The Must-Visit Contemporary Art Galleries in Toulouse
Toulouse is a city for aesthetes, known colloquially as ‘La Ville Rose’ – The Pink City – due to its pink-stone buildings, many built in a pseudo-Romanic style, paying homage to the city’s heritage as an ancient settlement on the River Garonne. Its youthful creativity has given rise to a vibrant contemporary art scene, where anarchistic artist collectives cross paths with public museums. We explore ten of the best contemporary art galleries and exhibition spaces in bustling Toulouse.
Les Abattoirs – Toulouse Modern and Contemporary Art Centre
By far the best-known destination for contemporary art lovers in Toulouse, Les Abattoirs is an essential stop on a cultural tour of the city. The permanent collection consists of over 2,000 paintings, sculptures and other pieces, and is supplemented by a specialist library and temporary exhibits promoting innovation and research in contemporary art. The Modern Art exhibition includes a collection – once belonging to the photographer Anthony Denney – of paintings from the 1950s and 60s by artists such as Mathieu, Riopelle, and the Japanese artists of the Gutai group. The Contemporary Art exhibition scopes over a wide range of ideological and artistic movements, representing the diverse nature of the national and international scene. Don’t miss the spectacular ‘Picasso Curtain’ – ‘La dépouille de Minotaure en costume d’Arlequin’ – a renowned theatre curtain commissioned in 1936, designed and created by Pablo Picasso and Luis Fernandez. The fragile piece of work has been restored to its full glory, but can only be viewed for part of the year, so best to call ahead to check if it is currently on display.
This state-funded art gallery earns its place on any list of must-see contemporary art spaces in Toulouse for its title as the one of the world’s oldest public institutions showcasing photography, and for its unique collection of photographs. The Galerie Municipale Du Château D’Eau was the brainchild of Toulouse-born photographer, Jean Dieuzaide, and opened in 1974 in a converted 19th century water-tower, from which the name ‘le Château d’eau’ derives. For 40 years, the gallery has presented the public with over 400 iconic exhibitions representing the depth and diversity of photography, and including exhibits from photographic greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston and Walker Evans. Visitors can also climb a spiral staircase to the top of the tower, and, once atop, can survey the panoramic view of the city. The gallery offers a fully immersive experience through a series of public events, including ‘Meet the artists’, photography workshops, and regular guided tours.
A more recent fixture on Toulouse’s cultural scene, EXPRMNTL is pushing the boundaries of contemporary art through its support of both internationally known and up-and-coming photographers, painters, sculptors, video artists and performers. The building is a gentrified clothing factory, and the gallery is aptly named as a tribute to the momentous Exprmntl Festival Knokke Zout – an unrivalled Belgian event celebrating contemporary art and film. The owners, Delphine André & Laurent Garde, capture the aim of the gallery as ‘encouraging diversity through a reactive and dynamic programme’, and achieve this by thoughtfully curating exhibitions across their 300 square metres of exhibition space, including a videobox, VIP lounge and bookstore.
Next Galerie specialises in urban and pop art, and stands out amongst more traditional galleries found along Toulouse’s streets. The team is dedicated to presenting the emotional dimension and entertainment value of contemporary art, and their collections focus on themes of discovery, pleasure and joy. Whilst Next Galerie’s past exhibitions have predominantly given a platform to young emerging artists, they now have big ambitions to expand into the international mainstream art world and have begun to compliment these collections with pieces from international pop-artists who have already gained exposure and are well known globally.
The Centre for Graphic Art is another of Toulouse’s specialist contemporary art spaces, but will nonetheless fascinate visitors from all artistic persuasions. The gallery curates graphic designs including posters, commissioned pieces of art and commercial materials such as book covers and calendars, and organises the exhibits into various pertinent themes, including Women’s Graphic Representation, Aviation, Local Bullfighting and The History of Toulouse – as told through posters. These inherently relevant themes present a provocative and novel way to engage with this niche in genre, in a way that is tailored to the Toulouse locality. Le Centre de l’Affiche is the only public institution in France offering the opportunity to peruse graphic art, and maintains a diverse collection numbering thousands of pieces. The centre has been attracting flocks of tourists for over 30 years, and the building itself dates back to the 18th century; originally the site of an ancient chapel, it now presents a rather more modern creative engagement.
This impressive art space spans 2,800 square feet over two floors, and provides an expansive and brilliantly shining arena for showcasing strikingly coloured paintings and sculptures, displayed along the walls, atop of purpose-built podiums, and nestled in enclaves built as shelves into the walls themselves. Galerie Alain Daudet was founded in 1986 and deserves its reputation as ‘an institution in Toulouse cultural landscape’. The gallery itself is gorgeous and inspiring for its simplistic yet creative curation of interesting contemporary pieces. Included in the long list of artists who have showcased their work here are Antonio Segui, Bengt Lindström, Cédric Bouteiller, Claude Venard, and locally lauded glass artists and ceramists. Galerie Alain Daudet is well worth the visit for those looking for a taste of the boutique art scene in Toulouse.
Recommended by hoards of locals and hired on an independent basis by local artists, Galerie De L’Echarpe / Concept Galerie offers a unique perspective on the contemporary art scene in Toulouse. It is impossible to anticipate what to expect from the exhibitions here, since the shows will vary as widely as the art produced by the Toulouse artist community. The gallery is in the heart of historic Toulouse, comprised of two rooms with exposed brick walls in an 18th century building that is now flanked by Hôtel des Beaux Arts and the Hotel Assezat. Visitors often report feeling unusually at ease whilst exploring the exhibitions displayed here, since there is a grassroots, casual feel to the place, and the artist is almost always present to chat with visitors about their work.
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Fondation d’Entreprise Espace Ecureuil Pour l’Art Contemporain
An essential stop on your tour of the Toulouse contemporary art spaces, the gallery belonging to Le Fondation d’Entreprise Espace Ecureuil has created a unique identity for itself as it only exhibits work that is directly related to the activity and aspirations of everyday life. The foundation self-describe as ‘…a space where artworks can breathe and the public can encounter them.’ The permanent collection is a growing exhibit titled Les cadavres sont exquis, comprised of work created especially for the project. It’s a revival of ‘exquisite corpse’, a famous game started by the surrealists, in which artists working in various mediums create work in succession as responses to a previous piece. The Foundation has an overall focus on open-minded artistic discovery, and channels much of its energy into outreach educational services, providing artistic encounters for local students. The Fondation d’Entreprise Espace Ecureuil, through its dedication and passion, is not simply a part of the contemporary French art scene, but it is cultivating and expanding it.