Aix ( not formerly known as Twitter ) en Provence

In April 2024 I had the great pleasure of re-visiting the town of Aix en Provence, in the French province favoured by so many artists from Monet, Leger, Matisse, Chagall, Cocteau, Cezanne, Gauguin, Renoir, Picasso and so many more.

From Aix we travelled a short distance North to stay at the newly opened Auberge accommodation on the grounds of Chateau La Coste. The Chateau is a marvel of ingenuity and joy, and is the eighth wonder of the world. It has been assembled over twenty years by the vision of the entrepreneur and the determination of the developer, Patrick McKillen.
In April 2024 I had the great pleasure of re-visiting the town of Aix en Provence, in the French province favoured by so many artists from Monet, Leger, Matisse, Chagall, Cocteau, Cezanne, Gauguin, Renoir, Picasso and so many more.

From Aix we travelled a short distance North to stay at the newly opened Auberge accommodation on the grounds of Chateau La Coste. The Chateau is a marvel of ingenuity and joy, and is the eighth wonder of the world. It has been assembled over twenty years by the vision of the entrepreneur and the determination of the developer, Patrick McKillen.
You can name-check a significant number of some of the greatest architects and artists of our time and many of them have graciously contributed to the collection at La Coste.

This extraordinary beauty contest begins immediately at the entrance gate which is an inimitable, stark statement by the living master of minimalism in the Classical school, Tadao Ando. He celebrates the honesty of Mies Van Der Rohe which was revisited in the 70’s as brutalism.
You can name-check a significant number of some of the greatest architects and artists of our time and many of them have graciously contributed to the collection at La Coste.

This extraordinary beauty contest begins immediately at the entrance gate which is an inimitable, stark statement by the living master of minimalism in the Classical school, Tadao Ando. He celebrates the honesty of Mies Van Der Rohe which was revisited in the 70’s as brutalism.
The pedestrian entrance to the art-centre features what must be the longest bench-seat in the world. It is, of course, also cast from in-situ reinforced concrete and forms a suitable resting-place for contemplation, appropriate to Ando’s Japanese roots. Winner of the Pritzker Prize in 1995, RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1997 and A.I.A. Gold Medal in 2002, his lack of formal education echoes the path chosen by his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright. He also shares an unusual early career with the Irish painter, Sean Scully, as a boxer !
The pedestrian entrance to the art-centre features what must be the longest bench-seat in the world. It is, of course, also cast from in-situ reinforced concrete and forms a suitable resting-place for contemplation, appropriate to Ando’s Japanese roots. Winner of the Pritzker Prize in 1995, RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1997 and A.I.A. Gold Medal in 2002, his lack of formal education echoes the path chosen by his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright. He also shares an unusual early career with the Irish painter, Sean Scully, as a boxer !
The photograph above is an unfortunate comparison between the formal settings created by minimalists and an organic development as just happens unconsciously. I say this because it would appear that the rigid and strict pattern of tables and chairs behind the Ando Café on the right compared to the relaxed chaos of La Terrasse Café on the left favours the latter. Probably an unfair comparison given that the sun was shining on La Terrasse at the time of the photo, and the grass lawn adjacent to La Terrasse is a natural playground for children, so families would chose the latter.

One of course is the product of a sophisticated, ordered, Asian intellect, and the other emblematic of le joie de vivre or la dolce vita as espoused by the Mediterranean lifestyle.
Behind the r.c. bench seat along the pedestrian entrance is perhaps the most iconic emblem of Chateau La Coste, Crouching Spider by Louise Bourgeois. The way it hovers messianically above the water, gives it a special and unique setting. The space and reflections do it justice. Born in 1911, Louise was best known for these large-scale sculptures and installations, but was also a prolific painter and printmaker. La Coste was indeed fortunate to obtain this exceptional piece of 2003 considering she died in 2010 at the age of 98.

Tadao Ando’s greatest achievement here is to conceal the car park under the pool. Absence of the ubiquitous, surface car-park creates a serene realm of peace and tranquillity.

The reflective surface of the barrel vault in the background on the left of the photo, is the Chais De Vinification or wine-making facility as designed by French architect, Jean-Nouvel.
Behind the Art Centre, in the second pool, the sculpture by Hiroshi Sugimoto is placed, titled “Mathematical Model 012 Surface of Revolution with Constant Negative Curvature”.
On the left is the mobile, Small Crinkly, by the late American sculptor, Alexander Calder. I couldn’t help thinking how location and placement by the curator are so important. I say this because Small Crinkly looked decidedly sad, abandoned at its temporary home on an anonymous lawn.
The photo on the right is of Small Crinkly in 2014 at its original home, floating on the third pool behind the Ando Café. Calder’s mobiles remind me of mobiles by his contemporary, the Catalan sculptor, Joan Miro.
Out onto the fields, and the first piece encountered is a recent addition by Ando’s fellow boxer, Irish painter, Seán Scully

This piece is named Boxes Full of Air, which is a suitably contemplative title for a mysterious and curious presentation.

I liked it, but then I must confess I am a fan of everything that Scully does and agree that his reputation and value are justified.
Out onto the fields, and the first piece encountered is a recent addition by Ando’s fellow boxer, Irish painter, Seán Scully

This piece is named Boxes Full of Air, which is a suitably contemplative title for a mysterious and curious presentation.

I liked it, but then I must confess I am a fan of everything that Scully does and agree that his reputation and value are justified.
As one ascends the slopes amid fields of Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, next up is Canadian artist, Larry Neufeld. His piece is modestly titled, Donegal. The splendid isolation and unadorned simplicity of these pieces is indeed reminiscent of the deserts of Donegal, The Forgotten County, in the wild and barren North-West of Ireland.
. . . and then on the open park is my favourite piece of all, Wall of Light Cubed, another Seán Scully masterpiece. This photo is from 2013 when the piece was relatively new. Unfortunately pink sandstone is prone to weathering, as it is so porous. We have used Pink sandstone from Robinsons of Annalong Co. Down, in Derry and other places in Northern Ireland, and it does stain. Unfortunately, the gable of this has blackened !
Wall of Light Cubed is followed by a pair called Origami Benches, also by Tadao Ando. I love the literal suggestion of the title, as it reflects the simplicity of the concept, where the strength of the structure is visible. When I see these, I am always tempted to imagine them as bus stops in Dublin, where you could sit on the dry side and move into covered section subject to our unpredictable, Irish weather. Their sheer clarity would be a welcome sight in a city where visual noise abounds and includes ugly advertising and signage.
After the Origami pair is a triptych of pieces called Psicopompos by Tunga. The brevity of the title and the author’s name are succinct, as are they. These have weight and motion, balance and structure. They are delightful and tactile as seen by the children’s curiosity in the first image. Children’s unconscious reactions are good barometers of engagement. One also plays with light and the action of a prism of glass creating split light can be seen in the middle image where the rainbow plays on the column. The attraction of weight and balance and movement as can be seen in the third image. Psychopomps are spirits or deities who guide the souls of the dead to the afterlife.
Truism Benches is a modest piece by Jenny Holzer. Words permanently carved into stone take on a gravitas and these are no exception. “ Many things were fixed even before your birth. Reveal as little as possible. Being happy is what counts the most. “ ‘nuff said.
Auditorium by architect, Oscar Niemeyer, is a sublime and graceful piece of modernism.
Another personal favourite is Oak Room by Andy Goldsworthy O.B.E., an English sculptor, photographer and environmentalist. Goldsworthy is a contemporary of mine, born in 1956. His three disciplines are on display in this exquisite piece. His work is site specific, and he makes land art situated in natural and urban settings. I am not alone, as it is immediately obvious that this is a favourite with new visitors, who are engaged and greatly entertained by it.
Below, is a photo of the roof from inside.
Just beyond Oak Room are four pieces :
Brick Labyrinth by Per Kirkeby
Schism by Conrad Shawcross
Just beyond Oak Room are four pieces :
Brick Labyrinth by Per Kirkeby
Schism by Conrad Shawcross
Silver Room by Tia-Thuy Nguyen
and Faux Pas by Franz West
Silver Room by Tia-Thuy Nguyen
and Faux Pas by Franz West
All of these are very suitable to the La Coste park and quintessentially interactive. Accordingly, they are very attractive to children and adults who never grew up, like myself.

