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As in the rest of France, there has been a major boom in the number of visual arts institutions on the Riviera in the past 35 years. They come in addition to existing museums focused on archaeology, heritage or works by individual past masters like Fragonard, Renoir, Matisse, Léger, Picasso and Chagall. The new museums feature photography, painting, drawing, design, video or digital art. There are foundations for Bernar Venet’s sculptures and Majid Boustany’s Francis Bacon collection. Then there’s the Carmignac Foundation on Porquerolles island, Fondation CAB in Saint-Paule de Vence, not far from the long-established Fondation Maeght, and the recently-opened Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman foundation in the house they lived in in Antibes. In Cannes, where the Malmaison art centre shows contemporary art, Jean Pegozzi’s collection of Sub-Saharan African art will soon be open to the public. Each collection has its particularities; each is different in its focus and its policy on acquisitions, artist support and choice of exhibitions. Let’s look at a few of the new art museums on the Côte d’Azur.
Musée International de la Parfumerie
The art of the perfume bottle
Une grande bâtisse provençale abrite le musée.
This museum with its yellow ochre façade opened two years after we launched out magazine. The extension that opened in 2006 doubled its display space. It is the first museum in the world devoted to the heritage of the perfume world, from Egyptian ointment pots to perfume stills and modern designer bottles. Over the years it has amassed a collection of 55,000 items through purchase, donations and recovering equipment from the town’s old perfume factories. Part of the collection is on permanent (and beautifully laid-out) display covering the entire span of perfume history. There are contemporary bottles by Othoniel, Collin-Thiébaut, Berdaguer & Péjus and many more. Of all the department’s museums, this one is the most closely related to the local economy. It also has greenhouses in Grasse and a perfume garden in Mouans-Sartoux.
Musée d’Art Moderne
et d’Art Contemporain
MAMAC, as it’s called, was designed by Yves Bayard and Henri Vidal. Seen from the sky, the building is cross-shaped. Behind its temple-like marble façades, Yves Klein with his infinite blue shares space with killer girl Nikki de Saint Phalle. Both belonged to the Nouveaux-Réalistes movement which drove the Ecole de Nice and the international artistic influence of the French Riviera from the late 1950s to the ‘70s. Nikki used to collect old dolls, wire and other waste to make sculptures. Today, under the direction of Hélène Guénin, the museum is focusing on women’s art and works that question the living world, with large-scale collective exhibitions and solos shows. From its rooftop, the three-floor museum offers panoramic views of the old town and the Coulée Verte gardens.
Le MAMAC habillé de verre et de marbre blanc de Carrare.
Espace de l’Art concret
The efficacy of the image
Exposition Filiation 2. Xavier Theunis, maquette (projet en cours), 2022, Collection de l'artiste © DR
The EAC is an odd place. It has the status of an art centre, so part of its mission is to support artistic creation, but its permanent exhibition makes it a museum too. It all began when the municipality purchased the Durand de Sartoux family château. Artist Gottfried Honegger and his wife Sybil Albers-Barrier put together a collection, starting with Zurich concrete art and spreading to conceptual and minimalist art, and offered to mount temporary exhibitions for the municipality. They then donated their collection, asking that it be kept in a dedicated place. Whence the green building that now stands in the vast château gardens. “Every year we invite artists to contemplate the collection, which now boasts 700 works, or we start a dialogue with nearby collections,” says director Fabienne Grasser-Fulchéri. She also holds three temporary exhibitions a year in the château, either solo shows or themed on painting or composition, etc.
des Arts asiatiques
Gateway to Asia
This is an architectural gem designed by Kenzō Tange, in the shape of four cubes topped by a cylinder. The adventure began a bit like the Abu Dhabi Louvre, with works on loan while the collection was being built up. From 1996 director Marie-Pierre Foissy was active in acquisitions, but then the pace slackened. “We are now able to start buying again,“ says Adrien Bossard, the museum’s creator since 2018. Behind the scenes, he is inventorying a donation of 1100 Japanese prints. That will bring the museum’s collection to 2000 works in all. The museum also mounts temporary exhibitions on particular themes or countries in the downstairs display space, reached via the ground floor display of Buddhist objects. A point of convergence between China, Japan and Southeast and Central Asia.
Un bijou d'architecture signé Kenzō Tange.
Nouveau Musée National de Monaco
La Villa Paloma devenue musée.
The NMNM is split between a seaside villa that belonged to the English painter Robert Sauber, and Villa Paloma near the Jardin Exotique, which was opened by Marie-Claude Beaud when she was director of NMNM. She gave a much more contemporary focus to the museum’s art collections and exhibitions. The current director is Björn Dahlström. The museum boasts collections of many kinds: dolls and automatons, stage costumes, 19th-century paintings and a set of works by Fauvist and society painter Kees Van Dongen, who lived in Monaco. As well as solo exhibitions by major international artists, the museum devotes energy to hunting out and featuring local figures who have made a big contribution to art, such as painter Christian Bérard, who designed the film sets for Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beat.
The Nabi with a thing for Japan
The transformation of Bonnard’s one-time home into a museum is a real achievement. Architects Ferrero and Rossi have fitted the entrance neatly into the supporting wall and put in a lift that offers views across Le Cannet. At the start, the municipality had none of the artists’ paintings to put in the place but was keen to dedicate a museum to Bonnard, who lived here for 25 years. Although Bonnard’s works are scattered all around the globe, over time the museum has managed to gather 200 of them. They largely date from his time in Le Cannet, which is considered his brightest and most colourful period. The museum sets out to shed light on the painter’s approach to painting through colour, shape and personified objects, and also to situate him in relation to his post-impressionist contemporaries such as Edouard Vuillard and Toulouse-Lautrec.
La Vue du Cannet de 1927, pièce emblématique du musée.
Musée d'Art Classique
Meeting the past
Sous les antiquités gréco-romaines, se trouvent la galerie égyptienne.
This museum is based on one man’s collection of gold coins, statues of goddesses, Greek and Roman armour and much more besides. That man is Christian Levett, an English collector and former investment manager who wanted to share with the public his passion for the brilliant civilizations of the past and their mythologies. MACM likes to juxtapose different periods in ways that shed light on both. Ancient Egypt vs Greece and Rome, for example, or Neo-Classical art vs contemporary artists. So Roman busts stand alongside works by Henry Moore and Matisse. Levett is still busy collecting. He likes American Abstract Expressionist works of the 1940s and ‘50s, with women painters like Elaine de Kooning, Yvonne Thomas and Jane Freilicher who are still largely under-appreciated.
Musée de la Photographie
Photography close to hand
Photography close to hand. The Musée de la Photographie started life in 1999, in the L’Artistique building on Boulevard Dubouchage. It’s now in a more accessible place, a former electricity sub-station on Cours Saleya. It has made the most of this unusual setting with its mezzanine overlooking the main hall. The museum owns a collection of photos by pioneer Charles Nègre; all in all it owns 2000 photos and cameras. Director Stéphane Tallon uses the main building for major exhibitions (recently Studio Harcourt portrait, Yann Arthus Bertrand’s landscapes, Nick Knight’s flowers and now Vincent Munier’s snow leopard) and the smaller premises next door, with a separate entrance, for local or more conceptual photographers.