Luma Arles begins in Provence focusing on Frank Gehry’s polarizing centerpiece
The 27-acre interdisciplinary arts and cultural campus Luma Arles debuted this weekend at the Parc des Ateliers in Arles, a city in southern France known for its Roman ruins and warm southern light that is alluring to artists. Ahead of the highly anticipated launch, new images of the complex’s rock-resistance, a twisting Frank Gehry-designed tower partly covered by 11,000 shimmering stainless steel panels, have begun to emerge.
Although photos of the nearly completed Gehry Geometric Tower first circulated in the spring of 2020, reaction to the building was relatively muted at the time. Now, upon its opening, the response to the Loma Arles Tower — or simply, the Tower — from online commenters has been overwhelmingly complimentary, often confusing, but never ambivalent. It has included bombing on social media Stinging comparisons, Frowning emojisAnd Deception with the help of Photoshop.
Standing 180 feet tall, it is the jagged metal upper half of the tower that has generated the most negative buzz online. However, there’s more to the 12-story building than that: The tower itself sits atop a 177-foot-diameter, metal-framed, glass-encased cylinder that nods to the nearby Arles Coliseum. The two-tiered amphitheater, influenced by Rome’s Colosseum and completed in 90 AD, is among the top UNESCO World Heritage-listed attractions in the ancient city.
While the lower half of the structure nods to a famous Roman remains, the highly visible upper half pays homage to the natural beauty of the area, namely the rugged limestone peaks of Les Alpilles, a mountain range rising from the Rhone Valley. Gehry has also cited Vincent van Gogh Starry night As inspiration for the tower’s design. Immediately after a particular incident involving a razor and a mutilated appendage, the Dutch Post-Impressionist committed himself to a mental asylum at the Abbey of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a town just northeast of Arles. Starry nightwhich depicts the view from his cloister bedroom and prominently features Les Alpilles, was one of hundreds of paintings that Van Gogh produced during his stay in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence from 1889 to 1890.
As Gehry explained in his mission statement for the tower:
“Les Alpilles has played an important role in the cultural memory of the region and abroad. It features prominently in Van Gogh’s paintings from his time in Arles where he depicted the mountains in visible, fragmented strokes that emphasize the dynamism and texture of the terrain. The way in which Van Gogh painted Les Alpilles influenced Development of the building’s exterior cladding. The tower’s design seeks to capture the movement of discrete elements across the surface.
This method of dividing the surface into visual units became an important theme in the surface development of the building as it reinforced the idea of the “painted building”. The appearance of the building changes as one moves around it, with each panel reflecting light differently. Throughout the day, the building will take on colors and shapes from the surrounding environment and sky, adding the impression of movement through the facades.
Spanning 170,400 square feet, the tower houses galleries, seminar rooms, studios, an auditorium, a library, a café, and archival and research space for Swiss art collector and entrepreneur Maja Hofmann, and the Zurich-based contemporary art non-profit, the Luma Foundation. At the top of the historic new building, a viewing balcony offers sweeping views of the Parc des Ateliers and beyond.
Visitors to the tower will find a collection of new artworks, including large-scale and site-specific works: Danny By Philippe Parreno, Olafur Eliasson take your time, New iteration by Carsten Höller isometric slices, Christian Markle the hour, A huge ceramic wall mural by Etel Adnan, Laguna Gloria By Liam Gillick, and more. It will also be opened in the tower’s showrooms non-permanent supply, An exhibition of works from the LUMA/Maja Hoffmann Foundation collection, including Rirkrit Tiravanija, Arthur Java, Urs Fischer, Paul McCarthy, Precious Okyomon, and others. additional gallery, Three Generations: Works from the Collection of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundationshowcases works by a host of avant-garde greats including Bruce Nauman, Cy Twombly, and Rosemary Trockle.
An ambitious $175 million redevelopment project completed in phases ending with Gehry’s central tower, Luma Arles breathes new life into a former rail yard inhabited by seven historic industrial buildings. Four of the existing buildings have been converted into exhibition and performance spaces by a renovation team headed by Selldorf Architects. Belgian landscape architect Bas Smits oversaw the design of the gardens and surrounding public gardens, which officially opened to the public last weekend alongside the Loma Arles Tower. Before Hoffmann acquired Parc des Ateliers from the city in 2013 and officially launched Luma Arles that same year, the Railyard had been abandoned since the mid-1980s.
The other main buildings and spaces that make up the Luma Arles campus in the Parc des Ateliers are: La Mécanique Générale, an exhibition space with workshops for Atelier Luma that opened in 2016; La Grande Hall, an exhibition space renovated in 2007; Les Forges, an exhibition space opened in 2014; La Formation, an artist-residence building that opened in 2018; Le Réfectoire restaurant, opened in 2020, and Hôtel du Parc, a boutique hotel opened this year in the old Le Médico-Social building. All of them were renovated by Selldorf Architects except for La Grande Hall, the predecessor of Luma Arles under the initiative of the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur region.
“In every space in the complex we seek to create a balance that allows 19th-century industrial vocabulary to simply coexist with contemporary purposes, while at the same time creating proportioned spaces with controlled natural light and clear circulation,” said Annabelle Selldorf, founding director. From New York-based Selldorf Architects.
Major exhibitions opening this weekend on the larger Loma Arles campus include the Pierre Huyghe Gallery After UUmwelt In the La Grande Hall introduction, A group show showcasing the work of Sofía Almaria, Kapwani Kiwanga, B-Staff, and Jakob Kudsk Stensen at La Mécanique Générale. The Smets-designed landscape also serves as the backdrop for a few of the major outdoor installations now on display including a large-scale glow-in-the-dark skate park designed by Koo Jeong A; The mesentery is wrinkledIt is a huge statue by Franz West and Carsten Höller Corridor with seven sliding doors.
Visiting Luma Arles, including the tower and other exhibition spaces, is free but requires advance reservation. Parc des Ateliers is open from 7:00 am to 8:30 pm and is also free but does not require a ticket.