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Exploring the Contemporary Art Scene in Arles

Arles’s contemporary art scene is a new reason visitors flock to the city. One of my favorite Uzès-based British artists, Gilly Beal, visits Arles and shares her impressions of the artistic renaissance and the burgeoning contemporary art scene in Arles.

Arles: Beyond Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh -Rijksmuseum

Nestled amidst the inspiring landscapes of the Provence region in southeast France, Arles is a city steeped in artistic legacy and cultural heritage. Renowned for its association with the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, who famously captured the essence of Arles in his vibrant paintings, the city has long served as a muse for creative types across generations.

However, beyond the allure of Van Gogh’s brushstrokes, today lies a thriving contemporary art scene that continues to evolve, redefine, and challenge conventional notions of artistic expression.

Maya Hoffman and the Luma Foundation

“Arles is not just a city frozen in the past; it’s a vibrant hub of creativity and cultural innovation,” remarks Maya Hoffman, the visionary behind the Luma Foundation, a new driving force in Arles’ artistic renaissance.

A passionate art patron and philanthropist, she has been instrumental in reshaping Arles’ cultural identity through her visionary project. “Arles has always been a city of inspiration, but it was time to reimagine its potential,” says Hoffman. “Through the Luma Foundation, we sought to create a dynamic platform for artistic experimentation, collaboration, and dialogue.”

Inspired by the rich tapestry of Arles’ industrial heritage, Hoffman embarked on an initiative to revitalize the Parc des Ateliers, a sprawling complex of disused railway workshops. At its center sits a monumental stainless steel-clad tower, designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry, which he says references Arles’ Roman architecture, the nearby Alpilles mountains, and Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night painting, which he painted in the city.

The transformative Luma Arles campus integrates contemporary architecture with the city’s historic fabric, offering a dynamic space for artistic innovation and cultural exchange.

“We wanted to create a space that celebrates the intersection of art, culture, and sustainability,” explains Hoffman. “Luma Arles is more than just a museum; it’s a catalyst for social change and creative engagement.”

Photography by Gilly Beal

The Annual Photography Exhibition

Photography by Gilly Beal

At the heart of Arles’ cultural calendar lies the annual photography exhibition, a seminal event celebrating the diverse spectrum of photographic expression worldwide. Founded in 1970 by photographers Lucien Clergue, Michel Tournier, and Jean-Maurice Rouquette, the exhibition has since grown into a globally recognized platform for both emerging and established photographers.

“The Arles photography exhibition is a testament to the power of visual storytelling,” says Clergue. “It’s a celebration of human ingenuity, curiosity, and imagination.”

Each year, the exhibition transforms Arles into a vibrant tapestry of images, narratives, and emotions, drawing thousands of visitors and participants from across the globe. From documentary photography to conceptual art, the exhibition showcases how photography shapes our understanding of the world and ourselves.

Rencontres d’Arles

With its diverse program of exhibitions, screenings, and events, the Rencontres d’Arles offers a dynamic platform for photographers to showcase their work, engage with audiences, and explore new avenues of artistic practice. From documentary photography to conceptual art, each exhibition presents a unique perspective on the world around us, inviting viewers to reconsider their preconceptions and expand their horizons.

“The Rencontres d’Arles is more than just a photography festival; it’s a celebration of creativity, diversity, and the power of visual storytelling,” observes photographer and curator Dayanita Singh. “By bringing together artists from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, the exhibition fosters dialogue, exchange, and collaboration, creating a truly immersive and enriching experience for visitors.”



Introducing the Lee Ufan FoundationA Provocative Addition

Amidst Arles’ artistic renaissance, the emergence of the Lee Ufan Foundation represents a bold leap into uncharted territory. Founded by the acclaimed Korean artist Lee Ufan, this innovative institution is dedicated to showcasing the works of a pioneer in minimalist painting and sculpture.

