Frank Gehry’s Spectacular LUMA Arles Tower Debuts in Provence

Above image by Iwa Baan

After nearly seventeen months of our lives having become very small (in the case of city dwellers, often as small as just two rooms), merely being able to sit shoulder to shoulder in a bar right now seems almost monumental. But perhaps what we really need to feel normal again is the return to the regular rotation of truly epic cultural events that dotted our calendars before the March 2020 lockdowns ground everything to a halt.

A new Frank Gehry building has generally qualified as such. And while we wait for the ten-years-delayed and quite anxiously awaited Guggenheim Abu Dhabi to be completed, his spectacular LUMA Arles Tower has just opened in the small but storied Provençal city – once home to Vincent Van Gogh, birthplace of Christian Lacroix, and a former stomping ground of both Hemingway and Picasso.

It’s an undertaking of the Zurich-based non-profit LUMA Foundation, which was founded in 2004 to support the work of independent contemporary artists, photographers and filmmakers – but has also taken up the causes of human rights and environmental justice. The 27-acre Parc des Ateliers project is, fittingly, intended as a kind of laboratory for cultural and ideological education and advancement. To wit, the opening program features the works of more than forty international creative luminaries, with high-profile new commissions by the likes of Ólafur Elíasson, Carsten Höller, Koo Jeong A, Helen Marten, Pierre Huyghe, and Rirkrit Tiravanija, to name but a few.

The campus and Tower were thirteen years in the making, initiated in 2008 by noted Swiss art collector Maja Hoffmann, who heads up the foundation. Exhibitions will be spread over the twelve floors of Gehry’s latest masterpiece, which beams in the singularly luminous South-of-France sunshine, lording majestically over the surrounding planar landscape. The Impermanent Display gathers works from the LUMA Foundation and Hoffmann’s own collection, notably including Urs Fischer, Paul McCarthy, and Precious Okoyomon. While Three Generations: Works from the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation Collection showcases works from one of the most important collections of European/Western avant-garde art in the world, with pieces by Cy Twombly, Rosemarie Trockel, Bruce Nauman, and Duane Michals.

“LUMA is the fruit of a number of years of experimentation and of a lifelong commitment to artists and a healthy environment,” explains Hoffman, Founder/President of the foundation. “The different areas of the Parc des Ateliers, thanks to their size and types, will enable us to produce an interdisciplinary program, adapted to a fluctuating environment that offers new opportunities for artists and thinkers, freeing them up from the constraints inherent to the practices and structures of classical institutions.”

With François Pinault’s Bourse de Commerce having just opened in Paris, the completion of LUMA Arles means culture vultures have every excuse to put France at the top of their post-pandemic travel list this summer. The latter especially promises one of those rare, truly transformative art experiences.

Or as Hoffmann so perfectly puts it, “It’s a total immersion in a world, both inside the premises and outside, in which the visitors can engage as their fancy takes them.”

Stay in Arles: Le Nord-Pinus hotel dates to the 1920’s and except for the WiFi, has hardly changed since. With elegantly bohemian rooms looking out over the Place Du Forum, and an atmospheric bar once propped up by Hemingway himself, it offers luxury and authenticity in equal measure. For more information on Arles, visit ArlesTourisme.com.

Above images by Iwa Baan

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