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”.

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Napoleon fans outraged by horse memorial

A reproduction of the skeleton of Napoleon's favourite horse Marengo has been hung over the French emperor's tomb in Paris - to the outrage of his present-day fans as they commemorate 200 years since his death.

Napoleon fans outraged by horse memorial

The artwork dubbed “Memento Marengo” by artist Pascal Convert immortalises
Napoleon’s loyal steed, who bore the general through several battles before being captured by British troops at Waterloo in 1815.

Convert based his work on ancient traditions of horses accompanying their masters to the grave, copying the skeleton from the thoroughbred’s remains kept in London’s National Army Museum.

“I know some people might not understand this work, but it’s anything but disrespectful,” said Eric de Chassey, director of France’s National Art History Institute (INHA) that has organised a series of modern art pieces displayed at the Invalides museum complex where Napoleon is buried.

The horse skeleton “paradoxically allows a kind of rehumanisation of Napoleon,” de Chassey explained.

“Death is the reality of war. Since ancient times, we’ve had this image of warriors ascending to heaven on horseback.”

Napoleon fans blasted the piece, with historian Pierre Branda of the Fondation Napoleon calling it “grotesque and shocking” in an opinion piece for the Figaro newspaper.

Fondation Napoleon chief Thierry Lentz tweeted that he “couldn’t believe” the artwork had been installed above his icon’s tomb.

Other artists with pieces displayed at the Invalides have taken more direct aim at the emperor, with China’s Yan Pei-Ming painting the moment Napoleon famously crowned himself, while Damien Deroubaix showed him as a black slave in chains.