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Analysis out of the box

Le Havre, art, architecture and economy

Analysis out of the boxContemporary Art | In order to face the new stakes of metropolization and the economic mutations affecting French cities, Le Havre has been building the framework of an ambitious cultural policy since 2010. In 2017, “Un été au Havre” (A summer in Le Havre) was conceived for the 500th anniversary of the city. This festive event marked a decisive step, promoting a new perception of the city, new local narratives and transforming the urban landscape. An analysis.

Karel Martens (Pays-Bas), Couleurs sur la plage, 2017/2018 © