Art in the City - take the Tram Tour in Nice

Number One Heathrow

L'arte dans la ville - un musée à ciel ouvert

- Art in the city - an open air museum

Jaume Plensa's Conversation Piece, Place Massena

About 15 art works were commissioned to celebrate and enhance the new tram system in Nice and most Friday evenings it is possible to take a guided tour to discover and examine some of the installations.The tour costs 10 euros - 8 for the tour and 2 for the tram ticket unless you have already bought a one-day travel pass for 4 euros, in which case you only pay 8
euros for the tour. The tour needs to be booked in advance, on the day will do, booked by phone (English options on the phone)

Reserve in advance by telephone and meet at the reception desk at the ligne d'azur office on Place Massena. We were split into two groups; French-speaking and English-speaking.

It's quite hard work - there's a lot of leaping on and off the trams and walking about, steps etc and you need to keep your wits about you as the trams can be quite crowded and you can lose sight of the guide so stick close if you can't remember the next stop to get off.
One of the first stops was by the Old Town - here, the French artist Sarkis used three types of marble in La Porte Fausse on the border of the Old Town:

This is a famous metro stop in Paris - the Palais Royal Musée du Louvre, between the Louvre and the Palais Royal. The French artist, Jean-Michel Othoniel was commissioned to produce an art work for the tram - the style is very similar to the Metro piece. There is a confessional-style seating within each curve not shown in the photo:

Paris, October 2009

There were about 15 of us in the English group led by Francoise who speaks good English.

She had us on and off the trams, walking along to the various installations and talking at length about each artist and the piece of work and inspiration from other artists such as Poussin and Leger. She was knowledgeable and enthusiastic but I found it quite hard to muster enthusiasm
for some of the pieces even though I like modern art. Still, it was nice to have things pointed out and explained as many of the installations are not obvious and take a bit of hunting down. There are no signs or explanations for any of the works and some are not sited particularly near the tram.

This is part of a series of murals on the sides of Residences along Boulevard St Roch, by the Irish artist, Michael Craig Martin:

One of the unmissable pieces due to its prime location is 'Conversation Piece' (photo at the top) the seated figures on the tall poles at Place Massena - representing the seven continents of the world. The figures are illuminated at night and pulse through different shades of pastel but they are equally impressive during the day. It's quite comical to see all seven, each with a seagull perched atop.

Another easy spot - the well known artist 'Ben' (Benjamin Vautier) created the signs for each stop plus various trite messages in his familiar script - there ought to be a 'Ben' font. In book shops and stationery shops you will always find the classic black and white Ben designs in the pencil case and folder/notebook range.

Along the tramway between stops Vaudin and St Jean d'Angely are a series of lamp post hybrids - a collaboration between Nicoise artists Pascal Pinaud and Stéphane Magnin - who both teach at the nearby Villa Arson. The hybrid lamp posts are a combination of recycled older and previously discarded lamp-posts and makes an interesting mix of styles over the decades. Each lamp-post is different. Here is a typical example:

Before the tram opened in 2007, there was a brief art exhibition on in the Ponchettes museum all about the art works. Even the music and voice-overs for each stop is specially commissioned and written and apparently has artistic merit. I have the say that the artistic merit of some of the pieces escapes me and even the guide seemed to flounder in places.

It was also disappointing to see some of the pieces in disrepair or surrounded by rubbish - this lack of maintenance was more obvious in locations away from the centre of Nice. One sculpture - at the terminal stop Pont Michel was missed out of the tour - when we passed by on the Monaco xpress bus a few days later, we could see why - the giant metal Palm tree was a forlorn rusty heap.

There is a booklet about the tram artwork that is handed out at the start of the tour - it is an excellent guide to each pieces with details about each artist and the work. It would be entirely possible to use this booklet and do the tour on your own with a one-day bus/tram pass for 4 euros. You could probably pick up this book free from the lignedazur office at Place Massena or from the Tourist Office. It's only available in French.

It can also be downloaded here (20 pages)

However, the tour does include a lot more information than the book - in particular, the last stop on the west side at Las Planas with installations from two artists was very interesting and the guide went into a lot more details about the architecture and 'source of water. The Tram storage, shelters and buildings at the end of the tram line here are amazing - huge, stylish and contemporary - makes you wonder why on earth the Gare Routiere in central Nice is allowed to remain so squalid and unattractive.

Overall, I was pleased to have tried the tour - it was good to have the excuse to travel further out on the tram than usual and to have some of the work explained or even pointed out - you wouldn't know half of it was there unless shown. It was a good time - early evening and only a couple of hours long - filled a gap when nothing much else is on - the beaches, museums and shops are closed and it's too early for an evening meal.

For Nice, 8 euros wasn't too bad for a guided tour. the downside - it was a bit haphazard and disorganised and unless you stuck like glue to the side of the guide, you could miss out on the information - the down side of this was she would fix you with her gaze and ask questions - if in doubt, mutter about Poussin and the Shepherds of Arcadia - or Leger and his interpretation of La Joconde. There was a surprising amount of walking to do - quite busy and tiring. It was very busy on the tram at the start of the tour.

Many of the installations are illuminated and are best appreciated in the dark so I think this tour is best avoided in the late spring and summer, certainly I would avoid the end of June when it is still light at 9:30pm. We did the tour in August and it was still light for most of the tour apart from the last half hour when it all came to life. It's probably less crowded on the trams too.

Yann Kersalé's L'amorse du bleu really comes to life at night. The French love clever puns. L'amorse de bleu means both the stat of the blue and reference to morse code - the dots and dashes of the strands of light spell named shades of blue:

Here is the official poster about the tour listing each artist and the name of the installation.

The names of the 14 international artists are:

Ben, Michael Craig Martin, Pierre Di Sciullo, Gunda Förster, Yann Kersalé, Ange Leccia, Stéphane Magnin, Pascal Pinaud, Jean-Michel Othoniel, Jaume Plensa, Michel Redolfi, Sarkis, Emmanuel Saulnier and Jacques Vieille.

The tour starts and finishes on Place Massena outside the ligned'azur office.

Telephone 0 892 707 407 to book or go to the tourist office. Before the tour starts, go to the welcome desk in the ligne d'azur office on Place Massena to collect your ticket and booklet.

Further reading:

No comments: