Les Abattoirs (use the English version) is the centre for modern and contemporary art in Toulouse, specialising in 20th and 21st century art. The name was a bit off-putting and comes from what was previously here, but the artwork and overarching purpose of this centre is impressive.
It functions as a gallery, research centre and library, conservation centre, children’s art library and educational centre, as well as housing a database of all regional artists and cultural events. It claims over 17,000 multimedia documents accessible onsite.
The gallery focuses on works post 1950 and covers art movements such as: abstract expressionism, lyrical abstraction, Art Brut, informal art, Cobra, Gutai, Spatialism, Arte povera and Trans avant garde, Figuration libre… Of course it has a representation of post-war French artists, as well as international artists from Europe, Japan and the US, and continues to profile and foster Mid Pyrenees artists both established and emerging.
The centre also actively engages with artists in partnerships for events, creation, hosts residencies, and with other parties for the acquisition of new artworks and some of these events.
The collection’s biggest ticket item (perhaps the biggest item?) is La dépouille de Minotaure en costume d’Arlequin, (I think this means The body of the Minotaur in Harlequin’s costume) or sometimes it is referred to as The Picasso curtain. It is a large stage backdrop created by Picasso and Luis Fernandez in 1936 for a play by Romain Rolland called le 14 juillet – The 14th July that was performed at Le théatre du people – The Theatre of the People. It is only on display for 6 months each year as it is very fragile so we were lucky they knew we were coming and made sure it was ready for us.
Les Abattoirs is a really exciting gallery with widely varied work and I loved buzz of the place. As well as visitors like us, older groups of students were busily writing notes and sketching while several groups of very enthusiastic youngsters engaged with the works and their ‘guides.’ There seemed no sign of them feeling bored or out of their depth – quite something at that age I would think.
For me, it was also seeing new works I instantly loved, discovering new artists, being challenged by works that disturbed me, and finding new ways to see the world.