CONTEMPORARY ART ON THE CÔTE D’AZUR

I spent the month of March at La Napoule Art Foundation in Southern France near Cannes. I confess that the prospect of being in France made me a bit nervous given the Gallic aversion to things American, and shortly after arriving my poor French was mocked by a porter at the Gare de Nice. But I later had the good fortune to visit that city with Italian critic Enrico Pedrini who introduced me to a lively and cosmopolitan art scene with promising young artists. I was also very impressed with the social structures in place to support them. In its support of living culture the French government is light years ahead of Washington. Coca Cola and cognac don’t always mix.

LA NAPOULE ART FOUNDATION

La Napoule Art Foundation has to be one of the best kept secrets in France. Its assets include a 14th century castle, a baroque villa that the Princess of Pless once called home, and an exhibition space for contemporary art. The buildings are located three miles from Cannes, overlooking the placid Mediterranean in Mandelieu La Napoule. Twice a year the foundation offers residencies to visual artists, writers, film makers, composers, and performers. The Chateau was acquired by Henry and Marie Clews, two expatriot American artists, in 1918 as a working studio. Since its heyday in the middle ages the Chateau had been in steady decline, serving as a glass factory before its redemption by these artist-designers. Together Henry and Marie restored it, adding Saracen and Romanesque towers and gardens with topiary and fountains. Sculpture by Henry Clews, derived from a personal mythology often adorns the architecture itself, taking the form of bas-relief on wooden doors and stone capitals. Marie Clews incorporated the foundation in 1951, to create an international center for the arts where resident artists have peace and tranquility to work. Nice is only thirty minutes away by train. Giry Traiteur, a talented local caterer, prepares the meals for residents. The La Napoule Art Foundation also hosts educational workshops, poetry readings, seminars, and concerts. For information see www.lnaf.org.

LA STATION

La Station is a group of eight artists from Nice who have realized highly intriguing collaborative projects, and Enrico Pedrini, who introduced us, has been following their work with interest since 1997. Drive In, a 1999 exhibition featured their art on display in a subterranean parking garage. This required viewers to drive past artwork while remaining conscious of vehicles behind and ahead of them. More recently they exhibited their work at the Fondazione Morra in Naples, taking their title Uomini con i baffi from a B list movie about gangsters in Southern Italy. They arrived at the opening dressed as Neapolitan criminals from the `70s.

For their 2000 retrospective at the Musée d'Art moderne et d'Art contemporain in Nice, members of La Station exhibited a diversity of pieces. Cédric Teisseire in Slide on Casual makes a playful riff on Richard Serra’s Prop with flexible plywood sheets held against the wall with skateboard wheels. Jean-Robert Cuttaïa has created an alter-ego in the form of a small plastic action figure. Cuttaïa’s doppelganger has been photographed next to Clark Gable, training circus lions, hitch-hiking to London, and hanging from the cornice of a building in Dubrovnik. Marc Chevalier creates mad obsessive paintings with thousands of tiny pieces of Scotch tape, depicting imagery from video arcade games. In Collect and Cut, Pascal Broccolichi creates images of fanciful razors and X-Acto knife blades on paper. In something like an origami project the viewer is meant to cut the images away with the agents they depict. In Prolégomènes, Jean-Baptiste Ganne voyeuristically photographs women walking from behind like a stalker. Natacha Lesueur, who recently had a solo exhibition at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Connecticut, documents a new kind of Body Art which includes writing on the backs of women bathers. In Formalist Tendencies of Bourgeois Art and Soy Lecithin, Maxime Matray photographs a quivering mass of chocolate gelatin that appears on the verge of melting. Stéphane Steiner, the enfant terrible of La Station, who drives around France in a Mercedes station wagon filled with shards of broken headlights, antennae, ornaments, and trim, creates architectural installations with foam insulation. For information see www.lastation.org.

ART JONCTION

Art Jonction is one of the most diverse and exciting initiatives for contemporary art in France today. From its origins as a fair, Art Jonction has grown to include a magazine covering the Southern French art scene and an exhibition space in Nice. Christian Depardieu and Hélène Jourdan-Gassin founded Art Jonction in 1986 and each year since then they have continually drawn gallerists, critics, and collectors from the international art community to Nice for an opportunity to view art and network. Together with Jourdan-Gassin, Depardieu also launched Art Jonction magazine, a publication that focuses on contemporary art in the south of France but also covers cinema. Fluxus artist Ben Vautier contributes two pages of epigrams and musings on art, life, and politics to each issue. Other recent editorials include a piece by Bernard Dupuis on the return to themes of intimacy at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. At the headquarters of Art Jonction’s editorial offices, Depardieu will open a gallery this year that will host international exhibitions of contemporary art. For information see www.art-jonction.com.

