Places for Sculpture: Paris and Languedoc-Roussillon

Nasher Sculpture Center
Jan 24, 2017 7:05PM

"Our group—consisting of 16 curators from 14 countries and five continents—visited contemporary art centers, regional museums and collections, and artists’ studios throughout the Paris banlieues and the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France."

In May 2016, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Focus Visual Arts Program, organized by the Institut Français with support from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. Held twice per year, the program brings together arts professionals from around the world to introduce them to French visual culture as a means of encouraging interaction and promoting exchange. The spring program emphasizes contemporary art and emerging artists living throughout France. It is traditionally scheduled around the Salon de Montrouge—an annual juried exhibition dedicated to the promotion of emerging artists living in France. Our group—consisting of 16 curators from 14 countries and five continents—visited contemporary art centers, regional museums and collections, and artists’ studios throughout the Paris banlieues and the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France. Below are highlights from the various places we visited that together constitute the diverse contemporary arts landscape of France.

Outside the Belfry Montrouge, the site of the 61st Salon de Montrouge in the eponymous suburb just south of Paris’s 14th arrondissement. 

Participants in the 2016 Visual Arts FOCUS trip, outside of La Panacée, from left: Severin Duenser, Curator, 21er Haus, Museum of Contemporary Art, Vienna; Lorna Brown, Curator, Belkin Art Gallery, Vancouver; Alexandra Servel, Project Leader for Visual Art/l’Institut Francais; Georgina Jackson, Director of Exhibitions & Publications, Mercer Union, Toronto, Kyla McDonald, former Artistic Director, Glasgow Sculpture Centre; Leigh Arnold, Assistant Curator, Nasher Sculpture Center; Elif Kamisli, independent curator, researcher and coordinator for the Istanbul Biennial; Zhenya Chaika, curator and director, Ural Industrial Biennial, Ekaterinburg, Russia; Sunil V., Founder of the Kochi-Muziris Bienniale, India; Gridthiya Gaweewong, artistic director, Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok; Felix Ruhöfer, artistic director and curator, Basis E.V., Frankfurt; Anna Czaban, Curator, Community Oriented Projects, Contemporary Art, Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, and Toshio Kondo, curator Art Front Gallery, Tokyo. Not pictured: Massimo Torrigiani, Chairman of the Curatorial board PAC, Pdiglione di Arte Contemporanea di Milano, director of the center for contemporary art, Bari; Alejandro Martin, curator, Museo La Tertulia, Cali; Benjamin Seroussi, Director, Casa do Povo and curator, la Vila Itororó, São Paolo; Taiye Idahor, Curator, Contemporary Art Center, Lagos. 

Fonds régionaux d’art contemporain (FRAC)

Established in 1982, the Fonds régionaux d’art contemporain (regional collections of contemporary art) helped to decentralize the cultural emphasis on, and influence of, Paris by taking art into every region of the country. Unlike museums or art centers, FRACs are not linked to a unique exhibition place—they are instead nomadic art collections that are used as tools to broadcast French culture. There are 23 FRACs throughout France and during the weeklong program, our group visited two: FRAC, Île-de-France at Le Château de Rentilly and FRAC, Languedoc-Roussillon in Montpellier.

FRAC, Île-de-France

FRAC, Île-de-France is a multisite institution that serves the region surrounding Paris through two venues: Le Plateau and Le Château. In the 19th arrondissement (district) of Paris, Le Plateau is an exhibition space that was launched in 2002. With a robust program—three to four temporary exhibitions per year, as well as an annual exhibition of recent acquisitions to the regional collection—Le Plateau was the primary FRAC venue for the Île-de-France region until the opening of Le Château on the grounds of the Parc de Rentilly in 2014. Le Château is a unique venue in that it doubles as a site-specific work of art by French artist Xavier Veilhan (born 1963). In collaboration with architects Bona-Lemercier, Veilhan completely transformed the building into a giant mirror that reflects the surrounding parklands. The two venues function as gallery spaces for installations of the region’s art collection, as well as temporary exhibitions organized by visiting curators. In 2009, Le Plateau established a two-year curatorial residency that provides invited curators with the opportunity to curate exhibitions at Île-de-France venues, as well as organize projects with the collection in exhibition spaces throughout the region.

FRAC, Languedoc-Roussillon

FRAC, Languedoc-Roussillon was established in Montpellier in 1998 and functions as both an art center and a museum for the Languedoc-Roussillon regional collection. Numbering 1,445 objects—including work by 2017 Nasher Prize Laureate Pierre Huyghe—the collection travels to different art centers, small museums, and university museums throughout the Languedoc-Roussillon region in so-called “diffusion” exhibitions that ensure the collection is consistently on view, with more than 40 exhibitions per year in the region. As part of the FRAC collection, all works are lent free of any fees, and the exhibitions are funded by the partnering institutions.

Le Château de Rentilly, FRAC, Île-de-France. Renovation of Le Château by artist Xavier Veilhan (French, born 1963) in collaboration with architects Bona-Lemercier and set designer Alexis Bertrand.


In addition to the 23 FRACs in all regions of France, there 49 contemporary art centers throughout the country—of those, 38 contemporary art centers are outside of Paris.

