Here in the Région Sud, contemporary art steps outside museum doors to bask in the generous sunshine of the South! Tucked away in luscious parks and gardens, these unique creations push back the limits of the imagination.
Where art blends with nature
Designed to enhance the varied and luxuriant natural scenery of the Port-Cros and Porquerolles National Park, the grounds of Villa Carmignac are the work of landscape designer Louis Benech. “The garden was designed as a ‘non-garden'”, he explains. “A natural site where we strived to generate balance through subtraction and protection rather than addition.” Here, rock rose, lavender and olive trees rub shoulders with exotic and rare plants such as needle-leaved broom and wild orchids. Around 15 sculptures are unveiled as you stroll around this gorgeous garden, all instilled with the spirit of the site: to create them, various artists from the world over came to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of Villa Carmignac. Sleek, sober and powerful all at once… Take a look for example at Danish artist Jeppe Hein‘s, “Path of Emotion”, a game of mirrors reflecting every aspect of nature’s beauty. Or “La Couvée”, a series of giant marble eggs on the verge of hatching created by German artist Nils-Udo, symbolizing the perpetual rebirth of nature.
CAIRN Arts Centre
A Kingdom of Land Art
At the CAIRN Arts Centre in Digne-les-Bains, art is expressed in landscapes sans frontières… Set next to the arts centre, Parc Saint-Benoit is home to an “outdoor museum” dedicated to geology and the environment. You can opt for a choice of 3 walks: the water walk, cairn walk or butterfly walk. The CAIRN is also the epicentre of a vast kingdom of Land Art – a contemporary movement that places nature at the centre of each creation. Created by around 30 artists, the works are dotted around villages and along mountain trails over an impressive 495,000 acres and 21 towns around Digne, in the UNESCO Haute-Provence Geopark. A magical artistic voyage into nature, history and local traditions…
Château La Coste
Art & Architecture walk
Located in Puy-Sainte-Réparade, Château La Coste is an ode to the trinity of vines, wines and artistic creation. Unique in Europe, this stunning vineyard harbours over 35 works of art created on site. The walk through the vines, woodlands, hills and olive groves unveils architectural sculptures and works by major contemporary artists. Each artist chose the location for their work after visiting the Château and immersing themselves in its magical, almost surreal atmosphere. Hovering over the lake, Louise Bourgeois‘ impressive “Crouching Spider” fascinates and intimidates alike. A little further on, “Drop”, by Tom Shannon is a huge, levitating steel bubble. As the tour continues, you’ll come across works and installations born out of the limitless imagination of Alexander Calder, Japanese architect Tadao Ando and Richard Serra, together with Frank O.Gehry‘s immense Pavilion, Jean Nouvel‘s winery and Sophie Calle‘s astonishing “Dead End”, a tomb-come-confessional where visitors can deposit their deepest secrets…
Villa Noailles Garden
Exoticism & Cubism
After visiting the beautiful Villa Noailles, treat yourself to a breath of fresh air in the alleyways of Parc Saint-Bernard just next door, an official “Remarkable Garden”. Perched on a hill topped by an ancient ruined castle, the park offers sweeping views over Giens Peninsula and the Med. Designed by botany enthusiast Vicomte de Noailles, the Villa Noailles garden offers a fabulous show of exotic and Mediterranean vegetation. In 1925, this splendid ensemble was completed with a “Cubist garden”, also referred to as the “Triangular garden”, designed by Gabriel Guevrekian. At the time, patrons of the arts Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles were famed for their sumptuous parties attended by such illustrious names as Man Ray, Cocteau, Giacometti and Picasso.
Maeght Foundation Garden
Modern art has set up home outdoors at the Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. You’ll note the long mosaic signed by Pierre Tal-Coat on the perimeter wall, evoking a cave painting. Other works decorate the buildings themselves, such as Marc Chagall‘s mosaic “The Lovers”, the stained-glass windows by Georges Braque and Raoul Ubac adorning Chapelle Saint Bernard, and Joan Miró‘s colourful, geometric maze. Designed by landscape artist Henri Fish, the luxuriant sculpture garden is a genuine feast for the eyes and imagination and home to Pol Bury‘s “Fontaine”, with its perpetually-moving articulated arms. Then there’s Alexander Calder‘s monumental mobile entitled “The Reinforcements”. In Cour Giacometti, you’ll find sculptures by Giacometti himself of course, coupled with Gorges Braque’s very-poetic “Bassin” on the patio.
Venet Foundation Grounds
Art & nature in harmony
In 1989, Bernar Venet bought a property endowed with vast grounds in Le Muy. Open to the public since 2014, the Venet Foundation tells the tale of Sixties minimal and conceptual art in the United States in an exceptional natural decor. The art works collected by Venet over the decades literally melt into their surroundings: don’t miss Larry Bell‘s majestic laminated glass installation “Something Green” or “Chapelle Stella”, an open construction dedicated to the creations of Frank Stella. Bernar Venet‘s giant steel structures complete this astonishing contemporary ensemble blending art, dreams and nature.
Espace de l’Art Concret Grounds
Playing hide-and-seek with art
Throwing bridges between past and present, the grounds of the Espace de l’Art Concret in Mouans-Sartoux pan out around a 15th-century castle and bright green modern building. Dotted with contemporary works, they were recently redesigned to create a skilful play of light and invite visitors to explore the various areas, including the “Clairière des jardins” and “Bois des transparences” adorned with 25 stone bases, each engraved with a word referring to a plant: “agneau” (meaning agneau chaste (chaste tree), characterized by its blue flowers), “gueule”, “amour”, “étoile”, “griffe”, “bâton” and “barbe”… A genuine homage to contemporary art, the Espace de l’Art Concret grounds are also something of a treasure hunt – you’ll even find a Space Invader there!
