Villa CarmignacA Collector’s Isle
"The waters of the Mediterranean stretch to the horizon, a blank canvas awaiting the pigment of the dipping sun."
On the forested island of Porquerolles, just off the coast of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, lies the secluded art gallery Villa Carmignac. Surrounded by a protected National Park, and almost entirely obscured by trees, the building conceals most of the gallery space below ground.
The island is accessible by boat, departing from the nearby French town of Hyères. Arriving in a sheltered bay, a ritualised experience begins: visitors disembark onto the hot jetty and follow a path to the island’s interior, which leads them on foot through the shade of stone pines, juniper and citrus trees. A towering stone dragon, grey and rough as a fossil, guards the entrance to the villa. On entering the gallery, visitors are welcomed with chilled herbal teas, and asked to remove their shoes and socks. Barefoot, they are free to explore the 2,000 m2 subterranean gallery space. A glass ceiling holding a shallow body of water hovers overhead, scattering the daylight, which dances across the artworks as it would across the seabed.
The converted villa, devised by Atelier Barani and GMAA, houses around 80 works from the 300-piece Fondation Carmignac collection. Specialising in American art from the 1960s to the 1980s and including pieces by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jean-Michael Basquiat, the collection was amassed by financier Édouard Carmignac, who established the Fondation in 2000. It is now under the direction of his son, Charles Carmignac, who opened the island gallery in summer 2018.
A portrait of Éduoard Carmignac himself, painted by Basquiat, opens the exhibition. Pop art nudes by Lichtenstein are paired with a 16th century Venus by Botticelli. An ethereal painting of squids by Miquel Barceló hugs a bend in the gallery wall.
After wandering among the displays, visitors emerge above ground, where they discover an expansive garden, dotted with sculptures and vast installations, and interspersed with eucalyptus, cypress and lavender. Here, Jeppe Hein’s labyrinth of mirrored panels conjures innumerable illusions in the glaring sun. Four enormous silver heads by Ugo Rondinone bear exaggerated grins, peering at one another through the branches of a knotted tree. In a forest clearing, five white marble forms by Nils-Udo lie in a nest of gravel, resembling vast, prehistoric eggs.
As visitors begin drifting back to the coast, a boat already awaits them in the bay. The waters of the Mediterranean stretch to the horizon, a blank canvas awaiting the pigment of the dipping sun.