Constantly challenging and reassessing society today, contemporary art also offers us a window onto the world of tomorrow… Welcome to an offbeat, original and provocative world of contemporary art in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, from Toulon to Marseille, Arles and Saint-Paul-de-Vence.
What is it?
Contemporary art is a generic term. After the Seventies, there were no longer any art movements that were clearly defined by the critics. The term contemporary art therefore referred to art that followed in the footsteps of the modern and avant-garde movements. In principle, contemporary art is characterized by its highly critical and reflective dimension. It challenges the very way in which it is produced, together, of course, with current society issues such as politics, history, power, gender, ecology and racism. Today, contemporary art is created all over the globe, with artists from Europe, the United States, Africa, Asia and Oceania taking an active part in feeding its incessant dialogue.
Musée d’Art, Toulon
Minimalism and Conceptual Art
The many masterpieces on show at the Musée d’Art in Toulon include Donald Judd‘s “Blue Progression” dated 1975 – a stack of aluminium arranged according to a precise mathematical sequence reflecting the essence of the minimalist current that appeared in the United States in the early Sixties. A legacy of the Bauhaus, minimalism promotes art through subtraction: to unveil itself fully, the work must be honed down to a minimum. The Toulon Musée d’Art also harbours works by some of the greatest names in conceptual art, including Sol LeWitt and Daniel Buren. This movement revolutionized artistic codes in the second half of the 20th century by drawing its power from the concepts and ideas conveyed by each work, rather than its aesthetic properties.
Espace de l’Art Concret, Mouans-Sartoux
A kingdom of concrete art
The Espace de l’Art Concret (EAC) in Mouans-Sartoux probably houses one of the South of France’s richest and most diverse contemporary art collections. The centre represents many different trends, including, of course, the Concrete Art movement: a reaction to abstract art based on the principle that art is always tangible. One of the leaders of the Concrete Art movement was Gottfried Honegger, a Swiss artist, collector and founder of the EAC. The centre also showcases works from the minimal and conceptual art movements, as well as the BMPT (an ephemeral group created by artists Daniel Buren, Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier and Niele Toroni in December 1966). Don’t miss Dominique Figarella‘s astonishing pink monochrome produced entirely using… chewing gum.
Monory, Christo, Chillida, Tapiès and more
In addition to works by great modern artists (Kandinsky, Calder, Braque), the Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence exhibits creations by great names from the world of contemporary art, including the strange blue works of Jacques Monory. The Fondation Maeght features three of his paintings: “Pompéi” (1971), “Dream Tiger n°4” (1972) and “Tigre n°5” (2008). Pause awhile to gaze at the works of Christo too: the duo rose to fame by wrapping the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris in 1985. In 2016, the Foundation exhibited the monumental “Mastaba” installation measuring 9 x 9 x 17 metres, comprising 1,106 petrol barrels. Today, you can admire a commemorative drawing of the feat. As you tour the Fondation Maeght, you’ll also discover a granite sculpture by Eduardo Chillida entitled “Iru Burni”, together with a painting, drawings and lithographs by Antoni Tapiès, steeped in a mesmerizing blend of abstraction and symbolism.
Contemporary art and Mediterranean civilisations
The emblem of Marseille since its opening in 2013, the Mucem (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) casts a critical eye on today’s society through exhibitions combining fine arts, anthropology, history and contemporary art. In addition to “classical” works (paintings, etchings, furniture, costumes, jewellery, etc.), the museum unveils new, very contemporary acquisitions every season focusing on urban culture and industrial heritage. Georges Henri Rivière fronts regular shows at the adjacent Fort Saint-Jean dedicated to contemporary Mediterranean creation, with examples including “Fragments of a Contemporary Tunisia” (2015), “Albania” (2017), “Persona. Works by Romanian artists” (2018) and “Art Under Fire in Afghanistan “ (2019). The Mucem never fails to astonish…
The many faces of contemporary art
Still in Marseille, the Regional Collection of Contemporary Art (FRAC) is a genuine playground for would-be contemporary art buffs. A genuine art laboratory, the centre is home to over 1,000 works of all kinds, including paintings, photos, videos, sculptures, installations and drawings, reflecting the diversity and wealth of contemporary art movements through artists such as Joan Mitchell (abstract expressionism), famed for her vast, multicoloured canvasses and Pierre Soulages (abstract art), the father of “Outrenoir” (Beyond Black), a play on light born out of the relief generated by the colour black. You’ll also find creations by Ben, famed for his white slogans on black backgrounds and Nan Goldin, an American photographer whose work draws parallels between pictures and memories.
