Lille has long been a city of great art museums. Open in 1809, its world-famous Palais des Beaux-Arts (Palace of Fine Arts), one of the first museums to be established in the aftermath of the French revolution, holds the second largest collection in France after the Louvre. In recent decades, the greater Lille metropolitan area has upheld its pioneering history with the opening of two additional museums that are fast becoming landmarks of the international art scene as well as monuments of contemporary French architecture.
LAM – A Unique Cultural Space
The Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut (Metropolitan Lille Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and Oustider Art), LAM for short, has its genesis in the donation in 1979 by Jean Masurel, a local industrialist and life-long collector of Modern and Contemporary art, of its monumental (close to 4000 pieces) collection to the Lille urban community. A dedicated museum designed by prominent French architect Roland Simounet is inaugurated in 1983 in a suburban Lille parkland setting of Villeneuve d’Ascq.
Then in 1985, L’Aracine, an association of artists and collectors of Art Brut (Outsider Art) gives its collection to the museum. For this, the largest public collection of its type in France (over 3,000 works), a striking extension is designed by Manuelle Gaudrant. Five galleries faced in white precast perforated concrete now wrap around the eastern end of the original building. LAM reopens in 2010 after four years of construction and renovation work. Today, with over 4,000 square meters (43,000 square feet) of exhibit space and a permanent collection of over 7,000 works, LAM is a unique cultural space that brings together Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art. And offers over a quarter of a million yearly visitors the opportunity to appreciate a condensed history of art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in one collection of international standing.
This is where the Masurel collection can be seen in all its jaw-dropping magnificence. Expressionists, Cubists, Fauvisists, Surrealists and all the other “…ists” that shaped twentieth century arts are represented here, in the works of their greatest painters, arranged by their particular style: Braque, Derain, Kansinsky, Klee, Miro, Picasso, Van Dongen. An entire room is dedicated to Fernand Leger, another to Modigliani. And best of all, although predictably popular, the galleries are never too crowded, allowing me to enjoy the moment in a serene atmosphere.
This section features, along with Bernard Buffet, Dodeigne and Eugène Leroy, some lesser known but just as influential French and foreign artists. Important abstract painters and sculptors from the second half of the twentieth century are also represented by the likes of Daniel Buren, Richard Deacon, Gérard Duchêne, Pierre Soulages and Jean Dubuffet. An artistic itinerary that illustrates the evolution of art, the major artistic movements, trends and current themes in the contemporary art scene.
Defined by a regrouping of pieces created by non-professional artists, without artistic reference and working outside of the aesthetic norm, Outsider Art is exhibited at the museum via a prism of well-known artists, such as Aloïse Corbaz, Joseph Crépin, Henry Darger, Auguste Forestier and Carlo Zinelli.
Amedeo Modigliani Retrospective
Beyond the treasures of the permanent collection, what brings me to LAM on this latest visit is an exceptional temporary retrospective of the work of Modigliani (on display until June 6, 2016). Although the museum holds one of the finest French public displays of his work in its Masurel collection: six paintings, eight drawings and a rare marble sculpture, this rich exhibit shows the artist in a totally different light (at least for me). Through 23 drawing, five sculptures and 49 paintings, I am introduced to his antique, African and other non-western influences, as well at works by his contemporaries, such Brancusi, Picasso, Chaïm Soutine, Moïse Kisling and Henri Laurens, that nourished his inspiration.
With the opening of its satellite in Lens in 2012, the Musée du Louvre is no longer confined to its palatial Parisian digs. The building, by Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, is itself a work of art. Located on a 20-hectare (50-acre) former coal-mining site reborn as parkland, it is an ethereal creation of glass and brushed aluminum that reflects the flat landscape and pale skies of northern France. The core of the 360-meter (1,200-foot) long structure is a transparent, oblong 3,600-square meter (39,000-square foot) hall that is the starting point of the various galleries.
