The French city of Nice has always been a magnet for artists, who are attracted by its Mediterranean climate, mouth-watering cuisine, azure blue sea and vibrantly coloured houses. Matisse, Renoir, Arman and Chagall were all inspired by this stretch of the Côte d’Azur. These are nine of the best contemporary art galleries and museums in Nice showcasing local and international artworks.
No list of contemporary art galleries in Nice would be complete without the famous Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC). From the Nice School to pop art and New Realism, its collection has provided an important shop window for modern European and American art. World-renowned artists such as Yves Klein and Niki de Saint Phalle feature in its permanent collection, as well as contributing to eye-catching designs for the museum’s façade. When approaching the institution, visitors are greeted by monumental sculptures on the museum’s esplanade by the likes of Alexander Calder and Berner Venet. MAMAC is also responsible for an eclectic mix of contemporary exhibitions in the museum gallery and the aforementioned Galerie des Ponchettes.
One of Nice’s many municipal attractions, Galerie de la Marine was the premier contemporary art space in the city until the founding of the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain in 1990. As a consequence of the opening of this new museum, Galerie de la Marine instead turned its attention to displaying the permanent collection and paintings of Alexis Mossa (1844-1926) and his son, Gustav-Adolf Mossa (1883-1971). Upon the arrival of the 21st century, the gallery went back to promoting contemporary art and focusing on the young creative scene. A variety of international artists, such as Venezuelan Elias Crespin, have recently exhibited work here. Computer programmes, designed by Crespin, operate the artist’s impressive mobile sculptures. In one such work, called Plano Flexionante 4, metal rods unfold in waves, perhaps mimicking the gentle waves of the sea overlooked by Galerie de la Marine.
The parkland of the 18th century, Villa Arson, is home to a national superior art school, artists’ residencies and a centre for contemporary art. The latter was founded in 1986 as an advocate for cutting-edge practice, hosting group shows and solo exhibitions for emerging international artists. Martin Kippenberger, Maurizio Nannucci and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster have all had shows here. In the past, artists like Noël Dolla have used the whole Villa Arson complex as a stage for their work. Dolla also invited others to ‘invade’ and ‘disrupt’ the galleries, gardens and terraces with paintings, sculpture, sound, video, music, film and performance. The students of the art school are regularly involved in Villa Arson’s innovative programme of exhibitions and workshops.
Gallery Ponchettes, Nice | Image Courtesy of the Théâtre de la Photographie et de l’Image
Galerie des Ponchettes
Located next to the sea, the 19th century building of Galerie des Ponchettes has had various uses in bygone years, from fish market to public lavoir. Since the 1960s, however, it has housed a contemporary art gallery showcasing local and foreign talent. Galerie des Ponchettes was the first project in the creation of Nice’s Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, MAMAC. One of the local artists it has recently championed is Henri Olivier, whose work explores the relationships between sculptures, landscapes and gardens. The gallery’s exhibitions with a crossover between the 20th and 21st centuries have included the bright, almost abstract, paintings of Albert Chubac (1925–2008) and posters produced or inspired by Matisse.
In the heart of Nice lies an old arts theatre of the Belle Époque, which now houses the city’s Théâtre de la Photographie et de l’Image. Since 1999 its six rooms have been presenting photojournalism, photographic art and digital technologies. Its documentation centre holds more than 3,500 texts on photography and its micro-gallery contains DVDs and access to websites and image banks of major institutions. An exciting temporary exhibition programme displays the work of present-day photographers and historical masters of the medium. A recent show celebrated 30 years of creativity by Jean-Paul Goude, famous for his trademark advertising campaigns and developing the public image of Grace Jones, designing her album covers, and directing her videos and performances.
Eva Vautier spent her formative years surrounded by artists, who were friends of her father’s. She also learned a great deal about art through helping to organise exhibitions with Ben, and alongside contemporaries at La Station. Consequently, she was inspired to run her own gallery with the ethos of making art more accessible. The exciting outcome was Galerie Eva Vautier, which opened in 2013 with the aim of hosting six major art shows each year. These shows have invariably featured intriguing titles, such as Claude Morini’s En l’absence de l’artiste and Mourrons des oiseaux by Sandra D. Lecoq and Virginie Le Touze. Special events, such as avant-garde concerts and dance performances, have added further diversity to the gallery’s rich offering.
Bertrand Baraudou has been fostering emerging talent in the local, national and international art scene since 2004. His gallery in Nice, Espace A VENDRE, is associated with a large number of artists, from graduates of the Villa Arson, to those more established in the field of contemporary art. Works recently exhibited at Espace A VENDRE include the mesmerising, psychedelic paintings of Jérôme Robbe and the attention-grabbing, eccentric sculptures of Lionel Scoccimaro. Group shows have concentrated on broad themes, such as the art of drawing or the concept Be Your Self & Be Another (2013).
Since 1996 La Station has been focusing on experimental artistic practice in Nice and beyond. It has also helped up-and-coming artists to become more active in the development, promotion and dissemination of projects. La Station takes it name from the gas station of its original premises on 26 Boulevard Gambetta. Its latest venue, in a disused slaughterhouse, features 350 square metres of exhibition space and studios for resident artists. In addition to this, La Station has gained a wider national and European audience through organising exhibitions in other cities, such as Toulouse and Belfast. Past shows have included the likes of world-renowned British cartoonist Glen Baxter, whose deliberately old-fashioned drawings make fun of the passive nature of characters in teenage books of the 1930s and 1940s.