LUMA Arles, Frank Gehry’s tower that houses contemporary art

Arlés (France) is a wonderful city. As well as becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981, it is famous for its renowned photography festival and for being a magnet for culture and the arts. A good example is the international philanthropic association LUMA Arles, directed by Maja Hoffmann which focuses on the direct relations between art, culture, environmental issues, human rights, education and research.

Address: Parc des Ateliers, 35 avenue Victor Hugo, Arlés (Francia)

A Mediterranean beacon in a geometrical structure that is 56 metres tall

This iconic building by the architect Frank Gehry, the Pritzker Prize winner and author of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao among other architectural milestones, is located on the creative campus of the city and has managed to revolutionise the skyline of this French town.

LUMA Arles consists of a twisted geometrical structure with a cylindrical base which is cladded with 11,000 panels of stainless steel placed in an irregular pattern which reflect the sun, reflections which play with the light at different times of the day. The interior holds exhibitions, a cafeteria, art galleries, spaces for cultural projects and research that are distributed over nine floors.

“A Roman amphitheatre is the inspiration for the base. The painting “Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh and the clusters of rock from the region inspired the top.”

Local inspiration becomes more apparent in the circular glass and steel atrium on two levels that acts as the base of the structure that borrows its shape from the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Arles, while the multi-layered facade of the tower echoes the sheer limestone cliffs in the region..

“Roman architecture and this territory have always fascinated me. And this is my first Roman building.” Frank Gehry

A universe of cultural, artistic and intellectual expressions

It has taken over ten years for this ambitious project to materialise, a project that is part of the Parc des Ateliers, as this former 11 hectare railway wasteland is known. It sits alongside seven old factories belonging to the industrial legacy of the 19th century that were renovated by Selldorf Architects and that are now used to house exhibitions, presentations and even as homes for artists.

“LUMA Arles is a cultural utopia come true.”

The surrounding gardens and the public park were designed by the landscape architect Bas Smets. It was conceived as a journey through the fauna and flora of the region, and its 4 hectares are also used to house artwork, sculptures and installations.

A gem devoted to art and architecture

It opened its doors in style: with installations purposely-built for the site by artists such as Olafur Eliasson, who placed a large circular mirror that gently rotates on the ceiling in a stairwell thus destabilizing the visual perception of the visitor, Dominique Gonzalez-FoersterCarsten HöllerLiam Gillick, Etel AdnanPhilippe Parreno or Christian Marclay.

The Tower is also home to the “archives” of the Emmanuel Hoffmann Collection, that includes pieces by Alighiero BoettiRichard LongBruce NaumanDuane Michals, Rosemarie Trockel and Cy Twombly. And to the heart of the LUMA Collection in which there are works by Rirkrit TiravanijaArthur JafaHans-Peter FeldmanUrs FischerPaul McCarthy

“LUMA Arles is a miscellaneous project that is home to events that range from permanent and temporary exhibitions to concerts or workshops.”

Some of the exhibitions at LUMA Arles this year come from Les Rencontres d’Arles, the photography festival we mentioned earlier. They are all extraordinary and some of the artists featured are:

“Constellation” by Diane Arbus: It collates 454 images, some of them unpublished, and as with Diane Arbus in New York, the spectator is invited to wander, walk around and across the installation that was purposely created. There isn’t one standard route, but infinite possibilities. Each visitor can create their own unique experience at this original and unconventional presentation.

“The Shape of Things” by Carrie Mae Weems: with cinema techniques and special effects drawn from previous times, such as dioramas, side-shows and Pepper’s Ghost, this exhibition is an incisive reflection, powerfully emotional and critical of topics that are deeply rooted in U.S. history and culture and the explosive events of recent years. This monumental set of installations continues with the LUMA Arles’ commitment to produce complex exhibitions by the most attractive contemporary artists.

“One year” by Christodoulos Panayiotou: for the first time, the elements of the artist’s whole career are brought together. Series of works that summarise two decades of artistic production. This exhibition unfolds in Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring and concludes with an epilogue in June 2024.

