Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Underground Art Scene

We left the region of Champagne yesterday and are gladly in Paris. Still, the journey was so fine and bubbly, that I must pay Champagne another tribute.

In other words - there's a place I must rave about: a castle with a pile of supermarket trollies in front of it.

The founder of the Maison de Pommery died in some obscure 19th century war, soon after beginning work on the winery's maze of cellars. His wife, Louise Pommery, was patron of the arts in the city of Reims and commissioned large scale works to be hung in the tunnels, some of which are cavernous, while others are cathedral-like in proportions. In 2002 the winery was bought from the Louis Vuitton conglomerate by a local champage mogul. He decided to fulfill Vauve Pommery's vision of an art palace and turn the fully functional production cellars into a contemporary art gallery.

Art welcomes you even when overground. The centerpiece in this photo of the winery's lobby was created by visiting Reims schoolchildren, once they emerged from the cellars.

Then begins the descent. The estate has 18 kilometers of underground tunnels. The first few are filled with art, with exhibitions that change yearly each June. The current one was curated by Fabrice Bousteau, the editor of Beaux Arts magazine. It features works from each member country of the EU and discusses the concept of European culture. First there's a sound installation. A line from a song by Gainsbourg plays as you descend the 160 stairs to the underground labyrinth.

Then there are tunnels over tunnels of contemporary European art to experience. Here's my absolute favorite: a work by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot which allows birds to play the electric guitar. Mandarin birds, seeds, amps and instruments were placed in a warmly lit tunnel for magical purposes. It works, they play beautifully.

Birds are not the only creatures in the cellars. The diagonal racks that allow champagne residue to sift into the necks of the bottles make perfect home for spiders as large as the palm of my hand.

You walk and walk, it's endless. Terike Haapoja's lightbulb throws shadows of nonexistant objects on the walls.

João Pedro Vale's sunken ship rests beneath an enormous wooden bas-relief comissioned by the Vauve Pommery.

I also liked works by Rada Boukova, Abigail Lazkoz, Katrina Neiburga, Adel Abidin, Su-Mei Tse, Anette-Mona Tchisa and Lucia Tkasova, but something has to be said for the art lying there in moldy bottles. The sharp flash of my camera gives it that extra conceptual element - making it look somewhat like a Beuys installation, though it most certainly won't taste like one.

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Interesting! Who would have thought that an old castle houses such an interesting collection of contemporary art.

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