Culture : Sète a city of art
"Tissier calls the CRAC centre; an 'art space' rather than a museum, because there is no permanent collection. Rotating exhibitions highlight artists from around the region and around the world".
Georges Brassens, a singer-songwriter born and raised in Sète, wrote that the town was “surrounded by sun and water everywhere.” In the evening, when the sun sets and the multicoloured city lights are reﬂected in the Etang de Thau or the Mediterranean, the sun and water create a giant palette. A ﬁtting image for a city that has become an artistic centre for the region.
There are four museums in Sète, all accessible by a pleasant walk along the quays of the Etang or the canal that runs through the city.
The Musée Paul Valéry is an art gallery dedicated to a native son of the city, an artist and poet. The Espace Georges Brassens, located in a beautiful niche overlooking the Mediterranean, offers a look at the life and work of the musician, who is buried a short walk away.
The Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain (CRAC) and the Musée International des Arts Modestes (MIAM) complete the city’s artistic landscape.
Sète is a port city that has been open to the world throughout its existence; trains link it to Paris and Barcelona and direct ferry connections link to Tangier and Nodor in Morocco. Couscous and merguez (spicy sausage) coexist with fruits de mer and the regional specialty, the tielle (ﬁsh stew baked in a pie) among the dozens of restaurants that line the quays. Noëlle Tissier, curator of the CRAC, believes this openness attracts artists from the Languedoc and around the world.
The CRAC’s bunker-like grey exterior (its building was once a ﬁsh- processing plant) hides an interior alive with movement.
Enthusiastic young guides lead the visitor through the exhibits, which can include visual art, video, sound and interactive installations.
On January 27th the centre will welcome two new shows, Les établis (The Established Ones) and Dialogue.
The Established Ones are not established, that is. At least not yet. The 12 artists in this exhibition have been working on their own for a year after receiving their diplomas from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Montpellier. "They’re between the two thresholds; after school and before any beginnings of recognition, between the new graduates’ exhibition and the emerging artists’ exhibition, in that period where they often need to count on their determination alone," writes show curator Judicael Lavrador in the show’s introduction. "Their working conditions determine the form and the sense that their projects take."
Dialogue promises to 'cross the artistic universes' of two artists, painter Martine Aballéa and visual artist-videographer Pierrick Sorin.
A brief walk along the docks to the MIAM, and the visitor is in for a blast of Canadian winter. The exhibition My Winnipeg, on through April 22nd, shows the largest city of the Canadian prairies through the eyes of nearly 70 artists who have lived and worked there. "In this exhibition we ﬁnd everything about Winnipeg, its history, climate and culture," explains Sylvie Cote, the museum’s logistics director. "In every work we ﬁnd the city." Winnipeg is a metropolis in the middle of nowhere, nicknamed Winterpeg for its blizzards that are ﬁerce even by Canadian standards. Despite the cold, the city has incubated a vibrant art scene. "The project of the museum, in a way, is to present art scenes that are little-known," says Cote. "This exhibition was put together on the initiative of Hervé di Rosa, who is a native of Sète and one of our founders. He went to Winnipeg in 2003 to visit the Royal Art Lodge (collective whose works are displayed in the exhibition) and was impressed by their dynamism."
The My Winnipeg exhibition is extremely varied. Photo montages, such as Noam Gonick’s Stryker, and paintings, such as Wanda Koop’s Native Fires, celebrate the beauty of the landscape while recalling the desolation of winter and the tough times faced by many of the city’s Aboriginal inhabitants. Video clips pay homage to the creativity inspired by community television. Gonick’s installation Winter Kept Us Warm melts the snow and shows off Winnipeg’s erotic potential. The city is presented in all its facets. "I think every (viewer) will ﬁnd something that speaks to them, not just one piece in particular," Cote says.
The top floor of the MIAM houses the permanent collection, a small child’s dream of ﬂoor-to-ceiling dioramas constructed with cereal-box prizes, Barbie dolls, playing cards, mannequins and other ephemera. Bernard Belluc, a MIAM cofounder and creator of many of the dioramas, offers guided tours of the museum the ﬁrst Saturday of every month at 3 pm.
Sète is colourful in every way, from Belluc’s bright plastic universe to the blue of the Mediterranean. It is not to be missed.
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The sun is out, bank holidays are in, we all want to go and explore, although this can sometimes be ruined by the dreaded mistral (p14). But let’s not spoil things. How about a visit to St Jean du Fos (p20) or if you’re feeling more urban, a nice shopping day in Avignon with a healthy tea break (p23) or a visit to an art gallery in Nîmes? (p17) If you’re feeling extra energetic like me, how about entering the Pont du Gard race on 30 June to raise money for a fantastic local charity? Also in this issue, the remarkable story of a simulated space mission by Claire (p18) and a very funny article by Bernice on her pathological inability (or so she says) to learn languages (p22).