France 2008 - Arles, May 22
The Musee de l'Arles Antique is all about the ancient past of Arles (as the name implies) and contains all sorts of things dug up like floor mosaics (which were stunning, by the way). I recommend a visit just for the history of it all. It was mentioned in our France for Dummies book and they said it was "a long dusty walk west of the old city". We studied our ever-present map of Old Arles and while the museum is clearly indicated, it doesn't really show how to get there, because you have to cross a major autoroute/bridge getting out of the old city. We'd walked along the wall by the Rhone a few times but once we got to the autoroute/bridge, we stopped and turned back.
This time, we carried on walking and saw there was a road under the autoroute as it turned into a bridge. We had to abandon the gentility of walking on old narrow and quieter roads and venture out into a place where pedestrians were an afterthought (if they were thought of at all, really). As avid cyclists back home, we are certainly not afraid of traffic but it is noisy and dirty. After we walked under the bridge, we passed a wine co-op which looked deserted but I suppose it only gets used in the Fall at harvest time. Then we passed a skateboard "park" which is actually noted on the map. It had one small curved ramp and it was covered in graffiti. Other than the graffiti, there was no evidence it was ever used. Now, if you wanted to encourage your young people to do their skateboarding in one controlled spot, why would you ever build something remote, ugly and small like this and put it where no one would ever go, except to spray paint on it in contempt? Talk about not involving the stakeholders.
As we rounded a bend in the road, we were startled by the modern appearance of the museum of antiquities. It is a giant blue metal structure, all angles and blank surfaces. I guess it works in its own way. But it is also isolated outside the city, with nothing else around it to see or do (unless you are a skateboarder, I suppose). It was still a ways off and as we plodded along the dusty walkway, we passed the excavation of the ancient Roman Circus which was interesting in itself to look at. When we finally got to the museum, a bus full of small children was disgorging its contents and although we beat them in to the building, they haunted us around the exhibits, their voices echoing along with their extremely loud efforts to shush each other.
Speaking of art, I also forgot to mention what was almost performance art, or at the least, social commentary art. We often would go down to the Rhone and walk along the wall from one end of the Old City to the other. One day, we spotted GOLD dog poop!
That's right, someone had collected a nice sampling of large breed dog poop, painted it gold and then reassembled it in at least three different locations along the wall. It made me laugh out loud when I saw the first batch of it and by the time we saw the third batch, it had become apparent that someone was making a statement. I thought it was fabulous and hilarious at the same time.
I did have to poke it with a stick to see if it was real on the inside and it was. I never knew if anyone else remarked on it or if it got written up in the local paper (was there a local paper?) but I applaud the efforts of the artist.
The next place I forgot to mention was also a bit outside of the walled city but you only had to cross the ring road boulevard to get there and it seemed more pedestrian-friendly. This was Les Alyscamps, an ancient burial ground from at least Roman times. According to my guide book, the Romans avoided the place at night so early Christians met there in secret. Vincent VanGogh also painted a picture of people strolling there in his time and there is even an "easel" set up with that painting on it, to show his vantage point (as there is at the Cafe au Nuit and the other places around Arles where VanGogh painted now famous scenes).
What I found interesting was the apparently discarded carved stone bits outside the church. The church itself is beautifully lit and serene and seems to be in the process of renovation. So maybe what appears to be pieces of Roman columns aren't supposed to be there. Maybe they'll be taken to the Museum of Antiquities later?
So, back to May 22. We went to the Foundation VanGogh , which was NOT on our museum pass. Many of the artists shown at the Foundation were asked to do an homage to Vincent in 1988 and these works are shown here. There are also a few pieces from before and after that year, done by other artists as an homage, and collected for the Foundation. I enjoyed seeing what artists would imagine as an homage and found it quite inspirational. It is a fairly small collection which can be seen in a short time and there are many things to buy when you leave, if you want.
Finally, we went to see what was at the Musee Reattu, since it was right across the street from our hotel. The museum was named for its owner back in the late 1800s, Mr. Reattu. There are many of his paintings there - he was a classically trained figurative artist who painted large allegories, among other things. But his bigger claim to fame was that he collected work from contemporary artists such as Picasso and so there is an eclectic mix of work there, including some very modern pieces collected by the museum as it now exists. The current exhibit shows the work of the couturier Christian Lacroix from the last 20 years or so. Some of the outfits were clearly runway fantasy pieces but I enjoyed examining the workmanship and appreciated the effort that went into creating each garment.