Contemporary art is trying to reclaim Saint-Paul-de-Vence

  “From the Food Chain to Eternity” (2023), by Anna Hulacova, at the Saint-Paul-de-Vence International Biennale.

It’s a story of friends, loving art and wanting to share their passion. Created in 2018, the International Biennial of Saint-Paul-de-Vence (BIS) is in its third edition, this year on the highly consensual theme of birds. We’ve already had the opportunity to write it, it’s the smallest in the world: a dozen artists each time, some showing several works spread throughout the city. But they are judiciously chosen by two commissioners, Ludovic Delalande who works at the Louis Vuitton Foundation and Claire Staebler who, after a stint in the same institution, now directs the FRAC des Pays de la Loire. They were able to mix the generations, from the veteran Tadashi Kawamata (69 years old), to the young Alex Ayed (34 years old).

Born on the initiative of Olivier Kaeppelin, when he left the management of the Maeght Foundation, it is mainly carried by the gallery owner Catherine Issert, by the former cultural assistant of the town hall Catherine Houzé and a few others, including the architect Jean Nouvel who is familiar with the place. The funding (about 170,000 euros this year) is a balance between public money and private sponsorship, including that of the galleries representing the selected artists. We should not take offense: the venerable Venice Biennale proceeds in the same way.

“When I left the Maeght Foundation, says Olivier Kaeppelin, I discussed with Catherine Issert the possibility of showing contemporary art in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. At the Maeght Foundation, it’s complicated: it has to exhibit historical artists, if only to gain an audience. » But also because the building does not lend itself to works that are formally too radical: placing square steel plates by Carl Andre on the sinusoidal terracotta floor tiles, as was the case when it hosted an exhibition of the collections of the Museum of modern and contemporary art of Saint-Etienne, it does not work.

Be radical but not too much

The Belgian foundation CAB, specializing in minimal art, had not yet set up in Saint-Paul (it opened in the summer of 2021). Until then, the gallery of Catherine Issert, by the rigor of its programming, was well isolated. The collection of the Hotel La Colombe d’Or is exceptional, but it is only accessible to customers.

Conversely, the works installed in the public space are not, with rare exceptions, the most remarkable. With the Biennale, a little fresh wind is blowing in Saint-Paul. The contrast between the works selected and those intended for suckers could revive all the controversies over contemporary art, opposed here to what the sociologist Raymonde Moulin had, cruelly but lucidly, baptized “the market for chromos”. In short, it’s Marcel Duchamp place du Tertre. And the opportunity to see that in art, all is not equal.

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