Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Postcard from...Château La Coste

Postcard from...CHATEAU LA COSTE

If, like me, you love art, architecture, beautiful landscapes, good food and wine, then look no further and head straight to Château La Coste, about 20 minutes north of Aix-en-Provence. There, amidst a beautiful property of 250 hectares, you will discover an impressive collection of art and architecture.

This spectacular project began in 2004 when domain owner, Irish Property developer, Paddy McKillen, invited important artists and architects to visit and stay on the estate. They were encouraged to walk around the extensive grounds, amongst vineyards, olive groves, hills, and clusters of pines, in order to select a place which would appeal to their creativity. Once they had picked their own special spot, the artist/architect was given total freedom to create a structure which would then be placed there permanently. This exciting project is still a work in progress with new installations being imagined and developed as the place continues to evolve.

And because art (not only eh...you and me too...) loves good company...Château La Coste also produces lovely wine and olive oil and has two very nice restaurants.

The enchantment begins as soon as you enter the domain, up the long driveway through vines and olive groves. The natural landscape is already breathtakingly beautiful.


'The Cellar', built by architect Jean Nouvel, offers a profound contrast to the original 1682 Bastide Villa and farm buildings just beyond. 

This cellar extends three floors underground, connected by tunnels, with every aspect of the grape and must-handling operations managed by gravity flow. Bio-dynamic farming is carried out in Château La Coste.

Then, proceeding along, you'll come to a large, contemporary construction of cement, steel and glass partly surrounded by  shallow, reflective pools of water. This is the 'Visitors' Center' which also houses one of the two restaurants. Tadao Ando is the architect who imagined this impressive facility. 

Tadao Ando - The Visitors' Center

No, you are not seeing things, spiders hallucinating...

Valentine at the Visitors' Center

 And yes... That WAS a spider sitting on the pebbles in the pool of water...but not just any spider...Louise Bourgeois' 'Crouching Spider 6695', made of Steel and Bronze. This sculpture is one of her last works and was installed in Chateau La Coste a few days before she passed away. Quite a moving tribute.

Louise Bourgeois - Crouching Spider 6695 - 2003

 And if you suffer from arachnophobia, fear not, just around the bend is another sculpture by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 'Infinity'... a striking piece in its (apparent) simplicity...(and...no hairy, spidery legs attached...)

Hiroshi Sugimoto - Infinity - 2010

 Again, in the perimeter of the building, but taking another turn...is a sculpture by Alexandre Calder, ' Small Crinkeley'... Calder, sometimes referred to as the 'inventor' of the 'mobile', passed away in 1976. 

Alexandre Calder - Small Crinkeley - 1976

So, now you have passed the Visitors' Center, (and paid your entrance fee...) you are ready to walk this fantastic 'art and architecture discovery trail' (takes about 2 hours depending on how fast you walk, on the heat, on what you did the night day before...etc...). 

If you're visiting in the summer (and any time really), take some water with you and then start walking...first you will encounter a group of three sculptures that are like portals...

This three-part sculpture is by Brazilian artist Tunga and is named 'Portal'.

Tunga - Portal - 2011 - The giant Glass Prism is from the Czech Republic


Detail of the Glass Prism

The golden stone is locally sourced from 'Rognes' - The large piece of Quartz is from the Peruvian Amazon

Smaller pieces of Peruvian Quartz in an Iron net

Kimberly under the Tunga net...

 You'll then come to a bridge (one of 2; one of Roman inspiration and the other of Japanese inspiration), 'Donagel', by American artist, Larry Neufeld.

Larry Neufeld - 'Donegal' - 2013 - Slate Stone Bridge

Here and there, along the way, you may rest your tired feet, contemplate the glorious landscape or simply catch your breath and pause  between a sensational sculpture and an amazing building. Tadao Ando (yes, him again...) has gotten you covered with his 'Origami Benches'.

Tadao Ando - Origami Bench - 2011

What appears to be a simple, old wall on the side of a hill, is actually the underground 'Oak Room' by British artist, Andy Goldsworthy. He came across this old wall as he was visiting the site and had the idea of creating this oak cavern. One enters through a small passageway in the wall, down a few steps and finds oneself in a room with no other light than the natural light through the entrance opening. He actually constructed a large grassed bank beneath the wall and lined the inside of this manmade cavern with a web of woven oak trees covering wall and ceiling. The result is quite spectacular.

Andy Goldsworthy - Oak Room - 2009

Three large sheets of mild steel, a heavy industrial material, are next. Incorporated into the hillside like boundaries, they are the works of American Mimimalist sculptor Richard Serra. These monumental sculptures go by the name of 'Aix'.

Richard Serra - Aix - 2008

Another work by Tadao Ando is 'Four Cubes', a series of four  transparent cubes witholding elements that are invitations to contemplate and reflect on our environment. He also built the pavilion housing the cubes so one can walk inside, amongst the cubes to take a closer look.

