, which is situated 40 kilometres to the north of Hyères, also has an excellent collection of 50 monumental sculptures in the grounds. Philippe Austruy, the entrepreneur who acquired the Commanderie in 2001, joined forces with Valérie Bach, who runs the Brussels-based gallery La Patinoire Royale, for this initiative. Their dream was to restore this estate, which was founded in the 13th century, to its former glory and have it engage in a dialogue with modern art. Among the vines you can see whimsical works by Arman, Carsten Höller, Anne and Patrick Poirier, Philippe Berry and Niki de Saint Phalle, a modern-day Icarus disguised as Michael Jackson by Panamarenko, corten steel sculptures by Bernar Venet, paintings by Antoni Tàpies and Bertrand Lavier, and a glass installation by Dan Graham. They recently added a striking pavilion – a monumental sculpture in its own right – to permanently exhibit more fragile artworks.
5) Fondation Maeght
A solid reputation and a museum as Gesamtkunstwerk. Marguerite and Aimé Maeght were much-praised and visionary art dealers, based in Paris, who conceived the idea of building their own private museum in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. It opened in 1964 as the first European foundation dedicated entirely to contemporary art. The Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert designed an iconic building, working closely witha number of distinguished artists to incorporate their works in the museum: Georges Braque created a water feature with a fish mosaic, Joan Miró designed a labyrinth with ‘organic’ artworks while Alberto Giacometti’s elongated, life-sized sculptures grace the courtyard. There are several works by leading modern sculptors on the lawn outside in front of the museum building: a whimsical fountain by Pol Bury, a monumental work by Alexander Calder and a wind sculpture by Takis, in addition to works by Jean Arp, Barbara Hepworth and Eduardo Chillida. And, of course, there is the museum itself, where part of the enormous collection (13.000 works) is shown with highlights including Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, Joan Mitchell and Ellsworth Kelly alongside an annual roster of temporary exhibitions. Don’t forget to check out the Chapelle Saint-Bernard with stained-glass windows by Georges Braque and Raoul Ubac.
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The South of France for Art Lovers is one of the spin-off titles of The 500 Hidden Secrets series of essential city guides. This guide focusses on one particular aspect of the region of the South of France.
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