July 24, 2021

Arles is enriched by a Gehry tower, with an artistic campus, funded by a Swiss woman – rts.ch

Known for its Roman arenas, the city of Arles was enriched on Saturday with a new monument: a tower with metallic reflections 56 meters high designed by architect Frank Gehry, beacon of the vast creative campus of the Luma Foundation of the Swiss patron Maja Hoffmann.

Designer of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao coated with titanium or the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Frank Gehry, 92, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around this tower surrounded at its base by a vast glass rotunda, the “drum”. It houses contemporary art exhibitions, a library, offices …

From a distance, the twisted building reflects the changing lights of this city which inspired Vincent Van Gogh and takes on the limestone hues of the Alpilles massif. Its structure, reminiscent of a mass of rocky boulders, is ablaze with orange in the setting sun.

“It is a city which knows the architectural monumentality since it was founded”, recalls the director of Luma Arles, Mustapha Bouhayati, evoking the arenas and the ancient Roman theater. The Luma tower is “a continuation of this architectural monumentality (…) we are building here a little the heritage of tomorrow”. The Luma Foundation is dedicated to supporting contemporary artistic creation.

Wrapped in 11,000 stainless steel panels, the tower is surrounded at its base by a vast glass rotunda, the “drum”. [PASCAL GUYOT – AFP]Entered the landscape

As is often the case, when modern architecture meets ancient heritage, discussions raged between supporters and detractors of the tower, even if after years of construction, it now seems to “enter the landscape” of Arles.

“I was less interested in the functionality of this building than in its power of inspiration”, declares Maja Hoffmann, Saturday at 7:30 pm.

I was less interested in the functionality of this building than in its power of inspiration

Maja Hoffmann, heir to the Basel pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-Laroche, now Roche.  [PASCAL GUYOT - AFP]

Maja Hoffmann, Founder and President of the Luma Foundation

The patron, heir to the Basel pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann-Laroche, now Roche, sees the building as a “beacon” of its Luma Arles complex that it inaugurates on Saturday on eleven hectares of an industrial wasteland.

In addition to its tower, Luma has exhibition and performance spaces. But also a phosphorescent skatepark, created by Korean artist Koo Jeong A, and a large public park designed by Belgian landscape designer Bas Smets, created in partnership with the city of Arles.

A patron of contemporary art

Maja Hoffmann navigates the world of contemporary art, in the lineage of her grandmother. “Producer” of works, collector, she holds archives of photographers Annie Leibovitz or Diane Arbus, works of the Lebanese painter and writer Etel Adnan, and recounts having worked with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Part of his collection is presented in an “ephemeral” way in one of the rooms of the tower, including an amusing “Shadow Theater” by the German Hans-Peter Feldmann combining a kitchen whisk as well as a duck or a plastic statue of liberty.

Critics of residents

Why in Arles, a city of 53,000 inhabitants? “I am more the cosmopolitan than the Swiss. But I am also the Camargue”, explains with a smile Maja Hoffmann, who recalls having arrived in the city “at the age of 15 days” with her family.

However, she wishes to remain discreet about the amount invested in this place where she would like “ecology, human rights and art” to intersect.

The political power of a pharmaceutical heiress over a city or the arrogance of an artistic jet-set, of which the tower is one of the clear illustrations in the service of the exclusion of the working classes of Arles

Cover of the collection of texts "Eat Luma".  [LES VOISINS VIGILANTS ]

Vigilant Neighbors Collective

However, criticism is also being heard on the sponsor’s investments. The vigilant neighbors collective published on the day of the inauguration of the Luma tower a collection of texts entitled “Eat Luma”: “The political power of a pharmaceutical heiress over a city or even the arrogance of an artistic jet-set, of which the tower is one of the obvious illustrations in the service of the exclusion of the popular classes of Arles.”

Maja Hoffmann defends herself: “An artistic program must be supported by a hospitality program. It is done all over the world. We are a small part of Arles, I believe 3% of the whole hotel industry. It is not not buy all of Arles. “

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