Land Art: contemporary art in the greatoutdoors

The Land Art movement emerged in the Sixties and celebrates the beauty of nature. Head to the Musée Gassendi and CAIRN Centre d’Art in Digne-les-Bains to immerse yourself in these majestic, open-air contemporary creations. Standing in virgin countryside, each tells a story of places and people…

Land Art

A fusion of art and nature

Born in the deserts of Western America in the late Sixties, Land Art is a fusion of art and nature, in which nature is no longer simply depicted and celebrated on a canvas. At the time, Land Artists turned their backs on museums and conventional creative processes and made nature their source of inspiration, raw material and studio… Wood, sand, stones and rocks: the elements offered by Earth gave rise to often-monumental and sometimes-ephemeral works, erected in natural settings. In the South of France, you can delve into the mysterious and soothing world of Land Art in Digne-les-Bains, at the Musée Gassendi and CAIRN Centre d’Art.

Musée Gassendi

Exploring art walks

Set at the crossroads to the French Southern Alps and Provence, the Musée Gassendi in Digne-les-Bains has been developing its contemporary Land Art collection for around 20 years. Roam its “Parcours d’art” art walks, dotted with creations blending into the rocky scenery of Haute-Provence. The walks include British Land Art master Andy Goldsworthy‘s unique and astonishing “Art Refuge”: a 150-km (approximately 10-day) itinerary winding its way through the Haute-Provence geological reserve. The walk features a series of refuges based on ancient constructions, acting as combined shelters and works of art.

The “Successive layers that make the wealth of a site”

Andy Goldsworthy‘s works of art are rooted in the human history of the locations they adorn. The artist explains: “When I place my work where something already exists, where men have already lived, it puts my creations into perspective. I consider the landscape as a series of layers with me as the last layer. I liken it to geology – it’s the way in which people deposit their presence in successive layers that make the wealth of a site.”

“River of Earth” by Andy Goldsworthy

“River of Earth” on show at the Musée Gassendi pays homage to the power of Land Art. This monumental work was created on site by Andy Goldsworthy in 2000, in one of the museum rooms, using an ancient building material known as cob: a natural cement made of clay and water, to which Goldsworthy added hair in place of the usual plant fibres. The work seeks once again to integrate the site’s history. “My work is so deeply-rooted in each site that it can’t be separated from its point of creation: the location is the site”. The perfect venue for “River of Earth”, Musée Gassendi’s permanent collection focuses on the relationship between mankind and science.

CAIRN Centre d’art

An open-air creative laboratory

Let’s stay in Digne-les-Bains for a prolonged plunge into the world of Land Art courtesy of the CAIRN Centre d’Art, founded by the Musée Gassendi. The centre aims to explore all art forms that have ties with nature: its impressive collection spread throughout the Digne area spans 500,000 acres and features works by around 30 artists including Andy Goldsworthy, Paul-Armand Gette, Herman de Vries, Mark Dion and Richard Nonas.

The “Sentier Marcel”

Each work celebrates the relationship between man and nature, with examples such as Till Roeskens‘s “Sentier Marcel” (Marcel’s Walk) perched at an altitude of 990 metres in Prads-Haute-Bléone. An avid advocate of pastoralism, Roeskens gathered memories from local shepherds for his project, including Marcel Segond, who has lived in these mountains for nearly a century. The work is actually a series of fragments of Marcel’s life story, placed along the path he has walked all his life. Roeskens explains, “The work of art isn’t what you see at the end. Crossing from one side of the walk to the other is an intrinsic part of it. We don’t really know where the work itself is situated and that’s a good thing”. Marcel’s walk isn’t just a mountain path – it’s also the path of life…