Van Gogh Foundation Opens in 15th Century Mansion

Luc and Maja Hoffmann are on a mission to turn Arles into a world-class art center.

Vincent van Gogh Self-portrait with pipe and straw hat , 1887 41,9 × 30,1 cm Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)



The Van Gogh Foundation opened to the public yesterday in a grand 15th century mansion, right in the center of Arles, Southern France.

The city has long been on the radar of Van Gogh lovers. In the 15 months the Dutch painter spent in this small town between 1888 and 1889, he managed to produce a staggering 200 paintings. The colors of Provence enthralled Van Gogh, triggering a productive frenzy described by historian Ronald Pickvance as the “zenith” of his artistic activity.

But none of these 200 pictures stayed in Arles and the city doesn’t own a single work by the artist. The opening of the Van Gogh Foundation—which boasts 3,500 square feet (1,000 square meters) of exhibition space crafted by FLUOR agency’s Guillaume Avenard and Hervé Schneider—makes Arles not only a Van Gogh destination, but a world center for the study of his work and its impact on the generations of artists that followed through accompanying exhibitions of contemporary art.

The foundation was inaugurated by a two-pronged exhibition under the umbrella title Van Gogh Live. “Van Gogh’s value as an artist, what he has brought to the world, the core of his artworks, is this feeling of being alive,” artistic director Bice Curiger explains to artnet News.

The Swiss art historian and former curator at the Kunsthaus Zurich was appointed in 2012, hot on the heels of her Venice Biennale exhibition, ILLUMInations, which raised a few eyebrows for its inclusion of two paintings by Tintoretto.

Her inaugural contemporary exhibition for the foundation features the work of nine artists including Elizabeth Peyton, Gary Hume (who was asked to select the colors of the walls), Camille Henrot, Bethan Huws, Bertrand Lavier, and Raphael Hefti. Lavier and Hefti also created permanent pieces for the foundation.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Indoor Van Gogh Altar, 2014 Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography

Thomas Hirschhorn, Indoor Van Gogh Altar, 2014
Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography


The very first artist Curiger invited was Thomas Hirschhorn, who created what she calls a “universe” dedicated to Van Gogh and his immense popularity, seen through the perspective of a young, female Japanese fan. “I knew he would be able, with all his respect and no cynicism, to address the problem of the reception of the work, and still be positive, still be on the side of the artist,” said Curiger.

Entitled Colors of the North, Colors of the South, a scholarly exhibition curated by Van Gogh expert Sjaar van Heugten looks at the artist’s changing palette from his early period in the Netherlands to his relocating in Arles, as well as the influence of color theories penned by the likes of Eugène Delacroix.

The opening of the foundation marks a key step towards the reinvention of Arles as a center for culture in Provence, transforming a city until now mainly known for the international photography festival, Les Rencontres d’Arles, it hosts every summer.

This reinvention is spearheaded by father-daughter mega-patrons Luc and Maja Hoffmann.The €11 million ($15.14 million) refurbishment works were funded solely by Luc Hoffmann, the president of the foundation’s board of directors.

Van Gogh Inside edit

For years, the foundation seemed an inaccessible dream. Yolande Clergue founded the “Association for the Creation of the Foundation Vincent Van Gogh in Arles” back in 1983. It organized high-profile exhibitions of and around the artist’s work for two decades, and gathered a collection of works donated by artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Christo, and the French Nouveaux Realistes Arman and César.

The association picked up momentum when Luc Hoffmann joined in 1996. He was instrumental in setting it up as a state-recognized foundation in 2010. It is now entirely privately funded. The mansion belongs to the city of Arles and has been put at the foundation’s disposal for 40 years in exchange for their funding of its renovation.

President of the foundation’s artistic committee Maja Hoffmann is almost a local in Arles. And she has other big plans for the city where she spent part of her childhood. Last week saw the start of the building work for the Parc des Ateliers, a vast ensemble including studios and exhibition spaces hosted in the former railway workshops, as well as a new building by Frank Gehry. Slated for a 2018 opening, the complex will spread over 6 hectares (14.8 acres), and cost an estimated €100 million. Construction works are funded by Hoffman via her Luma Foundation. President Holland has called the gift “a godsend.”


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