The next level up is accessed by Ai Weiwei’s Ruyi Path, an angular, upward-sloping pathway. Regrettably, I do not possess a photo of same. But in a cul-de-sac on this upper path is Dead End by Sophie Calle, French artist. The grave slab is inscribed with the words “ Here lies the ramblers’ secrets. “
. . . and then, surprisingly, a sculpture by Bob Dylan no less, called “ Rail car “, which oddly enough recalls a wandering soul crossing America and suitable to a pained ballad.
Inevitably, I settled on a recent masterpiece by Richard Rogers, Architect, from 2021. A cantilevered room called Galerie, which was sadly installed in the year of his passing ! He of the Centre Pompidou, 1971 (with Renzo Piano) and the Lloyd’s Building in London, 1984, Madrid Airport, 2004, and the British Museum, 2014. The architect’s eye is drawn to the detail.
North of the final piece by the late Richard Rogers is Komorebi by Kengo Kuma. This is an impressive installation exploding out of the landscape. Unfortunately this photo includes three temporary props which rather ruin the effect, but you get the idea. A successful piece of work suitably located in a woodland clearing.
Climbing up Northwards again to the highest point of the landscape are two pieces appropriately placed at the apex. La Grande Croix Rouge by Jean-Michel Othoniel outside of La Chapelle by Tadao Ando. The grand cross, composed of red glass spheres, is in the courtyard before an exquisitely peaceful place of worship, La Chapelle by Tadao Ando.
and eventually walking back down the terrain, on the return to the Chateau village complex, one comes upon another musician! This time it is Michael Stipe, lead singer and scion of R.E.M. I confess that I am not a fan of R.E.M., but pleasantly surprised that the man has other creative pursuits. On this occasion I approve and the installation is a success. Foxes by Michael fits perfectly into the wooded setting.
And just beyond that, projecting out into the air above a steep slope is Cat Inside a Barrel by Tracy Emin. Tracy is the lovable member of the Young British Artists group with the crooked mouth, cheeky expression and the Unmade Bed.
South of Foxes are three worthwhile installations. First is Multiplied Resistance Screened by Liam Gillick, another of the Young British Artists. This is a playful construction because as you slide the various screens, multiple rainbow patterns are formed unless you are a former convict in which case the sound of the sliding steel slamming would be an uncomfortable memory.
The Marriage of New York and Athens by Frank Gehry and Tony Berlant is a fun, post-modern witticism.
Aix by Richard Serra features three mild steel plates cutting into the terrain representing man’s superhuman intervention
The Marriage of New York and Athens by Frank Gehry and Tony Berlant is a fun, post-modern witticism.
Aix by Richard Serra features three mild steel plates cutting into the terrain representing man’s superhuman intervention
Pavilion ‘Four Cubes to contemplate our Environment’ is the final Tadao Ando piece. Completed in 2011, it was a prescient consideration including a box of air, a box of CO2 and a box of crushed, waste tin-cans. These emblems of our abuse of our planet are contained inside a minimalist enclosure in turn contained within another Ando dark box. Dark, meaningful and thought-provoking.
Finally reaching terra firma again and at the top of a watercourse valley is Meditation Bell by Paul Matisse. I have shown a preference for interactive pieces and this Buddhist gong-like construction is fun to strike. Having even greater preference for interactive pieces which involve music, I was reminded of this piece on the right, in an art gallery in Todi, Umbria, where, when you strike the tuning fork the sound travels upwards along decreasing steel steps rising in pitch.
Finally reaching terra firma again and at the top of a watercourse valley is Meditation Bell by Paul Matisse. I have shown a preference for interactive pieces and this Buddhist gong-like construction is fun to strike. Having even greater preference for interactive pieces which involve music, I was reminded of this piece on the right, in an art gallery in Todi, Umbria, where, when you strike the tuning fork the sound travels upwards along decreasing steel steps rising in pitch.
back on the flat, and the final furlong returning towards the Chateau village, is Circle of Riverstones by Richard Long. This appears to me to be a rather disappointing addition and perhaps, because, to the Irish eye it is a common sight in the West of Ireland.
