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 Peak (Hong Kong) - - Contents - DO­MINIQUE AFACAN Lon­don-based writer spe­cial­is­ing in lux­ury liv­ing

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

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