“The Circle & The Tempest Society” by Bouchra Khalili: this exhibition brings together two of Khalili’s most important cinema productions: “The Tempest Society” (2017) and “The Circle Project” (2023). Together they offer a meditative approach to witnessing surpressed stories, the power of collective imagination embodied in the public storyteller and the montage as art capable of resurrecting buried history.

Chapter 3: Agnès Varda A day without seeing a tree is a waste of a day” by Hans-Ulrich Obrist Archive: this exhibition highlights the crucial role of Hans-Ulrich Obrist in introducing Varda to the art world. In 2002, thanks to Christian Boltanski and Annette MessagerObrist finally got the chance to meet Varda and film her in her magical home at 86 rue Daguerre, Paris. After this interview, Molly NesbitRirkrit Tiravanija and Hans-Ulrich Obrist invited Agnès Varda to take part in Utopia Station, a section of the 50th Venice Biennale directed by Francesco Bonami in 2003. Varda’s proposal marked her debut as “an old film maker but a young artist” with the installation of her video tryptich Patatutopia, that celebrates the sprouts and roots of heart-shaped potatoes.

“Dissonant Belonging” by Ahlam Shibli: this display presents six photography projects carried out between 1997 and 2017 alongside her most recent work created during her residency at LUMA Arles. Ahlam Shibli’s previous work was often structured around strong tension and binary conflicts. The works in “Dissonant Belonging” speak of feeling at home and yearning for it. The seven series included in the exhibition also approach the consequences of the violent and systematic denial of rights that affect individuals and groups in different societies.

Permanent installations

These are the permanent installations:

“Day Light Songs (biting the air)” by Helen Marten located on Floors 7, 8 and 9 of The Tower.

“Open Space” by Konstantin Grcic located on Floors 8 and 9 of The Tower.

“Take your Time” by Ólafur Elíasson located on Floor 2 of The Tower.

“Laguna Gloria” by Liam Gillick located on Floor 2 of The Tower.

“Isometric Slides” by Carsten Höller located on Floors 0, 1 and 2 of The Tower.

“Dans la forêt” by Etel Adnan located on Floor 1 of The Tower.

“Danny / No More Reality” by Philippe Parreno located on the Ground Floor of The Tower.

“Drum Café” by Rirkrit Tiravanija located on the Ground Floor of The Tower.

“OooOoO” by Koo Jeong A located at the Skatepark.

“Krauses Gekröse” by Franz West located at the Landscaped park.

“Orientation Platforms” by Liam Gillick located at the Landscaped park.

“MEMORY, 2021” by Kerstin Brätsch located at the Café du Parc

“Seven Sliding Doors Corridor (Outdoor Version)” by Carsten Höller located at the Landscaped park.

Atelier Luma: the design research program by LUMA Arles dedicated to exploring new ways of using natural and renewable resources in design and architecture on a bioregional scale

Atelier LUMA was founded in 2016, and brings together a team of designers, engineers, scientists and experts from the fields of culture, craftsmanship, humanities and social sciences and innovation, who explore the potential of non-extractivist, and often discredited, technologies.

Located since 2023 at Le Magasin ÉlectriqueAtelier LUMA operates as a collaborative platform, working with local actors and partners including farmers, artisans and manufacturers to create local and sustainable solutions.

Over the years, Atelier LUMA has extended the scope of its research from the Arles bioregion to an international level, participating in European projects and accompanying other institutions in their research.

“Atelier LUMA develops local solutions that can be replicated in other regions to contribute to an ecological, economic, technological and social transition.”

Atelier LUMA also develops educational programs and participates in exhibitions and public lectures to guarantee the passing on and dissemination of the knowledge acquired and produced in Arles and abroad.

“We are happy to be able to offer our audience the chance to experience the work of important artists through our exhibitions.”

(*) FotoCover photo and carousel photo 3 (Diane Arbus): Adrian Deweerdt; Fixed photo 1: Maja Hoffmann by Annie Leibovitz y fixed photo 2 “Succession” by Agnès Varda; Photos carousel 1 (Carrie Mae Weems), 2 (Ahlam Shibili), 4 (Shahryar Nashat) y 6 (Rachel Rose): Victor&Simon: Joana Luz / Renata Pires; Photo carousel 5: Rémi Bénali. Provided by LUMA Arles.