THE VILLA ARSON

The Villa Arson combines an artist-in-residence program with an Advanced School of Art and an exhibition space called the National Contemporary Art Centre. I am told that the Arson complex resembles Cal Arts with its gravel stuccoed buildings that contain 180,000 square feet of exhibition space and bare testimony to an unhappy moment for French architecture. Visitors enter the Villa through a courtyard where French art students mingle with faculty and visiting artists from Europe, America, and the Far East. Recent exhibitions include Import Export, which examined issues relating to globalization. This collaborative project with the Salzburger Kunstverein and Museum Voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem included an interesting video piece by Rainer Ganahl on Algeria and the aftermath of colonialism. French artist Philippe Durand exhibited photographs that regard issues of displacement in urban and rural landscapes. For information see www.cnap-villa-arson.fr.

MUSÉE D’ART MODERNE ET D’ART CONTEMPORAIN DE NICE

When I first visited Nice one year ago, I was struck by the elegant, highly unorthodox architecture of the Musée d'Art moderne et d'Art contemporain and theatre complex. Designed by architect Yves Bayard in 1990, the museum has a courtyard that is bisected by a busy thoroughfare so that cars pass through it at all times of day and night. For one wall of the four story museum, Bayard sought to recreate a Cararra marble cliff and he painstakingly selected stone to create continuous veins. Atop the museum is a walkway that allows visitors to circle the courtyard from on high and which affords 360° views of the city of Nice and the Mediterranean. The interior of the museum is well illuminated (by diffusing the intense natural light outside) and escalators carry visitors to upper stories, past walls of black marble, in luxurious comfort. The museum has an extraordinary permanent collection of works by Yves Klein including an unusual large-scale installation in blue pigment. The collection also includes major works by Ben Vautier, Arman, César, Yves Tinguely, Christo, as well as American Color Field Painting and Pop Art. Currently on view is Niki de Saint Phalle: La Donation, an exhibition of sculpture by Saint Phalle, including a monumental dragon covered with mirror shards. For information see www.mamac-nice.org.

ESPACE DE L’ART CONCRET DE MOUANS-SARTOUX

In 1998 Sibyl Albers-Barrier and Gottfried Honegger donated a sizable collection of modern and contemporary art to the city of Mouans-Sartoux. The collection which includes Josef Albers, Max Bill, Christo, Dan Flavin, Al Held, Joseph Kosuth, Cédric Teisseire, and Bernar Venet to name a few, represents a geometric current on in the arts. Currently on view is the exhibition 15 Variations on a Theme, curated by the museum’s director Dominique Boudou. The exhibition includes Roaratorio, a work by John Cage from 1979, which was intended to accompany a reading of Finnegan’s Wake. Cage recorded ambient sounds of places that were mentioned in the text as well as sounds from an Irish circus. The exhibition also includes a series of interesting works by Georges Vantongerloo, a French artist who created sculpture in Plexiglas based on mathematical principles in the 1950’s. For information see http://perso.wanadoo.fr/espace.art.concret/.

CENTRE INTERNATIONAL D’ART CONTEMPORAIN CARROS

The C.I.A.C. is one of the youngest museums in Southern France but is housed in one of the oldest castles. In the 12th century C.I.A.C.’s chateau was occupied by the Count of Blacas, who enjoyed a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. Thanks to the French Revolution and the demise of the aristocracy, the Blacas chateau was ultimately transformed into a center for contemporary art. Fréderic Altmann, its director, presents exhibitions of contemporary art and maintains an archive of books and documents pertaining to Modern and Contemporary art in Southern France. In 2003, Altmann will host and co-curate the French premier of Abraham Lubelski’s Travelling Duchamp Exhibition. For information see www.ville-carros.fr.

SOPHIE BUENO AND NADINE SPINOZA

In addition to the more established institutions and artists in Nice there are some very interesting emerging artists. Among them is Sophie Bueno whose works are currently on view at the Galerie Soardi in Nice. A particularly intriguing sculpture by Bueno is Palanquin, which depicts a Japanese pagoda. From the four upper corners of this pagoda are cords that suspend an English saddle at chest height. Somewhere between an ostentatious rickshaw and an imaginary horse, this piece plays on the concept of travel while remaining stationary. Morrocan born Nadine Spinoza works with raw madder pigment on canvas with underpainting. To Spinoza, red is a color that represents both blood and earth. Installed on the floor and walls of a gallery, her paintings suggest red dessert landscapes and the pigment, which ultimately falls away, conveys a strong sensual vitality.

Special thanks to Enrico Pedrini and Sally Stillman.

© Daniel Rothbart, 2002.