Saturday, 7 April 2012

Nice - Words by Ben, colours by Niki

The Loch Ness monster seems ready for a party. However, I think the glitzy sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle wouldn't scare a fly even if it tried. You can't exactly say it is guarding the entrance to MAMAC, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Nice, France. Underneath the tall marble building flows the Paillon river which continues its journey underground past the bus station and Massena square, until it meets the Mediterranian.
Sasha Sosno's sculpture Drapé dans le vide looks like a very inviting entrance into the world of art but I choose to enter the museum instead of the artwork. Down below a street is busy with cars and there is also the entrance to the city library. A group of young people is listening to music, someone is dancing, another steps aside and sits down to write in a shabby notebook. This is a cultural centre indeed.

MAMAC is very welcoming: there is no entrance fee. You are simply asked your postcode, but for foreigners it suffices to say which country you are from. I'm not so crazy about the art in the current exhibition but when I get higher in the building, the permanent exhibition starts to make an impact.
An enthusiastic guide is telling about Niki de Saint Phalle's La mariée sous l'arbre, Bride underneath a tree (1963-64), to a group of students sitting on the museum floor.  The tree of life is colourful but below it the story is white, frozen.
The heart of an old bigot (Coeur de vieille bigote, 1964) is full of stuff: housework, religion, good life. White and clean. However, Niki de Saint Phalle isn't just about white. She is about colours.
For instance, the four women in a fountain  (La fontaine aux quatre nanas, 1974-1991) are having a great time. Unfortunately this work of art is now without water...
And what about Sagittarius vase?  It would be weird to hide the pretty lady among a bunch of flowers.
The pale, plump lady in her pink frock really needs to do her makeup (La toilette, 1978) but I'm sure many a skeleton would easily surrender their heart to her.
The student group has also advanced to Yves Klein room with its fabulous blue and gold. The striking blue, or a similar shade, can be found also in some of Niki de Saint Phalle's works but that is no surprise: both artists were part of the French New Realism (or Pop Art) group, and Niki was the only woman included. Blue and gold are in the main role also in the relief portrait by Yves Klein which depicts his fellow artists: Claude Pascal, Arman and Martial Raysse.

In the next floor I arrive at a room dedicated to École de Nice - School of Nice. There is a room within the room:  Chambre privée. From a distance the black and red room reminds you of the Far East but it is a work of art by local artist Ben. His private room is full of surprises and challenges.
I step inside the black room, illuminated with red light. There is a question on the floor: How do you know if this is art or not? The black walls and ceiling are also full of different works of art (if you can call them that!), Ben's messages to the world.
It is essential that I communicate, l'essentiel est que je communique. There is an easy chair that says: to rest here is art (se reposer ici est art). The messages are written in Ben's unique handwriting. I am real, je suis réel. You can also see the laughter of John Cage as well as Ben's - written side by side, framed. You could spend absolutely ages exploring this little art room; this is a whole exhibition in itself.
If art is everywhere, it is also in this box, si l'art est partout il est aussi dans cette boîte. The same message is written on each side of the plastic box - in French, English, Italian and the local language Nissart.  When you're looking at Ben's artwork, it really makes you wonder what is art, what is not.

Before going down, I take a tour on the top floor terraces which offer a great view over Nice and its surroundings - and some works by Yves Klein as well. If only it was a sunny day....
Once I'm again at street level, I take a stroll round the box head guy - Tête au Carré by Sasha Sosno. It is actually part of the city library but you'd have to enter it from down below...
On the park between the box head and the art museum you can also meet a prickly fellow: a version of the Michelin man by another Nice artist, Max Cartier.
I turn to walk back towards the city centre. On the way, I stop for some more Ben - you can find his art also on tram stops. At the Old Cathedral stop, Ben says: Je doute de tout, I doubt everything. On the other side of the tracks the message is Être c'est être différentto be is to be different.

However, there is one more place to walk to: hotel Négresco on Boulevard des Anglais...
...because I've often wondered who is the artist behind the joyous Miles Davis sculpture next to the main entrance to hotel Négresco. I've finally found the answer to that puzzle today - thanks to MAMAC and the artist Niki de Saint Phalle!

every image is 1/25 seconds of life and a moment that never returns
- Ben

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