With ‘Le Cube,’ a $98 Million Museum Project Brings Contemporary Art to Nantes

It took six years of renovation that cost $98 million, but the Musée d’art de Nantes, one of the biggest and most prestigious art collections in western France, is finally ready to reopen.

As of today, the public can once again visit the 19th century palace, complete with its newly renovated façade and a significant extension designed by British architectural firm Stanton Williams.

The monumental project has increased the museum’s exhibition space by 30 percent, allowing for an impressive display of 900 works from its rich collection of 13th-21st century artworks.

Gustave Courbet, Les Cribleuses de Blé, (1854). Photo: ©Gérard Blot/Agence photographique de la RMN, courtesy Musée d’arts de Nantes.

The reopening will see the return of 150 newly restored works including a major restoration of Gustav Courbet’s famous 1861 Les Cribleuses de Blé (The Grain Sifters). The museum also underwent renovations to bring it up to contemporary conservation standards and to render the building more accessible. The ambitious renewal also includes a 160-seat auditorium, new pedagogical spaces, a revamped library and archive hall, as well as a restaurant and gift shop.

But the biggest change to the site has got to be the appearance of a new building, dubbed, coolly, “le Cube.” The 2000-square-meter space that will be dedicated to contemporary art is spread over four levels and is linked to the main palace by an aerial walkway.

Determined to ensure Nantes remains a destination for art enthusiasts, the museum’s new director Sophie Lévy has kept busy during the hiatus, gaining 185 new acquisitions for the institution.

She tells artnet News about her vision for the museum’s presentation of a continuous history of art, saying, “Beyond the necessary heritage recovery, the museum hopes to become a place for a dialogue between the art of today and the art of yesterday, that solidifies the links between home and abroad, and influences other great museums.”

“It is also an ideal space to rethink the purpose of cultural action in the realm of visual arts,” she added.

Lévy has shaken up the museum program for the relaunch, too. There are now three major seasons, organised around two big exhibitions in spring and autumn and a contemporary installation in the patio space during the summer.

Susanna Fritscher ©Musée d’arts de Nantes.

The inaugural commission for the Patio is Susanna Fritscher’s Nothing But Air, Light And Time (on view from June 23 – October 8, 2017). Fritscher is known for her minimalist interventions, which forge a dialogue with the spaces they occupy. For this project, Fritscher experiments with a new material: transparent silicone that vibrates and attracts light, making somewhat of a sculpture of sound for visitors to enjoy from all sides.

Elsewhere in the museum, the Salle Transversale focuses on the representation of women throughout the centuries, and the Salle Jean-Jacques Lebel brings together work that is representative of the interests and commitments of the French collector, acquired through the Jean-Jacques Lebel Endowment.

Dominique Blais’s Untitled is the first ever intervention to grace the exterior of the museum, where Blais has installed a gyroscope-like device, the rotational speed of which depends on the intensity of the light outside.

The Oratory Chapel will host a specially commissioned video triptych by Bill Viola and a sculpture by Anne and Patrick Poirier can be found outdoors in the Parc de Procé.

Photo: © Musée d’arts de Nantes – Hufton+Crow

Alongside all this, the museum has improved its online presence in a bid to attract younger visitors. With the increased social media activity, the introduction of a new app, website, and a giant interactive tablet, Nantes has really brought this 19th century palace into the 21st century

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