Van Gogh’s legacy
Van Gogh Foundation
Located in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a few kilometres from Arles, the Van Gogh Foundation is committed to upholding the memory of Van Gogh. Nestling at the heart of the Roman city where the artist set up home in 1888, drawn by Provence’s exceptional quality of light, the Foundation throws bridges between the Dutch master’s work and contemporary creation. A genuine homage to Van Gogh’s life and work, it testifies to his influence on many generations of painters. Throughout the year, various exhibitions invite contemporary artists to express their ties with the work of Van Gogh through their personal creations. The building itself is a wonderful tribute to the artist: a former manor house converted into a Banque de France in the Twenties, it is adorned with a glass roof that magnifies the southern light so dear to the master.
Musée Estrine, Saint-Rémy
Located in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where Vincent Van Gogh created his finest masterpieces, the Musée Estrine brings together works by contemporary artists directly inspired by the Dutch master of Fauvism, all deeply attached to Provence. The museum offers a fascinating voyage into the figures, animals, nudes, landscapes, still lifes and flowers of Bernard Buffet (expressionist movement) and the creations of Edouard Pignon, focusing in particular on the human condition, farm labourers, war and sunny landscapes. You’ll also come across works by Vincent Bioulès, one of the founding members of the “Supports/Surfaces” group, famed for his swathes of solid colour. Born in France in 1969, the Supports/Surfaces group focused on the importance of materials and media (frame, canvas) rather than traditional works created by choosing a theme and painting it on a canvas. The movement used many tools including stamps, stencils, sponges, paint guns, scissors and sticks and the materials used took precedence over the subject.
Musée Réattu, Arles
Set on the banks of the Rhône river, inside a remarkable monument, the Musée Réattu shows major contemporary and emerging artists in addition to leading local 20th-century figures. The Supports/Surfaces group is represented here too with works by sculptor Toni Grand and creations by Pierre Buraglio. At the Musée Réattu, you can also get to know the work of Pierre Alechinsky and the associated Cobra movement: an international and collective artistic adventure born in reaction to the quarrels between abstraction and figuration. Last but not least, don’t miss César‘s “Compression de vélomoteur” dating back to the Seventies.
Supports/Surfaces, Basquiat and Rauschenberg
The fully-refurbished Musée d’Art Contemporain (reopening in 2021) in Marseille welcomes Neo-Realist works (Sixties) together with more recent contemporary oeuvres. Its highlights include creations by the Supports/Surfaces group with works by Vincent Bioulès (also shown at the Musée Estrine) and Toni Grand. Another star of the MAC: Jean-Michel Basquiat, the American avant-garde pioneer and his “King of the Zulus”. You’ll also find performance artist Chris Burden there. Last but not least, don’t miss the creations of American artist Robert Rauschenberg, including “AAPCO”, a three-dimensional assembly of wood, cardboard and string.
Nouveau Musée National de Monaco
Make way for the new generation
Part of the collection on show at the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (NMNM)- a temple of art located in the principality of Monaco – is dedicated to contemporary art and includes works on the theme of landscapes, performing arts and science. In addition to contemporary artists featured at the Villa Paloma and Villa Sauber (“Cloche-poche” by Jean Dubuffet, “Collection de chaussures” by Michel Blazy, “Modified Social Benches” by Jeppe Hein and more), the NMNM welcomes works by a new generation of contemporary artists including illustrator Nick Mauss, Camille Henrot, whose creations revolve around video and graphics, and Francesco Vezzoli, exploring the world of advertising and the movies.