Le Musée de Vence (The Vence Museum) resides in a castle built during the 1600s. In the heart of the historic old town it may be small when compared to other museums throughout the Côte d’Azur, but it consistently provides excellent exhibits, presentations and cultural events for those who make their way to Vence. The museum (once known simply as Fondation Emile Hugues) caters to mostly modern and contemporary artwork, presenting various exhibitions throughout the year. Most of the exhibits run for six to nine months and are often related in one way or another to the city of Vence. A portion of the museum is now dedicated permanently to work from Henri Matisse who lived in Vence for many years. From January 25th, 2020 to June 14th (now extended until November 15 due to COVID-19) the museum features a collection of work from Sol LeWitt, Chourouk Hriech, Christian Lhopital and Emmanuel Régent entitled “Le Dessin, Autrement – wall [&] drawings” (The Drawing, Differently).
[more info after the photo gallery]
Le Dessin, Autrement – wall [&] drawings
This new exhibit of “wall drawings” was conceived with two purposes: 1. on one hand it is a celebration of the 150th birthday of Henri Matisse, an artist closely associated with and much loved by the city of Vence, who sometimes worked with wall drawings; 2. on the other hand it is an opportunity to explore the concept of wall drawings in general, including that of the American artist Sol LeWitt. Matisse is considered a master of wall drawings and some of his final works adorn the walls inside of the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence (The Rosary Chapel of Vence), a project that Matisse considered his great masterpiece. LeWitt was also known for his work in this same medium and one of his pieces, simply titled “Wall Drawing,” is a part of the Musée de Vence’s permanent collection.
Thrown into the mix are three figures from the current French art scene: Chourouk Hriech, Christian Lhopital and Emmanuel Régent. Each of these exciting contemporary artists was given a room at the museum and invited to create a wall drawing on site during the month of January 2020. Each of them approached the opportunity differently and each of them displays a particular style in their work. Drawing at this scale, on large walls, presents a unique opportunity to engage the medium in a completely different way than one does on paper or canvas. Two other rooms in the museum house a mixed selection of their other work.
The exhibit is laid out on two floors in the museum. On the first floor, in room one, you’ll find the large “Wall Drawing” by Sol Le Witt. Room two is dedicated entirely to Chourouk Hriech. Room three contains work by Hriech, Lhopital and Régent. Room four is dedicated entirely to Emmanuel Régent. A small adjoining room features a video presentation about the artists and their work. On the second floor, room six contains more work by all three artists. An adjoining room features the wall drawing from Christian Lhopital on all four walls.
The first large room of the exhibit is dedicated to Sol LeWitt, an American artist born in Connecticut to a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia in 1928. His wall drawings and sculptures brought him fame in the late 1960s when he became linked to various artistic movements, including “conceptual art” and “minimalism.” LeWitt created his first wall drawing in October 1968 for a group show at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York and is considered by many to be the creator of modern “wall drawings.” When asked about this description he replied, “I think the cave men came first.” Indeed, the concept of drawing or painting on walls was really nothing new. “Fresco” paintings have been gracing churches, cathedrals and chapels for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In 1970 LeWitt explained his concept: “I wanted to do a work of art that was as two-dimensional as possible… It seems more natural to work directly on walls than to make a construction, to work on that, and then put the construction on the wall.”
These wall drawings challenged several long-held concepts about how art could be purchased and owned. Were they, by their very nature temporary? How could such pieces of art be sold? Who owned the art, the artist or the owner of the building where the wall existed? LeWitt eventually worked out a system whereby he provided a signed certificate and accompanying drawing with directions that authenticates the work in subsequent sales or transfers.
LeWitt’s wall drawings usually fall into one of two categories: a simple graphic of lines only or a more complicated geometric pattern composed of different flat elements and colors. In 2002 the Musée de Vence hosted an exhibit of LeWitt’s work entitled “Sol LeWitt: The Image of Thought.” As part of the exhibit he spent a month creating the the three part wall drawing (“Wall Drawing”) which is now on display in the current exhibit. The geometric shapes and bright colors display a profound sense of abstraction, simplicity and minimalism. It fits squarely into the tradition of the wall drawings and mural paintings that Matisse created for his chapel. LeWitt gifted the work to the city of Vence and it remains quite special because there are very few such examples in permanent public collections around the world.
Chourouk Hriech is a French/Moroccan artist who is known best for her drawings of black and white cityscapes. Working mostly in black and white she creates pieces of art from rothring, Indian ink and markers. Her work often features a chaotic environment without people, just urban landscapes. The second room of the exhibit is dedicated to her large piece entitled “Daily Landscape.” Several other of her pieces, including a wonderful set of three plants, graphite on paper, with no titles, can also be found in this room. More of her work, including “Tel Aviv ou les Jardins Cachés de Yaffo” (2018) and “Poème Court 1” (2019), can be found throughout the exhibit.
Christian Lhopital is a French artist who works essentially in the field of drawing, sometimes on paper, sometimes on canvas and sometimes on large wall surfaces. His large wall drawing entitled “Variations” occupies all four of the walls in a small room at the end of the 2nd floor. The fluid, watery, ghostlike style works extremely well on the large surfaces and you feel immersed in the art when you stand in the room. Several other works by Lhopital, including “Fix Face Silence 65” (2019), “Patience et torpeur VIII” (2018) and “Rotation 14” (2018), can be found throughout the exhibit.
Emmanuel Régent is a contemporary French artist best known for creating complex black Indian marker drawings which are always left intentionally incomplete. His style is quite unique, using small hatched lines placed very close to one another. Room four is dedicated entirely to the work of Régent. My favorite piece in the entire exhibit is a new one of his entitled “Facinisl Odiam,” a very large experimental composition of adhesive letters which have been partially erased and manipulated right up to the point of illegibility. The shapes and designs formed by the distressed letters is beautiful and forms a kind of false text. Several other pieces by Régent, including “Ciguë” (2017), “Pendant quail Fait Encore Jour” (2019) and “Pendant qu’il Fait Encore Jour (Palmyre) (2016), can be found throughout the exhibit.
The Vence Museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday between 11:00AM and 6:00PM. Entrance is a very reasonable 6€ for adults. There are reduced rates for groups, children and students. Entrance is free the first Saturday of every month. Guided tours and workshops are also available. A very nice bookstore, located next door to the museum, carries books, posters and other items related to the exhibitions and art in general.
If you are in or near Vence between now and November 15th make an effort to stop by the museum and spend some time with this exhibit. It’s an interesting display of some modern art that I think you will find interesting. The focus on “wall drawings,” with the connection to Henri Matisse and Sol LeWitt provides an interesting angle from which to view this artwork.