Born in Korea in 1936, Lee Ufan is renowned as the leading figure of the Mono-ha movement, a groundbreaking artistic movement that challenged conventional notions of art and materials. His minimalist approach, characterized by a profound simplicity and reverence for the intrinsic qualities of materials, offers a refreshing counterpoint to Arles’ rich historical backdrop.



Ufan - Arles
Photography by Gilly Beal


Exploring Lee Ufan’s Artistic Legacy

Lee Ufan’s artistic journey is as compelling as his creations. Having established himself as a seminal figure in the Japanese art scene, Lee’s decision to anchor his foundation in Arles speaks volumes about the city’s allure as a cultural epicenter.

Situated within the historic confines of the Hôtel Vernon, the Lee Ufan Foundation provides a captivating setting for visitors to immerse themselves in the artist’s evocative works. From his iconic minimalist sculptures to his contemplative paintings, Lee Ufan invites viewers to embark on a journey of introspection and discovery.


The Intersection of Tradition and Innovation

As visitors meander through the tranquil halls of the Lee Ufan Foundation, they are met with a fusion of tradition and innovation. The meticulous restoration of the Hôtel Vernon, overseen by acclaimed architect Tadao Ando, serves as a fitting backdrop for Lee’s avant-garde creations.

Each room within the mansion offers a glimpse into the artist’s profound aesthetic philosophy, inviting contemplation and dialogue. From his sculptures’ serene simplicity to his paintings’ ethereal beauty, Lee Ufan’s art transcends boundaries, bridging the gap between past and present, East and West.


Site-Specific Installations

Central to the museum’s ethos are its site-specific installations, which engage with the historic fabric of the Hôtel Vernon. From the labyrinthine concrete cylinder in the first gallery to the reflective mirror slab of “Chemin vers Arles,” each artwork interacts harmoniously with its surroundings, blurring the boundaries between art and architecture. Through these interventions, Lee Ufan invites visitors to reconsider their relationship with space and time, fostering a sense of interconnectedness and wonder.

“Arles is a place of immense cultural richness and diversity,” says Lee Ufan. “Through the foundation, I hope to contribute to the city’s vibrant artistic tapestry and engage with audiences from diverse backgrounds.”

While Ufan’s minimalist sensibility may initially challenge conventional expectations of art, his presence in Arles offers a unique opportunity for audiences to experience art in a new light. “Ufan’s work transcends cultural boundaries and invites us to explore the universal themes of existence and perception,” remarks art critic Marie-Sophie Carron.


Arles as inspiration

“Like van Gogh before him, Lee Ufan was very much inspired by the Arlesian sky,” said Jean-Marie Gallais, curator of the 2019 Lee Ufan show at the Centre Pompidou Metz, who has also written wall text for the Arles space. Lee confirmed, “The moments of my morning walk gazing at the sky along the quays of the Rhone make me feel happy.”

Arles then stands as a link between past and present, tradition and innovation, heritage and experimentation. From its storied past as the muse of Van Gogh to its present-day role as a global hub for artistic discourse, the city continues to evolve, adapt, and inspire. It remains at the forefront of the contemporary art renaissance, inviting audiences to explore, engage, and embrace the endless possibilities of creative expression.


Arles pushing the boundaries.

“As we look to the future, it’s clear that Arles’ artistic journey is far from over,” reflects Maya Hoffman. “With each new exhibition, event, and initiative, we have the opportunity to push the boundaries of creativity, foster dialogue, and inspire new generations of artists and audiences.”

In the words of Lee Ufan, “Art has the power to transcend language, culture, and geography, connecting us to the fundamental truths of existence.” As Arles continues to embrace its role as a global destination for contemporary art, audiences from around the world are invited to engage with experimentation and creativity in this historic setting, forging new connections and shaping the future of artistic expression.


Arles -
Photography by Gilly Beal


Gilly Beal lived for many years as an artist in Asia. Her work is a study of the single brushstroke. One artist she has admired for many years is Lee Ufan, so she is thrilled at the opening of his new foundation in the city. “Thanks” to Gilly for the photography for this blogpost. To see more of Gilly’s work, visit her site at

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