It might even have more purpose and effect in the wilder Irish landscape, along the lines of Tir Saile, the North Mayo Sculptural Trail, featuring work by the American architect and artist, Travis Price ( see example below ).
Now heading South towards H.Q. and on our left hand side is one of my favourites, Drop, by American artist and inventor, Tom Shannon. Tom has familial connections to Provence and the artists thereof, as he is married to Catherine Matisse Monier, great granddaughter of Henri Matisse and granddaughter of Marcel Duchamp. I love this piece for its cleverness and for the previous stated reason of interaction. You can push it and it appears to float because the single column support leg is off-centre. Unfortunately, it appears to be also very popular with all other visitors, and for this reason the grass is worn around it. Why is this important ? It was important because originally that single column support leg used to be clad with four mirrors which enabled reflections of the surrounding grass and thus made the column invisible, thereby creating the floating illusion.
and so to Numbers 36 and 37 ; getting tired yet ? I am !
On the left below is Intifada by Siobhán Hapaska; a triptych of three dead olive trees strung up in cubic frames. A rather disturbing scene which recalls Strange Fruit made famous by Billie Holiday.
On the right below is Mater Earth by Prune Nourry, which is a giant naked female, half buried in the terrain. A popular installation because you can enter through the vagina and explore the uterus. A little bit too literal for me.
On the left below is Intifada by Siobhán Hapaska; a triptych of three dead olive trees strung up in cubic frames. A rather disturbing scene which recalls Strange Fruit made famous by Billie Holiday.
On the right below is Mater Earth by Prune Nourry, which is a giant naked female, half buried in the terrain. A popular installation because you can enter through the vagina and explore the uterus. A little bit too literal for me.
And so to the penultimate piece, which does in fact represent the pinnacle or final Act before the encore. This is Pavilion de Musique by Frank Gehry, Canadian – American architect, who famously caused the perennial pendulum to swing back from Classical to Romantic. Frank is 95 and still practising. Perhaps the only architect who ever appeared in The Simpsons when furiously sketching on numerous pieces of paper was repeatedly rejecting them and tossing the crumpled rejects into a waste-paper bin. On looking down at the chaotic results, allegedly the idea for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was born. This piece was originally part of a collection of pavilions at The Serpentine in Hyde Park. It is of course best witnessed in use for a performance. Below is a photo from Bloom’s Day 2013, with actor Stephen Rea, composer Julian Douglas and composer and cellist Neil Martin.
And so to the penultimate piece, which does in fact represent the pinnacle or final Act before the encore. This is Pavilion de Musique by Frank Gehry, Canadian – American architect, who famously caused the perennial pendulum to swing back from Classical to Romantic. Frank is 95 and still practising. Perhaps the only architect who ever appeared in The Simpsons when furiously sketching on numerous pieces of paper was repeatedly rejecting them and tossing the crumpled rejects into a waste-paper bin. On looking down at the chaotic results, allegedly the idea for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was born. This piece was originally part of a collection of pavilions at The Serpentine in Hyde Park. It is of course best witnessed in use for a performance. Below is a photo from Bloom’s Day 2013, with actor Stephen Rea, composer Julian Douglas and composer and cellist Neil Martin.
On the left is Wishing Trees by Yoko Ono. An underwhelming installation given that Hawthorns in Ireland are known as Fairy Trees, as they represent a meeting between the mortals of the material world and fairies in the other world. However, I would forgive Yoko anything after I visited a retrospective of hers in London 2012, and realised that many of the ideas of peace and love woven into the opus that is Imagine, were hers before she met John Lennon. Boy could the world use some peace and love in 2024. Come back John !

