LA VILLA ARSON
AN ART CENTER WITHIN A NATIONAL ART SCHOOL, THE VILLA ARSON IS A UNIQUE ENTITY HISTORY
In 1812, Pierre-Joseph Arson, a rich merchant from Avignon, buys a vast property on the hill of Saint Barthélémy in Nice containing an XVIIIth century villa. He spends large amounts of money refurbishing it and turning the cultivated soil into luxurious gardens. The site is submitted to history vicissitudes.In 1964, Nice Town Hall purchases it to endow the state with it. In fact, André MALRAUX, then minister of Arts, has in mind the creation of an Art Centre in province that would have international influence. The beauty and the extent of the site overhanging the city and the Mediterranean seem perfectly appropriate to the concretization of the writer’s vision.The architect Michel Marot and his team conceive a novel architecture.
They imbed the original villa in an edifice of rough reinforced concrete,referring to Le Corbusier’s work, and cover some surfaces with pebbles, referring to Nice beaches. Both a fort and a labyrinth, the edifice spreads out with terrace roofs planted with trees that shelter the inner spaces: amphitheatres, workshops and exhibition galleries. The building made of rough and unsophisticated materials fit in the property topography and the preserved original flora harmoniously.The play between light and shade,indoor and outdoor, strict architecture lines and profuse vegetation, gives coherence to a diversified structure.
Inaugurated in 1972, the “Villa Arson” is a public establishment under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Communication. It is composed of a National Art School, an International Contemporary Art Centre as well as residences for foreign artists. Faithful to Malraux’s wishes, it is intended to teach arts and help the creation and circulation of contemporary art. In 2002 it is awarded the XXth century Patrimony label.
The National Superior Art School
It is one of the seven national art schools located in province under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. Today it is directed by Alain DERAY. The Student Booklet states as follows: the teaching aims at the integration of graduates into the most contemporary art life. The pedagogy has a double perspective: the emergence of tomorrow’s new talents and the preparation of students to meet with all the trades centred on creation. The students are provided with three major assets.
First, the teachers are themselves artists, art historians or theoreticians. Second the Art Centre puts them in direct contact with the issues of contemporary art as they take part in the installation of exhibitions, receive visitors and even sometimes assume artwork presentation. Last, the presence of national and international artists in the Centre Residences enables the students to enlarge their approach to knowledge.
It also gives them an opportunity to break the compartmentalized and univocal vision of art in society. The school opens to the world to make each of them discover unique, diversified and sometimes antagonistic art practices.The school is organized in research and technical workshops, art teaching and production. Training in art practices,teaching art theories and academics found the curriculum. Moreover large workshops are available to all students enabling them to conduct their own research work and practice.
The contemporary art centre
Directed by Eric MANGION, it supports artists in their research, allows the concretisation of new projects and contributes to the documentation and circulation of their creation. The 1200 square metres are divided into a variety of exhibition spaces allowing the presentation of one or several artists ‘works that do not get the favour of the public scene yet. The Centre plays the part of a producer giving technical and financial support to make the projects come to life. It also helps collecting and broadcasting the memory of a history rooted in the present time. Thus for the short and middle course, several projects are being conceived.
The latest concerns a documentary research on artists’ performances from 1950 to this day. It will present the works of about fifty creators in an exhibition that is in the making. The “Villa Arson” is characterized by the rich range of means available to the students: multiple teaching and training, contact with artists of various nationalities and cultures, contact with the public in the three yearly exhibitions in which the students receive the visitors and sometimes present the works.
The site in which it is embedded, the flora into which the architecture is integrated, everything contributes to make the place an exceptional monument. André MALRAUX intended to create an institute of a new style. Let us remember that regarding this place of wonder we are indebted to the author of “La Condition Humaine” and “L’espoir”. Our grateful thanks go to Michel MAUNIER and Géraldine BLOCH for the rich documentation they have supplied us with.