The Gallery of Time
The museum’s semi-permanent exhibition is housed in the 120-meter (400-foot) long Galerie du Temps (Gallery of Time). It showcases 250 pieces representing five millennia of art history, from the origins of writing in various civilizations to the nineteenth century. The displays are freestanding, to be viewed from all angles as I wander through time. Although chronological, the artifacts are arranged by themes, to better illustrate the Egyptian influence on Greek sculpture for instance, or how civilizations evolved simultaneously (such as Egyptian Pyramid Period and Mediterranean Cycladic Culture).
My stroll through the history of art goes by “St. Mathew and the Angel,” an awesome Rembrandt that already foretells of Impressionism, and an incandescent “Landscape with Paris and Oenone” by Claude Lorrain, a preview of the JMW Turner skies to come two centuries later, before ending with pieces from the Romantic period. Each year, one third of the collection is rotated back to the Paris mother ship and replaced by new pieces. Side galleries also hold two themed temporary exhibits per year.
La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie
Although not on the scale of its Lille, Lens and Villeneuve d’Ascq cousins, the charming Art Deco gem La Piscine-Musee d’Art et d’Industrie (The Swimming Pool-Museum of Art and Industry) in Roubaix is a not-to-be-missed side trip. Opened in 1932, this municipal swimming pool and bathhouse was much appreciated by the local community for over half a century until its closure in 1985. Mercifully it was reborn as a museum 16 years later after extensive renovations. Although its length was preserved, its Olympic-size pool is now a narrow central stream, its east-west direction facing the grand sunburst stain glass windows representing the rising and setting sun at both ends of the domed ceiling.
A collection of sculptures that include four major works by Alfred Boucher (Hope, Faith, Charity and Tenderness) as well as pieces by Rodin and Camille Claudel line both sides of the pool. The original Art Deco mosaics in an ornate swirling wave pattern still outline the basin and the large Neptune head keeps spouting a graceful arch of water. At ground and second floor gallery levels, changing and shower stalls are now the setting for a comprehensive collection of textile industry related items from Roubaix’ heydays.
Good to Know
- Getting there – Lille is easily reached by train, with frequent TVG (high-speed train) direct connections throughout the day from Paris (1 hour), Brussels (35 minutes), London, (1:30 hour), Amsterdam (2:40 hours) and other main western European cities. There are two train stations. The new Lille-Europe serves the EuroStar, Thalys and most TGV high-speed lines. Lille Flandre, the original station, now serves a mix of local and high-speed trains. Both are located in the center of town, a 10-minute walk from each other. Lens is located 40 kilometers south of central Lille, an easy 35-minute local train ride to the Lens station. There are also a few daily direct high-speed trains from Paris (1:20 hour). From the station, a twice-hourly complimentary shuttle takes visitors to the museum site.
- Getting Around –To get around the metropolitan area, Lille has a comprehensive public transport network (Transpole) with two automatic metro lines, two tramway lined and over 60 bus routes.
From the center Lille to La Piscine – Metro Line # 2 to Gare Jean Lebras or Grand Place, or Bus # 32 to Jean Lebras.
From the Center of Lille to LAM – Metro Line # 1 to Pont de Bois then Bus: Liane # 4, direction Halluin-Gounod to LAM.
- Lille Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut, (LAM), 1 Allée du Musée, Villeneuve-d’Ascq. www.Lille-Metropolitan-Museum-of-modern-art.com. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 10:00 to 6:00 P.M. Closed Mondays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 19 68 68.
Musée Louvre-Lens, 99 Rue Paul Bert, Lens. www.louvre-lens/en. Open Wednesdays to Mondays from 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. Closed Tuesdays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 21 18 62 62. Entrance to the Louvre-Lens is free of charge.
La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie André Diligent, 23 Rue de l’Espérance, Roubaix. www.La-Piscine-Andre-Diligent-Art-and-Industry-Museum.com. Open Tuesdays to Thursdays from 11:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M., 11:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. Fridays, 1:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. Saturdays. Closed Mondays and some public holidays. Contact: Tel +33 (0) 3 20 60 23 60.