Mucem Garden of Migrations
The Mediterranean as told by plants
Set right in Marseille city centre, the Mucem museum is also home to a Mediterranean garden (free access) planted in the alleyways of Fort Saint-Jean. Echoing the museum’s vocation to explore Mediterranean civilisations, the “Jardin des Migrations” is a genuine botanical voyage to the shores of the Med. Flowers, shrubs and aromatic plants unveil their delicious colours and fragrances in the garden’s various plots: “Le jardin des myrtes” (myrtle garden), a poetic tribute to the Alhambra in Granada, “Les salades sauvages” (wild salad) dedicated to unfairly unloved weeds and “Le chemin des aromatiques et le potager méditerranéen” (aromatic plant and Mediterranean vegetable garden), where sun-drenched thyme, sage, savory, tomatoes, courgettes and sweet peppers thrive… The visit continues with “Les jardins de la colline” (hill garden), a hymn to southern vegetation and “Le parcours ethnobotanique des plantes emblématiques de la Méditerranée” (Mediterranean ethnobotany walk), where history rubs shoulder with mythology. Last on the list: “Les herbes de la Saint-Jean“, growing magical herbs said to chase away evil spirits!
Fernand Léger National Museum Gardens
Mosaics and monumental works
Imagined by landscape artist Henri Fisch, who also helped design the Fondation Maeght gardens and exterior areas of the Picasso Museum in Antibes, the gardens of the Fernand Léger National Museum in Biot are a genuine bubble of oxygen. From this vast, hilly meadow, dotted with cypresses and olives and lined with a pine wood, visitors can admire the mosaics adorning the museum from every angle: a monumental decoration on the sports theme (ball games and cycling), an unfinished project by Léger destined for Hanover stadium, mosaics paying homage to the artist’s murals courtesy of Heidi Melano and two large stained-glass windows. The gardens also house monumental works based on Fernand Léger’s artistic projects, such as “Le jardin d’enfants”, a playground for tiny tots.
Blachère Foundation Gardens
A voyage to Africa
The world’s only contemporary arts centre dedicated to African artists, the Blachère Foundation in Apt stands in a 700 m² garden leading to the centre itself, the “Boutik” African arts & crafts shop and Store Blachère Illumination. Since the Foundation opened in 2005, the garden has gradually been enriched with sculptures by contemporary African artists. “Le Guerrier Debout” (Standing warrior), forming the garden’s centrepiece since its creation, aptly sums up the spirit of the site. Created by Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow, a former physiotherapist whose work is strongly marked by anatomy, this Maasai warrior stands 2.6 metres tall and is the mascot and guardian of the Foundation. You’ll also note the reinforced concrete works by Ndary Lo, including “Grande muraille verte” (Great green wall). His long, slim figures offer a striking contrast with the muscular warrior and form an eclectic and harmonious ensemble. Last but not least, next to the garden terrace you’ll find little serpentine sculptures by Zimbabwean artist Colleen Mabamombe, together with numerous other works tucked away in the four corner of the gardens. Seek and thou shalt find…
Marseille MAC Gardens
César, Dietman and Alberola out in the open
Set facing the Contemporary Art Museum (MAC) in Marseille, Jardin de Bonneveine is a genuine cabinet of curiosities harbouring sculptures by ground-breaking artists, such as César‘s famous “Thumb”, together with works by Swedish artist Erik Dietman, Jean-Michel Alberola and Fabrice Gygi. The garden’s little valleys and monticules are separated by a large esplanade and spacious alleyways crowned with luxuriant plants, plus a must-have boules court set just next to the museum. Nearby lies a pool in the shape of a futuristic sea urchin… Designed by architect Bernard Schoeller, the “Piscine Tournesol” is actually part of a vast national programme launched in the late Seventies and early Eighties designed to help youngsters learn how to swim, after France’s poor performance at the 1968 Olympic Games.
New National Museum of Monaco Gardens
Villa Sauber garden
Designed in terraces, the garden of Villa Sauber – home to part of the New National Museum of Monaco (NMNM) collection -, abounds with remarkable trees, such as the Ficus Macrophylla and Canary Island Date Palm. On the first level, a citrus fruit collection pays tribute to the Principality’s lemon, tangerine, orange, grapefruit and kumquat-growing traditions. A magnificent rose garden has set up home on the second level. In 2016, the NMNM called on the talent of Cyprus-born artist Christodoulos Panayiotou who created the installation “Le Mystère Abominable”: 35 vases planted with rose bushes positioned on ancient balusters lining the garden’s three levels, made with a mixture of water and earth from archaeological digs in Cyprus. The Villa Sauber garden harbours other works from the NMNM collection such as Jeppe Hein‘s “Modified Social Benches” and “Foreigners everywhere” by Claire Fontaine.
Villa Paloma garden
Initially designed as a “Roman garden”, the Villa Paloma garden, opened in 2010, resolutely resembles an Italian garden opening onto the town and sea. It hosts several works from the NMNM permanent collection, including “Blp” by Richard Artschwager, “Cloche-poche” by Jean Dubuffet, “Folding house (to be continued)” by Jean-Pascal Flavien and “Motif V” by Denis Morog. It also features three perpetually-changing installations by Michel Blazy inviting onlookers on a genuine voyage of the senses: “Sans titre“, a maple tree with a golden trunk and branches, “Scupltcure”, a stack of pressed orange peels and “Collection de Chaussures”, created during the 57th Venice Bienniale – an intricate contraption designed to nourish vegetation planted in old trainers…