Palais de Tokyo / Site de création contemporaine (Site for Contemporary Creation)

The Palais de Tokyo was established in 2002 by Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérome Sans. Currently the largest center for contemporary art in Europe, it boasts more than 42,000 square feet of gallery space. The original building was constructed in 1937 for the International Exhibition of Arts and Technology and at the time was known as the Palais des Musées d’art moderne (Palace of the Museums of Art). As a kunsthalle (German term for a facility that mounts art exhibitions), the Palais de Tokyo has no permanent collection and typically invites artists to create site-specific installations or projects with the vast spaces in mind. Dedicated to emerging and established artists, the Palais de Tokyo programs thematic and monographic exhibitions and large-scale interventions. Its carte blanche exhibitions invite artists to take over the entirety of the space—begun by Philippe Parreno (French, born 1964) in 2013, the subsequent carte blanche exhibition featured the work of British-born performance artist Tino Sehgal (born 1976) alongside pieces by artists invited by Seghal: Daniel Buren, James Coleman, Félix González-Torres, Pierre Huyghe, Isabel Lewis, and Philippe Parreno (October 12, 2016 – December 18, 2016).

Henrique Oliveira, Baitogogo, 2016, Palais de Tokyo.  


Sara Favriau (French, born 1983), La redite en somme, ne s’amuse pas de sa repetition singulière, 2016. Solo exhibition, Palais de Tokyo as winner of the Prix Découverte des Amis du Palais de Tokyo in 2014. 

Centre d’art contemporain de la Ferme du Buisson (Contemporary Art Center of the Ferme du Buisson)

Established in 1991, la Ferme du Buisson supports emerging artists in France and focuses on performance, multidisciplinarity, and experimental exhibition formats. In the suburb of Noisiel, east of Paris in the buildings of a former 19th-century “model farm” – La Ferme du Buisson now comprises an art center, six performance spaces, a cinema, and a concert hall.

Kapwani Kiwanga (Canadian, born 1978), Ujamaa, installation view, Regional Contemporary Art Center at the Ferme du Buisson, Noisiel, 24 April – 9 October 2016. 

Villa Vassilieff / Bétonsalon – Centre d’art et de recherche (Center of Art and Research)

The youngest organization on our itinerary, the Villa Vassilieff, was established in February 2016. It is in the heart of Montparnasse in the 15th arrondissement of Paris on the site of the former studio of Russian artist Marie Vassilieff (1884-1957), which until 2013 housed the Musée du Montparnasse. Run by the research center Bétonsalon, Villa Vassilieff has a lively program of residencies, exhibitions, events, and workshops with a focus on bridging heritage and contemporary creation. At the time of our visit, the space’s inaugural exhibition Groupe Mobile was on view—featuring the photography of Marc Vaux (French, 1885-1971) and related objects—the exhibition retraced the social life of artworks through Vaux’s photography. 

Villa Vassilieff, Groupe Mobile installation view featuring photographs by Marc Vaux of sculptures by Alexander Calder behind Julio González sculpture fragments. 13 February – 2 July 2016. 

La Panacée, Montpellier

La Panacée was established in 2012 as a contemporary art center with an emphasis on digital arts. Its current director, Nicolas Bourriaud, has plans to incorporate La Panacée into the future Contemporary Art Center of Montpellier, along with the art school of Montpellier in the Hôtel de Montcalm (the future site of the art center, adjacent to the Saint-Roch train station). For Bourriaud, the new art center will act as a collaborative agent between the city and the outside world. Scheduled to open in 2019, the center will be the first Contemporary Art Center to open in France since the Palais de Tokyo in 2002.

Tony Cragg, Points of View, 2007, bronze, installed in the ceremonial entrance of Montpellier on Boulevard de l'aéroport. 

Centre régional d’art contemporain Languedoc-Roussillon (Regional Contemporary Art Center) – Sête

Established in 1997, the Regional Contemporary Art Center for Languedoc-Roussillon is dedicated to the production of artistic exhibitions. With no permanent collection, the program instead features a range of temporary exhibitions and site-specific installations. 

Philippe Durand (French, born 1963), La Vallée des merveilles 2, installation view, Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain, Sète, 11 March – 29 May 2016. 

Musee régional d’art contemporain de Sérignan (MRAC) (Regional Contemporary Art Museum)

At the heart of Languedoc-Roussillon Midi Pyrénées in the town of Sérignan, close to the Mediterranean Sea, the Regional Museum of Contemporary Art – Sérignan opened in 2006. To inaugurate its opening, the museum commissioned French artist Daniel Buren to install his site-specific work of multicolored window panels entitled Rotation throughout the museum windows. On the site of a former winery, the MRAC–Sérignan has undergone several expansions since its establishment; the most recent was completed in spring 2016 with a permanent installation by French artist Bruno Peinado (born 1970). As a contemporary art museum, the MRAC–Sérignan supports artists through exhibitions and acquisitions to their permanent collection, which includes more than 450 works dating from the 1960s to the present.

Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne–MAC VAL (Contemporary Art Museum of the Val-de-Marne)

The MAC-VAL stands out as the first museum entirely dedicated to the art scene in France from the 1950s to the present. In the Parisian suburb Vitry-Sur-Seine just south of the 12th arrondissement, the MAC-VAL was established in 2005 and includes a collection of 2,000 works by noted French artists such as Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager, and Pierre Huyghe. In addition to the permanent collection, the MAC-VAL also organizes three to four temporary exhibitions per year.

by Leigh Arnold, Ph.D., Assistant Curator, Nasher Sculpture Center

Pierre Ardouvin (French, born 1955), Tout est affaire de décor, installation view, MAC VAL, musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne, 16 April 4 September 2016.

Pierre Ardouvin (French, born 1955), Tout est affaire de décor, installation view, MAC VAL, musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne, 16 April 4 September 2016.

Nasher Sculpture Center