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In the heart of a garden of sculptures, water, stone and wind overlooking Dunkirk Beach, the LAAC contemporary art museum defies the sky with its remarkable, white-ceramic architecture. As effervescent and gay as the Pop Years, the LAAC is home to an exceptional collection of over 1,500 artworks mirroring the 1940s to ‘80s (including Circus by Karel Appel, Car Crash by Andy Warhol and Valise Expansion by César), works alternately presented according to the changing exhibition programme. In the museum’s not-to-be-missed Graphic Arts Room, visitors set off on a unique artistic exploration, with the possibility of discovering nearly 200 drawings and prints exhibited in drawers and sliding showcases.
This friendly, convivial museum offers a multitude of fun and interactive tools for a visit with family or friends, as well as a rich, year-long events calendar combining the fine and performing arts.
With the FRAC ("Regional Collection of Contemporary Art") located just nearby, the LAAC constitutes a veritable "centre of excellence" for contemporary art.
In the 1960s, with the arrival of the steel-maker Usinor and the rapid development of its port, Dunkirk underwent an industrial boom.
Carried away by this economic dynamism, Gilbert Delaine – an infrastructure engineer by profession, but also a passionate art enthusiast – would forever change the cultural destiny of Dunkirk. His encounters with Arthur Van Hecke, an artist set up on the coast, and Ladislas Kijno introduced him to a whole new world: that of contemporary art. Afterwards, he never ceased from crisscrossing northern Europe to visit exhibitions and meet with artists, and he soon began dreaming of a museum for his own city, a museum presenting the most modern forms of artistic creation and mirroring the permanent innovation of Dunkirk's industries. Taking advantage of the Malraux Law of 1961 relative to art patronage, in 1974 he presented his project to over a thousand companies, obtaining the financial backing of around sixty firms. He then created the association L'Art contemporain, visited galleries, collectors and artists, negotiated for each work of art purchased a donation of equal value, and little by little assembled a rare collection of contemporary artwork.
At the same time, the association convinced the municipality to create an open, living museum accessible to everyone, in exchange for the donation of its entire collection. In this manner, in 1979, next to the Dunkirk shipyards, work began on the sculpture garden, followed soon thereafter by the construction of the museum building, which was finally inaugurated on 4 December 1982. The association L'Art contemporain continued enriching the collection, which grew from around 600 works in 1982 to over a thousand in 1985, as well as participating in the organization of numerous exhibitions.
Unfortunately, the building soon presented certain architectural dysfunctions, leading in 1994 to the transfer of the collections, a portion of which was relocated to the Fine Arts Museum. From 1994 to 1997, the contemporary art museum welcomed a new project, "Ceramic Dialogue", centred around contemporary ceramics and glass.
At the end of 1997, the museum was closed for renovation. Careful consideration was given the new museum project, while the architectural firm Grafteaux & Klein was chosen to redesign the interior. In 2005, the museum – renamed the Lieu d'Art et Action Contemporaine or LAAC – (re)opened its doors, refocusing its exhibitions and acquisitions on the heart of its collection: artwork from the 1950s to '80s.
The museum's architecture was designed by Jean Willerwal in 1977. The first stone was laid in June 1979, with construction completed in December 1982.
The architecture mirrors the project housed within: imagined as a "witness to time", in the same vein as the collection from the 1950s to '80s, it wonderfully illustrates the creative style typical of this period. Walking around the building, one discovers an astonishing work of glass and white ceramic tiles, pointed and angular like a giant white diamond.
As summed up by Jean Willerwal, the building is based upon "intuition, passion and love, more than rules and regulations!": no programme, no architecture competition, and the only preexisting elements being the garden and the enthusiasm of Gilbert Delaine's team.
On the ground floor, a vast, amphitheatre-shaped forum lit by a glass ceiling is an invitation to encounters and exchanges. All seems to radiate out from this heart, around which various living spaces are organized: a workshop for young visitors, an auditorium, a cafeteria, offices, etc.
The exhibition rooms are gently accessed via a ramp skirting round the forum tiers or a spiral staircase.
On the first floor, visitors are struck by the contrast between the circular, welcoming walkways, the eight cubic, opaque and largely open exhibition rooms, and the large angular windows that lend singular rhythm to the interior and provide glimpses of the sculpture garden and the sea.
On the second floor, the seemingly suspended mezzanine – a vast plateau in the shape of an octagonal ring – is encircled by a parapet over which one can look down onto the forum and exhibition rooms.
Closed in 1997 for renovation work, the museum benefitted from a remodelling in 2003 by the architects Richard Klein and Benoît Grafteaux, who rather than attacking the existing architecture chose to integrate and adjust it, according to the new museographic project. The two architects favoured several approaches: selecting and arranging furniture with an eye to the fluidity and optimization of space; creating a Graphic Arts Room on the second floor; revising the lighting; reworking the acoustics by affixing acoustic cones and squares to the ceilings and central atrium; and improving the warmth and conviviality of the décor by adding touches of gay colours and opting for wooden panels and furniture.
One jewel of the LAAC is undoubtedly its one-of-a-kind Graphic Arts Room, created in 2005. This room covers the entire second floor of the museum, a vast space in the form of a ring, through whose plate-glass windows one can admire the surrounding landscape.
This rather magical area – rendered warm and welcoming by the oak veneered furnishings and the quality acoustics – allows the museum to conserve and visitors to discover a unique collection of paper-based artwork.
The originality of this room resides in the possibility offered visitors to construct their own proper "exhibition", exploring the collection of over 140 works as they fancy, by pulling open the drawers of the lower furnishings punctuating the exhibition space or by sliding open the panels of the upper fixtures delimiting the room.
