Art – contemporary, connection, and community…

Fernand Leger’s gallery in Biot, gave me a different feel for the man and the artist than what I had from just previously seeing his work, most of which had had a strong industrial quality. In this small, quiet community, Leger lived just a few doors from a ceramicist who he worked closely with. The gallery showed a whole developmental range of works, including earlier works, sketches and colour studies as well as the finished paintings and sculptures alongside each other. His focus on the sunflower and the sun as source of life are evident, and his focus on capturing the purity of colour and light and moved easily from the 2-dimensional to some great sculptural pieces and murals. (His colour sense would influence Yves Klein, a younger artist from Nice, whose presence is very evident in the city.) I really liked his more curvy, figurative work. And of course seeing the works to scale is always such a revelation. Unfortuantely there isn’t an English version to this website either, but you can look at the works under the Les Collections link. (Go into the individual thumbnails)

The Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (Modern and Contemporary Art Museum) was also a real treat. A modern octagonal building it is undergoing some further updating, but anyway, it is situated at a corner of Garibaldi Place, where the old part of the city connects to the new, near Nice’s Acropolis Convention Centre, so it is right in the thick of things. I love that it isn’t aloof and separate from life on the square or in the street.

The public can walk around the top level – a bit like ramparts on a castle – where there are gardens and interesting views all over the city. The idea of such a purpose built building reflects the importance of connection to the gallery – old with new, present with future,  art to community and expression of community etc. It has a great collection of work, and once again, I loved the way groups of works by an artist were exhibited – sometimes with other artists, but there are enough of their own different works, with written and photographic documentation to get an overall feel for the ideas and development of each artist’s work, as well as fitting into a broader context with their peers. I learned a lot!! For example I hadn’t realised Nicki de Saint-Phall was born as long ago as 1930. Her work feels so contemporary. (Sadly she died in 2002) And we’d seen this funky sculpture of a jazz trumpet player outside the Hotel Le Negresco, and discovered it was one of hers. It is Miles Davis from 1999. And I had seen these little French phrases around Nice on the streets – hadn’t really noticed where particularly, but recognised the writing when I saw Ben’s work in the gallery… and was to see more of him later as well. (He does have a surname but is just known as ‘Ben’.)  There are lots of these connections between what was in the gallery and what was in the street… and the Gallery played the role of connecting between the two. It pointed to art not being just something in a gallery – it’s part of life and every day. It’s really exciting.

Another example of the everyday being an opportunity for art is La Tête au Carré (thinking inside the box?), created by Sacha Sosno for the Central Library of Nice. It stands 26 metres high, and apparently has three storeys of library and books inside the actual head! When the light is coming from the right direction you can see people moving in there! Tina and I tried to get into this library, but couldn’t find a way in, so maybe Sosno thought the library itself was a bit stuck in a box!

I’d seen something at the tourist office about a night tour that visited various special sculptural sites at night. I was curious because I had seen this huge sculpture that looked like a giant iron pyramid during the day, then again lit up at night looking so dramatic, and thought the tour might be something like that. It wasn’t really. It was much, much better…

First though, the sculpture I just mentioned is by Bernar Venet which he created and donated to the city to commemorate Nice’s 150th anniversary of becoming part of France. It is 30m high and composed of 9 huge rusty iron beams (representing the nine valleys between the mountains and the sea) which converge way up into the sky. He is claimed as one of the Nice School… a la Klein, and César et al.

Anyway, back to the night excursion… It is called l’art dans la ville – un musée à ciel ouvertthe art in the city (or town) – a gallery under the open sky. Cindy and Michael, I wonder if you saw this? On Friday evening down at the bus station we met Stephanie, our wonderful guide for the tour (reminiscent of Mirjana in her passion, depth of knowledge and insight). We all piled on to the tram and got off at various stops along the way to look at artworks. The thing is that these works were commissioned as part of the whole plan for the new tramway of 21 stops. It was important to connect the newer districts to the old, as well as communities on different sides of the river – and some of the outer suburbs are getting up into the hills, so the tramway would connect them more to the city and coast. It was a wonderful, consultative process with the communities involved in the planning – where stops would be located to best suit residents, and their input on the artworks for their areas. Artworks were to be installed all along the tramway which would help strengthen the cultural identity of these communities.

Hundreds of submissions for the art were received and finally 14 major international and prominent French artists, as well as local emerging artists and their projects were chosen to create 224 works along the line and stops. One of the projects was having each station being announced as the tram approached with a little musical motif… The ‘announcers’ are all residents. Hundreds volunteered to try out and had their voices recorded. Young, old, men, women, children, posh, country… And there are different voices at different times of the week and it goes on. The station names were written by Ben, as well as various pithy phrases he’s known for, like ‘imaginer autre chose’ imagine other things le nouveau est vieux - the new is old, offering something positive, thought-provoking, or questioning, or sending travellers on their way with good heart.

But there is a further dimension to these works. The artists also help us connect the temporal to the ‘sublime’… the spiritual, the other – the indefinable. NLP practitioners have been telling us for years the physical act of lifting the eyes lifts the spirits, or looking to the distance helps one’s problems seem smaller. I can’t think of any of the works one didn’t have to look up to really see completely!

I wish there was a website I could point you to about all this – the only ones I can find in my quick look are in French, and I have emailed the Nice tourism office suggesting this.

I just loved Sarkis’ la porte fausse porte - false gate. It was created through the solid wall of shops (where the old city wall used to be). On one side was a busy road then a carpark of new Nice, and on the other side of the wall, the old part of Nice, with the little lanes, awnings and marketplace. So in fact it isn’t really a false gate. It also seems to link the epochs in time, it links Byzantine and present, east with west, the modern street and the old market. The colours of the marble – the steps and levels all emphasise transition. It’s like a time tunnel. The precious marble, local and Italian, with the golden dome, makes that temporal-sublime link, again lifting the eyes. At the same time in a very practical sense it enables people to move  between the two worlds in the city. In time, the carpark will also be replaced with gardens, making this an even more beautiful place.

Amazing, but with all this in the streets, there has been practically no vandalism. It is the people’s art. Again I feel there is just too much to tell here about these sculptures, so I will just list some of them and leave it to the photos to pique your curiosity and another conversation offline.

Conversation à Nice Conversation at Nice by Jaume Plensa in the La Place Massena
Le confident the confidante by Jean-Michel Othoniel
Cascade d’objets by Michaël Craig Martin
Les postes restantes de la Porte Fausse The ‘poste restantes’ of the False Gate by Sarkis
Je vis de l’eau elle s’écoule I saw the water flowing by Emmanuel Saulnier
Disque solaire solar disc by Ange Leccia
Blue, Hommage au Bleu d’Yves Klein Blue, a homage to to Yves Klein by Gunda Förster -
L’amorse du bleu Morse code in blue by Yann Kersalé
Aphorismes adages by Ben
Totems by Pierre di Scuillo
Sonals the announcements for the stops by Michel Redolfi
Composition exubérante de réverbères hybrides Exhuberant composition of hybrid streetlights by Pascal Pinaud and Stéphane Magnin

Without doubt a highlight not just of my time in Nice, but of my artistic journey!


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