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[Editor’s note: In February 2015, the Musée Maillol-– a lovely gem of a museum on the rue de Grenelle in the 7th arrondissement-– closed down when Tecniarte, the company that managed the museum, filed for bankruptcy. Now, after a renovation, the museum is back, under the auspices of Culturespaces (which also manages the Jacquemart-André Museum.) Named after the French sculptor Aristide Maillol, the Musée Maillol was originally opened in 1995 by Dina Vierny, the artist’s muse. Here, contributor Margaret Kemp speaks with Ben Vautier, the charismatic Franco-Swiss artist whose exhibition opens the newly reborn museum.]
Tout est Art ! Ben Vautier (BEN) given carte blanche at Musée Maillol
“I’m worried about my wife, each time I call her in Nice I get the busy signal, maybe she’s having an affair?” It’s quite unlikely that Annie is fooling around while Ben is in Paris for the opening of the retrospective dedicated to his work and I tell him so. “Yes, but I always have doubts about everything,” he replies.
“Why doubt everything?” I ask. “Because I do not believe at all in true, false, good and evil,” he replies. Hmmm.
Ben Vautier, the charismatic Franco-Swiss artist was born in Italy in 1935 – and came to Nice with his parents in 1949 – and became one of the first artists in Europe to bring art onto the streets. (“I would have preferred to be a politician but I’m not bright enough. Although, if I’d studied I’d have ended up as a fonctionnaire at ENA?”.) His text-based paintings, or écritures, began in 1953 with his work “Il faut manger. Il faut dormir“. Another example of the latter is “L’art est inutile. Rentrez chez vous” (Art is Useless, Go Home).
In 1959, with his famous Actions de rue (street events), Ben was one of the major protagonists of the Fluxus Movement. (For more information about Fluxus, see The Tate’s in-depth summary.) “The Magasin” (1958-1973)– his emblematic work– was originally a second-hand record shop in Nice at 32, rue Tonduti d’Escarène and became the meeting place for the international art scene – the venue for many exciting events and exhibitions.
“Everything’s art and in art everything is possible,” says Ben. “I had a lovely plate of spaghetti cooked by Annie last night. That was art!” Always self effacing and totally approachable, Ben is an artist, performer, inventor of a new language and self-confessed art theoretician. He also founded the École de Nice (Nice School of Art) with Arman, César, Yves Klein and Martial Raysse.
“There’s a new school of art in Nice now, I’m getting old. Check out Marc Chevalier, I really admire his work,” he suggests. “He’s at 89 route de Turin, Nice.”
At the sympathetically renewed Musée Maillol (with the Café Prévert downstairs for pre- or post- museum collations), the exhibition “Ben at the Musée Maillol” is divided over two floors and dedicated to key works that Ben has specifically chosen and created for this exhibition, inspired by the works of Aristide Maillol which can be viewed in the museum’s permanent collection.
In 1955, Dina Vierny, the sculptor’s muse and collaborator, bought – and lived in – an apartment on rue de Grenelle. Then, little by little, she managed to buy the entire building. After fifteen years of renovation and construction by architect Pierre Devinoy, the Musée Maillol opened its doors in January 1995. (Dina Vierny sadly died in 2009.)
Today, it presents the largest collection of the artist’s works and showcases a complete overview of Maillol’s creations, not only his sculpture, but also his paintings, drawings, ceramics and tapestry.
“I’m going back to Nice as fast as I can, my wife is waiting for me, I hope!”
“Come and see me at 103 route de Saint-Pancrace,” he smiles. And, should I take Ben up on his invitation I’ll have no trouble finding his address. “Every taxi driver outside Nice Airport knows where it is,” he adds.
To be enjoyed without moderation.
Tout est Art ? Until January 15th. Open seven days a week. Entry price: 10-12€. Musée Maillol, 61 rue de Grenelle, 7th. Tel: +33 (0)1 42 22 57 25
Lead photo credit : Tout est Art ?, Ben at Musée Maillol