This unique set-up, exceptional in scale, allows for the permanent showcasing of fragile, light-sensitive oeuvres, which are otherwise very rarely presented, being protected in the dark and hidden away from view.
Modelled after a reserve collection open to visitors, the Graphic Arts Room also allows for the simplest and least obtrusive showcasing of these paper-based works: free of any visible support, each sheet can be contemplated in its entirety, as there is no frame or mounting to mask the margins or uneven edges.
An integral part of the museum, the Graphic Arts Room often welcomes temporary exhibitions. Drawings, prints, photographs, etc. lent to the museum by other institutions and collectors, or chosen from its own collection according to a given theme, are simply presented in the large showcases surmounting the furnishings or hung on the room's few wall panels.
"The garden is meant to serve as a meeting space. A special place where one has time, where one takes one's time. Time to look, to feel the sand beneath one's feet, to rub a fragrant plant between one's fingers, time to exchange a few words, to admire an oeuvre, time to occasionally remain silent…" – Gilbert Samel
A unique space for encounters, for strolling and for discovery, sheltered from the sea wind and the urban hustle and bustle, the sculpture garden is a peaceful, verdant setting for the LAAC. Entirely imagined and designed by the landscape architect Gilbert Samel, in collaboration with the artist Pierre Zvenigorodsky, the garden was completed in 1980, just prior to the museum's construction.
Ringed by protective walls and located between the outlet canal and the site of the old shipyards, the garden covers four green, rolling hectares, the rounded mounds echoing the movements of the dunes and wind. Two ornamental ponds nestle among the willows, beachgrasses and brooms. Rocks and plants alternate from one perspective to the next, underlining or contrasting with the surrounding environment.
Sinuous footpaths lead strollers around the ponds to discover eighteen sculptures of metal, concrete or stone. Anchorage, an assemblage of anchors by Arman, complements the Pleureuses made of Soignies stone by Eugène Dodeigne; Deux Arcs de 204° chacun in painted steel by Bernar Venet plays in counterpoint to the colourful Poisson by Karel Appel; the Sculpture sonore by Pierre Zvenigorodsky is stirred by the wind, while Birds Islands by Charlotte Moth floats among the water lilies and Les Moutons in concrete by Claude François-Xavier Lalanne remain sheepishly impassive. The two works by Paul Van Hoeydonck, Goldie and Fallen Astronaut, allude to science fiction and the conquest of space, while Hommage à Pedro Rodriguez by Claude Viseux evokes the tragic accident that claimed the Formula 1 racer. Chaos de marbre by Gilbert Samel, a marriage of nature and sculpture, resonates with Structure variable du nucleus by Sergio Storel, with the Pierre noire fountain by Pierre Zvenigorodsky, and with Socratea Exorrhiza by Albert Féraud, whose sheets of steel writhe and twist like the tree of the same name. Discreetly hidden away behind the museum building, Sculpture géométrique by Geneviève Claisse offers a sharp contrast to the white volume of the LAAC.
Thanks to its proximity to the beach, its garden full of mysteries and its convivial, welcoming design, the LAAC is particularly well suited to a visit with family or friends. Every effort is made to ensure that visitors of all ages share an enjoyable, stimulating, interactive moment with the museum's diverse oeuvres: fun tours of the garden and collections, games and "observation books", festive museum events, activities and workshops for children, etc. Seeking to involve the entire public in an open dialogue and exchange centred around the museum's collections and the discovery of art, the LAAC collaborates with its social partners and diverse associations (via its "Art and Mediation" department) to develop projects suited to the needs of everyone, both within and outside the museum. The museum proposes a rich events programme, in synergy with the various cultural actors of greater Dunkirk and the region, and combining various forms of artistic expression: performances, musical and choreographic walks, poetry readings, cinematic exhibitions, etc.
One of only a very few museums capable of presenting of panorama of French art from the 1950s to '80s, the LAAC orients its cultural policy around this period, in complementarity with the projects developed by the FRAC ("Regional Collection of Contemporary Art"). The exhibition programme is designed around artists from this era – Yves Klein and Marie Raymond, Olivier Debré, Anthony Caro, etc. – and around the "1968 period" itself, and lends historical context to the collections, by considering the CoBrA movement and the persistence of the group's spirit, or by exploring the manner in which artists since Marcel Duchamp have incorporated objects into their art. It also remains open to contemporary creation by presenting current artworks that resonate with the LAAC's collections, by granting carte blanche to guest artists (Bertrand Gadenne and Etienne Pressager, Michel Laubu, etc.) or inviting them to make presentations at the museum.
The LAAC works in close collaboration with the other museums of the region (for the exhibitions "Alberto Giacometti, Arman, Richard Serra…des sculpteurs à l’épreuve de l’estampe au XXe siècle", "Anthony Caro, Sculptures d’acier", etc.) and continues to develop special relations with museums in France and northern Europe (the Centre Pompidou, the SMAK of Gand, the Cobra Museum of Amstelveen, etc.). In this manner, the LAAC furthers the region's national and international reputation.
Director of the Museums
Director’s Office: + 00 33 3 28 29 56 00
Administrative and Financial Director
Scientific Team and Monitoring of the Collections
Manager: Sophie Warlop
Graphic Arts and Local History Collections: Myriam Morlion
Collections of Objects: Claude Steen
Oeuvre Management: Pauline Lucas
Documentation: Rodolphe Vandezande
Library/Audio Libary: Edvin Tapio
Art and Mediation Department
Manager: Richard Schotte
Events Programming: Richard Schotte
Specific Groups: Juliette Nardella
Mediation and Scholastic Groups: Cathy Christiaen
Booking Service: Mémona Mahamoud et Sandrine Drieux
Communications and Public Relations
Manager: Serge Martres
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