Kelly in the middle of  Tadao Ando's - 'Four Cubes' - 2008


There was the ruin of an old Chapel on the property, on top of a hill overlooking the vineyards. When Tadao Ando visited, he was so under its' charm that he felt he "wanted to put his arms around it"....And that is exactly what he did...His 'Chapel' has been restored and around it he has constructed a glass cube envelopping it. When the door of the Chapel is closed, everything inside is dark apart from the light that floods inside from a gap in the pavilion roof as well as through 3 small holes that illuminate a glass altar.

Tadao Ando - The Chapel

Artist Jean-Michel Othoniel designes his 'Croix' made from Murano Glass. It stands before the Glass-cased Chapel against the Provence landscape.

Jean-Michel Othoniel - Croix - 2007/2008

Admiring the sweeping view from the Chapel, across the vineyards down into the valley...

Music is an art of course and in the case of this next artistic creation; music and art meet through the talent of artist Michael Stipe, who not only is a recognised and talented sculptor, but also a famous musician and the lead singer of R.E.M. They are silent, 7 in number, placed in a group amongst the pines on a hillside and facing different directions and made of bronze. THEY are Michael Stipe's 'Foxes'.

Michael Stipe - Foxes - 2008

This next piece is an installation. A 'Multiplied Resistance Screened' by Liam Gillick. Moveable walls of multicolored metal which can be slid back and forth, letting the visitor meander in and around them inside a large, somewhat, cage-like structure. Not uniquely architecture or sculpture; perhaps it really is a little of both.

Liam Gillick - Multiplied Resistance Screened -2010

Is there anybody in there???

I had never before heard of a 'sound sculptor' but happily experienced what such an artist could do with 'Meditation Bell', a sound sculpture by artist Paul Matisse. A heavy aluminium tube rests horizontally across the tops of two supporting columns. A long rope hangs in the center of the structure. Pulling the rope will put 4 very heavy hammers into motion and the sound that will result from all this, is a deep vibration one can not only hear but feel. It is an intense and quite wonderful sensation.

Paul Matisse - Meditation Bell - 2012

Making your way down now, back towards the Visitors' Center again, more surprises await you...like...

A wonderful, very large bronze bowl sitting on top of a hill. The bowl or 'coupe' is by Guggi and its name alone is a symbol; 'Calix Mieus Inebrians'. The title of this art piece quotes Psalm 22 ; "my cup makes me drink" in reference to the winemaking at the Domain and its' antique history.

Guggi - Calix Mieus Inebrians - 2009
A few steps away you will see New York artist, Tom Shannon's 'Drop'; a kinetic sculpture made of shiny, stainless steel and inspired by a drop of dew (or perhaps wine...?)  You are invited to push the sculpture as Shannon has designed a sophisticated mechanism that allows the heavy form to rotate and rock on the thin, almost invisible, pedestal.

Tom Shannon - Drop - 2009

Then just about when you are pretty much exhausted, seriously starting to think about lunch, a glass of cool rosé and a well-deserved rest... there before you, stands the most extraordinary construction. Canadian architecte extraordinaire, Frank Gehry has designed the most extravagant music pavilion with perfect acoustics! This is known as the Gehry Music Pavilion and stands, majestically, in the middle of a field.

Frank Gehry - The Music Pavilion - 2008

Behind the Visitors' Center is a lovely little restaurant, a little Provençal outdoor café, with light food and, bien sûr, a selection of wines from the domain. Everything is organic and delicious and the setting is absolutely charming, contrasting in style to the other, contemporary and more sophisticated restaurant of Château La Coste.

A table....J'ai faim...

All organically grown on the estate

Isn't this lovely...?

And delicious...check out my tomato salad...

And the wine is chilling...(not all ours...!)

Château La Coste is a very special place and truly deserves a lengthy visit. It will continue to evolve and expand with new installations and projects by more artists/architects such as Ai Wei Wei, Oscar Niedemeyer, James Turrell, Amanda Levete,and Kengo Kuma. I have not included all the artists that are already present on site; I'm leaving some for you to discover on your own...

A 29 room hotel is also being built, designed by Tangram. Each room will have its own private garden and swimming pool so you can call this extraordinary place 'home' for a while...doesn't that sound tempting...? So many good reasons to come back to Château La Coste again and again...I know I will !

This final 'postcard' brings my little summer recap to an end. I guess by now you have a pretty good idea of 'Why I Love Provence'...

Next, something completely different...à très vite...

Credits:-www.chateau-la-coste.com, www.my-event.com, www.wine-pages.com, www.madame.lefigaro.fr, www.xn-visiter-martigues-cte-bleue-marseille-rdv.com, kirsten kiser, www.aagp-provence.com