French filth auction raises over half a million

From saucy statues to art-house nude photography and sexy walking sticks, close to 900 naughty knick-knacks were snapped up for over half a million euros at a major auction of erotica in Paris on Monday.

Dating from ancient Egypt to the early 20th century, the lion’s share of the 915 sketches, paintings, sculptures, books and curiosities under the hammer came from a single private collection, painstakingly assembled over 35 years.

Eighty percent of the lots were sold, to a mix of French and foreign bidders, many of them from Asia, fetching a total of around €650,000.

The erotica auction wrapped up Monday night after two days of often fevered bidding that saw a 19th-century condom, for instance, sold for €4,337, seven times its estimate.

Bidders snapped up lacquered pill boxes, pipe and cigarette holders, walking sticks and a bewildering variety of knick-knacks, all adorned with explicit nudes and cavorting couples – often concealed inside secret drawers, or behind more respectable lids and covers.

A collection of explicit mid-19th century daguerreotypes – among the first known nude photographs – sold for well above their estimates, with prices of up to €24,000.

“The works collected from around the world are a testament to the universal and timeless nature of erotica,” said the auction house E.V.E. Leroy, whose catalogue for the sale was 18-rated.

From the world of brothels the sale featured artefacts such as the chips used to pay prostitutes instead of coins, and tiny daggers designed to spear overbearing clients.

“The collector sought out surprising objects, which tell us about a time before cinema and photography, and which are anything but pornographic,” added the auctioneers.

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Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.