Pippa Jane Wielgos visits the museum of photography in Mougins and interviews Oliver Lécine on the museum and its current policy.
A first class fine art post-modern photographic museum, with a legacy that incorporates the historicism of European modern art, and contemporary photography.
(Photos courtesy of Musée de la Photographie André Villers.)
If one had to recommend a top ten free world museum of photography, the Musée de la photographic André Villers situated in the Medieval hill-top village of Mougins, located 260 metres in the Alpes-Maritmes in Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur, would certainly be one of note.
With annual attendance figures of 25,000 visitors, and today being fifteen minutes drive from Cannes the museum provides not only a dramatic regional back-drop of the photography by a André Villers, and a rare fascinating photo-documentation of his personal friendship, Pablo Picasso, (who lived in Mougin from 1961 to his death on 8 April 1973), but a pivotal ‘watershed’ from which to peruse iconographic photographic portraiture of the key modern avant-garde, that include post-war European writers, artists and intellectuals, such as Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Salavador Dali, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Arman , Yves Klein, César Baldaccini, Paul Éluard, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Édith Piaf, all whom visited, lived or were associated with the area, during the formative years of pre and post-war European modernism.
Enshrined within the dialectic of the burgeoning of avant-garde, and leading iconographic personalities, its provenance is dedicated to the portraiture of major key European avant-garde artists, and personalities, such as Picasso, central to the development of post war European modernism.
Its critique being central to the myth and legacy, of today’s post-modernism of art and artists, represented in a collection of 180 photographs by Villers and an archive of 70 works by other photographic masters, including Robert Doisneau, David Douglas Duncan and Lucien Clergue.
Supported by a tri-annual display of changing contemporary photographic exhibitions, the free museum) majestically resides in a former seventeenth historic Medieval fortress, in the vehicle-banned village, at a heady altitude of 260 meters, with clear mountain air, 360-degree panoramic views, set amongst pines, olives and cyprus trees, with fresh mountain air and breathtaking view to the Cote d’Azur "baie de Cannes the Lerins islands, Grasse and the Alpes-Maritimes and luxuriant Valmasque Forest, which is today just 15 minutes from Cannes by car. It does not have to ‘hard-sell’ its’ heritage, or regional art historical importance on the world stage of art or vie for a footnote in a place in art history.
Its cultural and artistic commitment, which is aligned to the development of culture, education and maintenance of the infrastructure of the regional economy, can be seen in the village’s recent revamp of MACM, the Mougins Museum of Classical Art (Musée d’Art Classique à Mougins), opened last June 2011, by Christian Levett, son of an English bookmaker and British-born investment manager.
Although MACM charges 12 Euros entry fee (which Oliver Lécine, Curator, would not follow suit), the MACM, world-renowned for its impressive display of classical antiquity and prestigious world collection of armoury, has in its revitalisation of presentation and economy also showed how investment, done in the right way, can push the remit and the understanding of classical and modern by the incorporation and juxtaposition of modern British artists, as Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst and Anthony Gormley, whom (WHO) are displayed juxtaposed against great European moderns as Giorgio de Chirico, and two of Gormley’s life-size figures, strategically challenge this future conceptual link as they stand astride tête-à-tête, on the outer perimeter terrace wall of MACM overlooking out to a 360 degree panorama the snow covered Alps.
After studying (and not completing his course) ) art history at the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, he worked alone for twelve years, in the antiquated fortress museum, with occasional consultative advice from the museum founder, André Villers. He and set about developing the museum archive and exhibition programme, with André Villers inviting other photographers to contribute and that would create displays to art historical photographic notoriety and success.
His entrepreneurial zeal,‘laissez faire’ and dedicated work plan throughout his twelve years of establishing the museum and developing the archive for André Villers and the town council, has paid off. Today as the non-fee paying museum attracts 25,000 international visitors per year and establishes a watershed on which to critique the parameters of the definition of photographic portraiture and the contribution of the great masters of art and photography of twentieth century art, alongside the on going myth and legend of Picasso, his contemporaries in (THE) context of modern day practice.
Preferring to remain independent, of usual restrictions of, he deliberately has no official or bureaucratic policy.
This non-invasive and natural philosophical evolution he finds constitutionally more appropriate for the founder, museum and the course of art, its critique and open-ended creativity for the production and inclusion of new artistic new works, unfettered by pre-determinism of curatorial policy, where classical, modern, contemporary, major photographic exhibitions may reside to create a new art critical dialogue.
He also abhors the insatiable public demand for more work of, on or by Picasso. He dislikes pastiche and prefers new work, high standards, creativity and individualism.
Whilst retaining independent intellectual and managerial equilibrium, he is capable of tackling the barrage of cultural criticism yet at the same time acknowledges the need for education and quest for new talent, representation of the context and development of European modern art.).
“There is finally a place in France devoted to photography. I would say that the position Picasso occupies in the museum brings a great deal of attention and that the young creativity guarantees an element of freshness”.
“It is photography itself that is important today. It is very present in daily life and owes much of this to the artists who have used it and exploited its potential”.
“We don’t have an artistic direction, though if we did, it would evolve all the time. I realise there was a time when I was drawn towards ‘visual arts’ photos, perhaps to the demise of ‘reporting’ photos, and it is for this reason that I am attempting to open a museum dedicated to all photographic approaches. The museum shows recognized established artists and younger up and coming young talents”.
A key objective of the museum’s development plan next summer will be to host the prestigious “Les deux lauréats du Prix HSBC pour la photographie”.
Until 3 June : work by the Paris-based Aix-en-Provence international photojournalist, Sarah Caron
9 June– 16 September : a retrospective of the former Magnum fashion photographer Jeanloup-Sieff
22 September – 31 December : a major retrospective of 180 photographs by André Villers, from 1952 to present day with early photographs of Picasso and new experimental works