A lineage of collectors
The Swiss billionaire Maja Hoffmann comes from a lineage of remarkable collectors. Her grandmother, Maja Sacher, was one of the founders of the art museum in Basel (See here the video interview of Maja Hoffmann)
Childhood in Arles
Maja Hoffmann spent her childhood in Arles because her father, Lukas, was an ornithologist. From this education in the Camargue, she developed a love for this area of land that is wild, harsh and unique, which has led today to an oversized project that has been in development since 2008.
On the site of a former rail yard owned by the SNCF which was once very concrete-clad, she has conceived an utterly sprawling and verdant campus across 11 hectares, anchored by a shimmering tower that can be seen from the sea designed by the 92-year-old American architect Frank Gehry (See here the video interview of Frank Gehry).
Lighthouse on the Mediterranean
The building, described by the poet and painter Etel Adnan as a “lighthouse on the Mediterranean”, was conceived by the architect as a “landscape that changes throughout the day”, thanks to its multiple facets which reflect the sky. The place, known as the Luma Foundation, which is free to access with a booking, takes your breath away. It has contributed to making Arles a new site of importance within the global contemporary art scene, in contrast to France’s centralizing tradition.
Taste of disorder
Luma is a good encapsulation of the spirit of its patron,Maja Hoffmann in three respects: its XXL formats, its taste for disorder, and its innovation.
Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hans Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of the Serpentine Gallery in London, has been involved since the beginning of the concept’s gestation, as part of a think tank composed of curators and artists (See here and here reports about Hans Ulrich Obrist). He talks about the site as an archipelago that serves as a meeting point for artistic, ecological and philosophical concerns. He takes this idea – which means a lot to him – from the Martinican poet Edouard Glissant, to whom he is dedicating an exhibition in the basements of the building. Here there is also a display of various artistic archives, like that of Zurich’s avant-garde magazine, Parkett, or the photography of Annie Leibovitz.
Returning to ground level you can walk through the garden with its man-made lake and southern vegetation. It was designed by the landscape architect Bas Smets, who explains that he redesigned a Mediterranean relief with the complicity of the local wind, the “mistral”.
Luma’s senior curator, Vassilis Oikonomopoulos, describes the artists displayed here as “visionaries, who push the limits of the discipline”.
The French artist Philippe Parreno (born in 1964) has created a huge space composed of a large-scale projection, opposite which lights and sounds change while you sit on a sofa, which rotates (Read here the report about Parreno at the Tate). The whole thing has been executed with great delicacy, while the projection reads: “no more reality”. We effectively escape the real to observe a strange and endearing creature, a kind of little submarine monster that transports us to another world.
The other star of the French art scene from this generation, Pierre Huyghe (born in 1962), who currently lives in Chile, has produced a kind of interplay between minds, a piece on how mental images can assume visual form with the aid of artificial intelligence. The result is a collection of projections: an uninterrupted series of snapshots that the viewer’s mind, from the outside, has difficulty processing.
The German artist who lives in Sweden, Carsten Höller (born in 1961), a great specialist on the study of birds, creates giant objects that can also relate to the behaviour of that other eccentric species, humans. He’s had a giant slide installed to welcome visitors to the entrance of the tower, but also to the park, with a little pavilion that just features a series of sliding doors composed of two way mirrors. They seem to open and close endlessly, giving rise to a dizzyingly narcissistic sensation. It has also become a place favoured by frogs to shelter under at dusk, where they stage a blaring chorus of croaks, which also benefits from the echo effect of the little construction.
The other sonic intervention, only this time more deliberate, is that of the remarkable artist who is based in Berlin, Tino Sehgal (born in 1976) (Read here the report about Tino Sehgal at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris). He is known for his performances – although he doesn’t like to use that term – which are carefully orchestrated, creating astonishment and raising questions amongst the audience.
The staff is singing
This time he has recruited groups of Luma staff to sing as a choir in an impromptu fashion in certain spaces in the tower. He has had to teach them to use their voices and to coordinate. This is an operation of “internal communication” which is wholly transgressive.
The café has been designed by the Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija (born in 1961) (Read here the report dedicated to Rirkrit Tiravanija). He says he wants to create “situations”. The huge undulating table sculpted from wood, the deep armchairs, a specific menu and a large Aubusson rug featuring a field of wilting sunflowers all contribute to this… Tiravanija believes more in the poetry of a meal shared in pleasant surroundings than in the repeated production of artworks.
Like a beating heart
The Luma Foundation opens up a world of 21st-century art that palpitates like a beating heart. It’s well worth the experience.
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