Art and Architecture in Provence
Between shifting light and the shadow of conifers where “only the wind and the occasional call of a bird break the quietude,” is Château La Coste. The 500-acre estate – 300 of which are made up of bio-dynamically cultivated vineyards – is an architect’s paradise: an open-air museum is home to some of the biggest names in contemporary art and architecture.
Forewords by architect Tadao Ando, artist and activist Ai Weiwei and photographer JR open Château La Coste, which then takes the form of a walk round the grounds. Readers can experience them like a visitor would. There’s a pair of shiny aluminium winemaking chais (sheds) by Jean Nouvel and an angular V-shaped structure made of raw concrete and glass by Tadao Ando. Frank Gehry’s music pavilion is a chaotic jumble of wooden beams, glass and steel. Renzo Piano’s glass and concrete pavilion is half-buried in the ground as to be in symbiosis with its natural settings; its undulating roof, we’re told, is covered with a canvas stretched over slim metal arches that mirror the rhythm of the rows of vines.
Despite being packed with the work of starchitects, however, no work takes precedence over another. Robert Ivy, co-author of the book and Chief Executive Officer of the American Institute of Architects, notes: “In placing no emphasis on a single building, in being true to its geographic setting and acknowledging its historic antecedents, yet being committed to the personal responses of architects and artists Château La Coste presents a new and dynamic framework.”
Each of the creations appears as a direct response to its surrounding environment – an extension of the landscape’s existing beauty, just north of Aix-en-Provence. “The sculptures seem to have sprung up naturally,” Ivy agrees. A sense of adventure is key, and it’s only by exploring the full extent of the grounds that viewers can unlock all its treasures. For instance, follow the border between open lawn and vines, and the trail of crushed stone transforms into a low, narrow deck of wooden strips, which begin to disperse with pavers. It’s here that you’ll find Paul Matisse’s Meditation Bell – a sound sculpture made from four aluminium pillars and a centred rope that strikes the bell when pulled by visitors.
Wander further afield, and you’ll spot oversized rectangular metal plates planted vertically into the ground by Richard Serra, to encourage visitors to view their surroundings differently. Meanwhile, Louise Bourgeois’ imposing yet protective bronze and stainless-steel Crouching Spider is suspended on water, legs protruding from a glass-like surface. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Mathematical Model tapers into a needlepoint towards the sky. “Despite the beliefs of pure conceptual arts, art can be very physical,” explains Alistair Hicks, co-author and previous curator at Deutsche Bank. “Walking down a path and finding three steel Serra walls is an experience. These encounters are both physical and psychological.”
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Lead image: Photograph by Alan Karchmer, showing Crouching Spider by Louise Bourgeois (2003). Copyright The Easton Foundation / VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2020. Crouching Spider was one of Patrick McKillen’s earliest acquisitions for Château La Coste.