Art weekend in Aix-En-Provence: the 7 places must-see
For two days, I lived in my art dream world. No kiddin’ here: take the beautiful landscapes of Provence, the incredible light on the streets of Aix-En-Provence, the good food (and the delicious rosé) and add monumental art works in a vineyard and a winery designed by Jean Nouvel, huge display of op art signed Victor Vasarely, a visit at Cézanne atelier and some rare Picasso paitings. On top – a beautiful selection of young and promising artists, in some cool & hip places from Aix-En-Provence. Well, you get the idea now, don’t you? Therefore, for an art weekend in Aix-en-Provence, these are the 7 places must-see.
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1. Château La Coste. To say that is just a beautiful vinery, with gourmet restaurants would be too little. To name it an art park is not entirely truth (after my second visit I still want to see more of the domain). Château La Coste is all of these things and even more: situated between the historical city of Aix-En-Provence and the Luberon National Park, Château La Coste was opened to the public in 2011 and allows visitors to discover 40 major works of contemporary art installed permanently in the open air and 5 gallery spaces. Plus four restaurants and an exclusive hotel.
Impressive concrete gates (from superstar architect Tadao Ando) mark the entrance of the domaine; few steps ahead I was welcomed by the beautiful Art Centre (also by Tadao Ando), and a giant steel and bronze spider (Crouching Spider by Louise Bourgeois) stands guard in the pool. The winery was designed by Jean Nouvel and Pavillon de Musique is designed by Frank Gerhy (actually, a project initially made for Serpentine Gallery London).
Everything is almost gigantic – from the metal plaque signed Richard Serra to the serpentine stone path-wall built by Ai Weiwei, from Calix Meus Inebrians (Guggi) to Multiplied Resistance Screened by Liam Gillick, from Kengo Kuma sculpture to the futuristic Drop of Tom Shannon or works by Lee Ufan, Tia-Thuy Nguyen, Michael Stipe, Sean Scully.
Finding always something new – this time, I was amazed by the new gallery by Oscar Niemeyer (the last design of the Brazilian architect) hosting the works of Annie Morris, the Rezno Piano pavilion, with a beautiful exhibition with Bob Dylan paintings along with Picasso ones and the installation Wich Trees signed Yoko Ono.
2. Atelier Cézanne. A bunch of American friends of Cézanne (the “Cézanne Memorial Committee”) were needed to save the painter’s atelier from demolition. The venue can be reached in 15-20 minutes from the centre of Aix (and the stories said that the painter himself did all this walk every day), from the moment he bought it (1901) until his death.
The light coming through the windows at the first floor is awesome – I could have seen, instantly, from where the beauty of his paintings was coming. Here he painted his last works: “Les Grandes Baigneuses”, “Le portrait du jardinier Vallier”, or “Vues du jardin” (in total, 11 oil paintings and 17 watercolours). In the corner of the room is a special slot which was used to transport these paintings outside, as they were too large to be carried downstairs and out the door. I’ve noticed also the still objects that appear in so many Cézanne canvas – the statuette, a small green pot used for olive oil, the skulls. (http://www.atelier-cezanne.com/)
3. Foundation Vasarely. I could have stayed here for days, lost somewhere in the huge rooms of the Foundation Vasarely, one of my favourite artists ever. Seven hexagonal cells and 42 monumental art installations (ceramic, anodised aluminium, etched glass, enamel, tapestry), plus a lot of art works of the Hungarian-French artist, Victor Vasarely, the one who was named “the grandfather” and leader of the Op art movement. Not only that: Vasarely is well known for the design of the Renault logo and the cover of David Bowie album “Space Oddity”, among others; he has carefully calibrated patterns of bright squares and luminous circles, which make his paintings’ surfaces appear like warping space-time webs, a hypnotic image that repeats all over.
Vasarely started with the iconic work “Zebra” (in the 1930s, considered by some to be one of the earliest examples of Op-art) and created a Alphabet Plastique around 1960, a grid-based system which used the circle, square and triangle, and differing colour scales, to create a infinite number of “units” (the Alphabet Plastique was the human equivalent of a computer art program).
Fondation Vasarely was established in 1966 by Victor Vasarely, aiming to build a centre to promote his ideas of “art for all” and of the “city of tomorrow”. Construction of the building started in 1973 with architects John Sonnier and Dominique Ronsseray implementing the designs of Vasarely, and it was inaugurated in 1976. (https://www.fondationvasarely.org/en/)
4. Musée Granet (Fondation Jean et Suzanne Planque). It was my second visit here. And it was just an amazing experience as the first time I landed into the museum. Well, actually it’s a church, Chapel of the White Penitents, with a 17th century architecture that was transformed into a museum. It houses the artistic treasures of the private collection of Jean Planque – artworks by Braque, Degas, Picasso, Klee and Cézanne, as well as paintings of the collector himself. My choices? Women of Picasso, of course (“Femme au chat was Planque favourite), but also Nicolas de Staël marine landscapes, Jean Dubuffet graphic works but also Alex Kosta collages and the silhouettes signed Claude Garache (he was a nice surprise for me). (www.museegranet-aixenprovence.fr)
5. Gallifet Art Center. L’Hôtel de Gallifet is a cultural place unlike the others in Aix-en-Provence. Privately managed contemporary art center, housed in the 18th century hôtel particulier of the same name in the Mazarin district of Aix-en-Provence, it hosts a couple of exhibitions a year, showcasing the work of a range of artists and contemporary creative talent.
I loved the sculpture in the garden (“Nager dans le bonheur” by Diadji Diop), but also the exhibition “Nouvelles Alliances: Coopérations avec le Vivant”, which brought together the work of 9 young contemporary artists who are all seeking to explore different ways of living with nature (Alice Grenier Nebout, Victor Levai and Sarah Valente among them). (www.hoteldegallifet.com)
6. Hotel Caumont. Located in the Mazarin district, the Hôtel de Caumont has a paved Cour d’Honneur and over 1,000 m² of private gardens. The mansion’s rooms, with their refined décor, recreate the atmosphere and aesthetic characteristics of the 18th century. The art centre holds major temporary exhibitions dedicated to the great masters in art history. When I was there, a Yves Klein exhibition was on preparation process, but check the website for the news. And make time to get a coffee and a salad in the garden, it’s just wonderful. (https://www.caumont-centredart.com/)
7. The city and its wonders. The legend says that there are more 1.000 fountains in the city; the reality comes close to 100 but they are quite special, indeed, and they all have a story to tell (big, guarding the entrance into the city, with nice stories behind or small and pretty, in a quiet backyard of one of those hôtel particuliers from Aix). Try the Cours Mirabeau for the city vibe, get lost on narrow streets of the old town to find the best restaurants, check on the way the important points to see (Aix Cathedral, the Mazarin district to see the old beautiful architecture, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and the market) and do not leave Aix without a bag full of calissons (Le Roy René – Confiseries Provençales – https://www.calisson.com/fr/. You will thank me later. 🙂