LETTER FROM MONACO: ART IN THE VILLAS
The Principality of Monaco makes a move towards the art world, in an effort to expand its name beyond luxury property, the F1 and superyachts, aiming to become Europe’s newest art destination. Will it work?
The Principality of Monaco makes a move towards the art world, in an effort to expand its name beyond luxury property, the FI and superyachts, aiming to become Europe’s newest art destination
Prince Albert had already made an appearance by the time I arrived at Nomad, a boutique design fair that launched this year in Monaco – and word was out that he liked what he saw. In the principality, the seal of approval from the prince is paramount and, as such, gallerists and artists were in high spirits, smiling, laughing and air-kissing all over La Vigie, the beautiful villa that housed the event. With a bigger fair, Art Monte Carlo, going on simultaneously down at the Grimaldi Forum, it almost felt like Monaco was enjoying an art season, the type that many other major cities such as Hong Kong, Miami and New York enjoy on a yearly basis. Could this be the start of something?
Nicolas Bellavance-lecompte, one of the founders of Nomad and director of Beirut’s Carwan Gallery, certainly thinks so. “After so much investment in sports and luxury events like the Grand Prix and the Monaco Yacht Show, I think there is a will to go back to the visual arts and to sustain culture. Art Monte Carlo and Nomad are both supported by the principality and I really believe it can become a hub for collectors.” From those I encounter and chat to throughout the four-day event, browsing Arik Levy sculptures on the terrace, or padding across Christoph Hefti-designed rugs inside one of the villa’s curated spaces, it doesn’t seem a far-fetched idea in the slightest. If anything, an arts scene has been quietly evolving here for a while, perhaps drowned out by the noise of the Formula 1 engines or overshadowed by the enormous superyachts packed into Port Hercules.
The opening of the Nouveau Musee National de Monaco back in 2010 was a big step in the right direction. Housed across two beautiful locations – Villa Sauber and Villa Paloma – the museum has held ambitious exhibitions since day one. Highlights have included a Richard Artschwager exhibition, produced in collaboration with New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and a major retrospective of Gilbert and George in 2014. Princess Caroline, who is widely credited with the promotion of Monaco’s cultural institutions, was heavily involved in the museum’s launch, even handpicking the director, Marie-claude Beaud, an industry heavyweight, who continues to run the show today, aged 71. This summer, Villa Paloma will host an exhibition on Hercule Florence, a Monagasque-brazilian inventor, the first to use the word ‘photographie’ back in 1833. Meanwhile, at Villa Sauber, an exhibition by French artist Saadane Afif will run in collaboration with the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
The success of the museum encouraged further activity across the principality’s two square kilometres, including the opening of gallery SEM-ART in 2010 and then the Francis Bacon Art Foundation in 2014. But a successful art fair to join the dots lagged further behind.
Thomas Hug, now director of Art Monte Carlo was inspired to offer himself up for the job. “I started Art Geneve in 2012 and there were some gallerists and collectors there who motivated me to have a look at the French Riviera and particularly Monaco,” he explains. “They thought our concept might have a chance to develop as there weren’t any other similar projects at that time.” Despite having no relations with the Cote D’azur, Hug pressed on and went to enquire about the Grimaldi Forum. The response was cautious. “At that time, they really feared a bad fair as Art Monaco, an event which had happened previously was a total catastrophe.”
Hug pulled off a successful event in 2016, and now that the show is established and in its second year, he was pleased with the addition of Nomad, which showed works from 15 galleries, including Hong Kong’s very own Massimo De Carlo gallery. “I think it’s good to have other things running parallel to the fair,” he says. “Nomad is a small, refined exhibition so it was definitely complimentary.”
He sees even bigger collaborations as vital to Monaco’s success as an arts hub. “If we want to attract more international collectors there needs to be global participation, too,” he says. “This year for example, we organised a private jet for collectors coming from the Berlin Gallery Weekend. I think it would be a good idea to introduce a programme linking several events in Europe, so that people coming from Asia might go to the Berlin Gallery Weekend,
Cologne Vernissage and then to Monaco. That’s my vision for the future.”
Collectors at La Vigie certainly seemed hungry for more. Beyond the art itself, many commented on the draw of the location. While many fairs are held in huge, soulless tents, here was an event that took place in an intimate and beautiful property, once home to Karl Lagerfeld, no less. After the fair, many had plans to explore the French Riviera, grasping the opportunity to soak up the glamour of the region that inspired the likes of Francis Bacon and Picasso and enjoying the famous coastline. Whether or not this tiny country will achieve everything it wants in the art world remains to be seen, but either way, the vistas are worthy of an artist’s canvas.
“I THINK IT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA TO INTRODUCE A PROGRAMME LINKING SEVERAL EVENTS IN EUROPE, SO THAT PEOPLE COMING FROM ASIA MIGHT GO TO THE BERLIN GALLERY WEEKEND, COLOGNE VERNISSAGE AND THEN TO MONACO. THAT’S MY VISION FOR THE FUTURE”
– Thomas Hug