It’s the most beautiful sculpture park in France, if not Europe. In the golden light on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, not far from the mountain of Saint Victoire that Cezanne loved so much, Chateau La Coste’s 230 hectares are an abundance of pine woods, vineyards, architecture and contemporary sculptures. The exceptionally harmonious scheme was envisioned by Paddy McKillen, a low profile Irish businessman, with the help of his sister Mara.
The art on display at here is world class. The building where visitors arrive is by Tadao Ando and with its smooth concrete walls, its imposing skylight, and its wide expanse of water above which a giant Louise Bourgeois spider stands guard, it offers the same recognisable signature as his project at Naoshima, the art island in Japan, and the new Clark Institute of Williamstown in Massachusetts. The auditorium, which looks like a collection of gigantic logs protected by blades of glass scattered here and there, is by Frank Gehry and there are thirty-of-so monumental works punctuating the route across the hill.
In the wilds, Tracey Emin, the hell-raising English artist known for sharing her chaotic personal life, has created a wooden bridge that leads across an abyss to a barrel containing a sculpture of a small cat. By all accounts, it’s a self-portrait.
Tunga, the Brazilian sculptor, has created a series of three sculptures composed of enormous wooden gallows that have crystalline forms hanging from them, like objects in some primitive rite. The French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel has contributed a cross of blood in enormous red pearls of glass. It sits prominently in front of a small chapel which, in the last century, was frequented by the local shepherds.
The French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte renovated the wine storerooms into an exhibition space. Until 24 September it is hosting an exhibition by the Korean artist Lee Ufan, who was born in 1936.
(Ufan also has a small pavilion in the pine woods that was inaugurated last year).
On display here are all the customary tropes of this spiritual and conceptual artist who in 2015 held a remarkable exhibition in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.
Lee Ufan is a reflective individual who sees everything in terms of tension and detachment, opposing forces, fullness and emptiness. Speaking in Japanese (his language of choice) and at his own pace, he discusses his work at La Coste.
For his sculptures, Ufan’s favourite materials are metal and stone. Metal symbolises human effort while stone incarnates the earth, nature. He places his two materials, which take different forms, side by side and in opposition. On the walls he’s hung paintings that seem to have remained unchanged for a long time. They contain a very broad brush stroke in the middle of the canvas. The mark represents fullness, space.
But for the first time, or near enough, in the middle of this small coloured expanse Lee Ufan has introduced colours.
They resemble almost abstract landscapes.
The painter explains how in this space, which gazes out onto Cezanne-like landscapes, the Provençal painter influenced him unconsciously: ‘The visible brush stroke on the canvas is our common feature.
I try to express ambiguous values. Artists like myself, who have some degree of enlightenment, focus on useless things. My entire life is oriented towards this way of being.
Obviously I have material obligations. But art permits the freedom to do useless things. You know, when ordinary people gaze at a flower or a beautiful woman, they admire it then move on to something else. Artists on the other hand will try to do something with this emotion.’
So you gaze at women?
‘Yes’, concludes the artist who nevertheless seems so ascetic.