Second left is Calix Meus Inebrians by Dublin artist Guggi, which translates as “my cup makes me drunk”, an unfortunate echo of an Irish reputation at a time when Ireland has successfully reinvented itself as a global player in the arts.

Below is an incredible new addition by renowned Italian architect, Renzo Piano, called Pavilion, 2017. Fitting that he should predate and then join his Pompidou partner, Richard Rogers, 2021, at La Coste. I am tempted to say that I think I love this so much because it reminds me of Calatrava. Sorry Renzo.
The Wishing Trees by Yoko Ono. An underwhelming installation given that Hawthorns in Ireland are known as Fairy Trees, as they represent a meeting between the mortals of the material world and fairies in the other world. However, I would forgive Yoko anything after I visited a retrospective of hers in London 2012, and realised that many of the ideas of peace and love woven into the opus that is Imagine, were hers before she met John Lennon. Boy could the world use some peace and love in 2024. Come back John !
Second left is Calix Meus Inebrians by Dublin artist Guggi, which translates as “my cup makes me drunk”, an unfortunate echo of an Irish reputation at a time when Ireland has successfully reinvented itself as a global player in the arts.

Below is an incredible new addition by renowned Italian architect, Renzo Piano, called Pavilion, 2017. Fitting that he should predate and then join his Pompidou partner, Richard Rogers, 2021, at La Coste. I am tempted to say that I think I love this so much because it reminds me of Calatrava. Sorry Renzo.
And finally to the future : Above left is a photo of a model of a hillside on the La Coste estate, and a proposed design by James Turrell, artist and member of the Light and Space Movement, in association with London-based Tangram Architects. Below shows the model split apart, revealing the raison d’etre, to wit, a rising tunnel with a long staircase which eventually opens onto the higher ground. The journey upwards towards light being synonymous with Turrell’s concepts of light and space. Above right is a photo of the entrance to the piece under construction.
I am reluctant to end on a sour note, However, I regret that there is a current inclusion of ten sculptures by English artist, Damien Hirst.

I regret that I am not a fan. Whereas La Coste is all about art in place, these pieces, on their podia, ought to be displayed in an urban gallery,

I find them lightweight and trite. I know I am not the first to question the validity of Damien’s work, and I know that he enjoys some tongue in cheek himself.

Photo on the right is of Hirst’s unicorn at the boutique hotel on site, Villas La Coste.

Reluctant to end on a sour note, I won’t, because it would be remiss of me not to mention the other merits of La Coste, food and wine and accommodation. Chateau La Coste wine is sublime and best enjoyed in any of the amazing restaurants on site. Below is a photo the Italian iteration, Vanina.

Cheers.
I am reluctant to end on a sour note, However, I regret that there is a current inclusion of ten sculptures by English artist, Damien Hirst.

I regret that I am not a fan. Whereas La Coste is all about art in place, these pieces, on their podia, ought to be displayed in an urban gallery,

I find them lightweight and trite. I know I am not the first to question the validity of Damien’s work, and I know that he enjoys some tongue in cheek himself.

Photo on the right is of Hirst’s unicorn at the boutique hotel on site, Villas La Coste.

Reluctant to end on a sour note, I won’t, because it would be remiss of me not to mention the other merits of La Coste, food and wine and accommodation. Chateau La Coste wine is sublime and best enjoyed in any of the amazing restaurants on site. Below is a photo the Italian iteration, Vanina.

Cheers.