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9 parks-museums to visit in the south of France

The territories of the Côte d'Azur and Provence are home to many wonders, both natural and artistic, which can be found in the art parks and contemporary art foundations surrounded by greenery, absolute must-see destinations during the summer season.

“There is but one season: summer. So beautiful that the others revolve around it.” Ennio Flaiano once wrote. As summer season approaches, the desire to spend time in nature and explore new places is renewed, and so the hunt for itineraries that combine outdoor activities, art and culture is on again. In recent years, collectors and patrons are increasingly eager to establish loci amoeni that would house the works of their private collections, veritable open-air art parks among vineyards and olive groves, often even close to the sea. The south of France, which historically has always been a fascinating region with its nature and colors, for artists and wealthy art lovers, has been the birthplace of numerous foundations where land art, architecture, and works by 20th-century masters meet sculptures and installations that speak about our present.

Here is a selection of nine foundations and contemporary art parks to discover, located between Provence and the French Riviera, for an on-the-road summer itinerary or as destinations for art-centered getaways in the great outdoors.

Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade

A 200-hectare site, 130 of which are planted with vines, on the hills near Aix-en-Provence: this is where collector Patrick McKillen chose to build the unique outdoor architecture and sculpture trail of Chateau La Coste. Since 2010, established architects and artists from around the world have been invited to create site-specific and non-site-specific works that make a walk among these vineyards a formidable treasure hunt. Tadao Ando, Louise Bourgeois, Tracey Emin, Franck O. Gehry, Liam Gillick, Kengo Kuma, and Oscar Niemeyer are just some of the names of the artists involved. Other projects here include Richard Rogers’ latest signature work, La Galerie (2021), a suspended cantilevered structure with exceptional views of the estate.

Carmignac Foundation, Porquerolles Island

Porquerolles Island is a paradise of nature a few kilometers away from Toulon in the Hyères Islands archipelago. Here in the 2000s, entrepreneur Édouard Carmignac fell in love with the villa built by architect Herni Vidal, and decided to buy it to make it a place dedicated to art. Villa Carmignac hosts annual exhibitions, which by thematic cores allow visitors to admire some of the works that enrich the foundation's collection. Until November 5, 2023, The Inner Island exhibition will be on view, featuring works by Auguste Rodin, Roy Lichtenstein, Peter Doig, Otobong Nkanga, Agnieszka Kurant and Jean-Michel Basquiat among others.

Maeght Foundation, Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Not far from Matisse’s exquisite Chapelle du Saint-Marie du Rosaire in Vence lies a villa created by Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert. This mid-20th century architectural modernism masterpiece is now the home of the Maeght Foundation. An exhibition space surrounded by greenery, desired by Parisian patrons Marguerite and Aimé Maeght to house the works of their collection, one of the most important of the 20th and 21st centuries. The immense sculpture garden will also feature ceramics by Fernand Léger, a monumental work by Alexander Calder, a fountain designed by Pol Bury, and Miró’s Labyrinth designed by the artist together with Sert himself. On July 1, 2023, the foundation will reopen to the public after major restoration work.

CAB Foundation, Saint Paul de Vence

A short walk away from the Maeght Foundation, there’s a beautiful building of the 1950s, which has been completely renovated by the French architect, Charles Zama: it's the French Headquarters of the CAB Foundation. Chosen by Belgian collector Hubert Bonnet as the second space dedicated to art besides the one in Brussels, this villa houses a permanent collection and temporary exhibitions focused on Minimalist and Conceptual art. The beautiful garden is a true place of contemplation for works by Richard Long, Bernar Venet, Peter Downsborough, Charlotte Van der Borght, Jonathan Monk, Arik Levy or Fabrice Samyn.

Commanderie de Peyrassol, Flassans-sur-Issole

The Commanderie de Peyrassol is a property that dates back to the 13th century, with an area of 850 hectares, including the historical Château Peyrassol winery. Here, entrepreneur and collector Philippe Austruy has created one of the largest open-air art collections in Europe. Among the vineyards and Mediterranean vegetation are site-specific works by artists such as Daniel Buren, Niki de Saint Phalle, Dan Graham, Carsten Höller, Bertrand Lavier, Richard Long, Ugo Rondinone, and many others. Contemporary masterpieces set in a bucolic landscape that invite visitors to rediscover the beauty of contemporary art in an unexpected context.

LUMA Arles, Parc des Ateliers

Inaugurated in June 2021, LUMA Arles is a true experimental creative campus, desired by the collector Maja Hoffmann, which pursues the search for relationships between art, culture, the environment and human rights This project comes to life through the repurposing of a PLM depot for making and mending steam locomotives, established in the mid-1800s. A vast complex consisting of several spaces and a large park over which stands the Tower designed by architect Frank Gehry. Site-specific works from the permanent collection are spread over the approximately 15,000 square meters of the building and Parc des Ateliers, while temporary exhibitions featuring works from the collection enliven the foundation year-round.

Cap Moderne, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

Domus 1024, maggio 2018

The site renamed Cap Moderne in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is a strip of land a stone’s throw from the sea, nestled among the green bushes of the French maquis, that is certainly worth a visit for all architecture enthusiasts. Here, three iconic pieces of architecture can be visited by reservation: the E-1027 villa, designed by Eileen Gray and destined to become an icon of modern architecture and a manifesto of the designer’s taste - where there are also some controversial paintings made by Le Corbusier – who built the Unités de camping next door, and his famous Cabanon, a wooden hut, a perfect model of his research on the Modulor system of proportions.

Venet Foundation, Le Muy

In Le Muy, you will find the Venet Foundation, owned by artist Berner Venet. This project grew out of a conversation between the artist and Donald Judd, a master of minimalism. Here is a rich collection of works by Venet himself, intersecting works by other great artists of the second half of the 20th century. The beautiful garden is one of the good reasons to visit the foundation, where you can stroll among sculptures by Anish Kapoor, Arman, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Sol Lewitt, and Tony Smith. In addition to the permanent works, temporary exhibitions are also held in the foundation’s spaces, such as the Robert Barry: A Situation exhibition curated by Mathieu Copeland currently underway.

Hartung-Bergman Foundation, Antibes

Reopened to the public just over a year ago, the Hartung-Bergman Foundation in Antibes, directed by Thomas Schlesser, is certainly a must-see point of interest for art and architecture lovers. It is the extraordinary villa-studio of the two artists Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman, in which the memory of their artistic practice is mixed with the dimension of their private lives. A multipurpose dwelling built in the green, with an immense garden dotted with centuries-old olive trees, it now holds about sixteen thousand works of various types that trace the creative journey of the two artists.

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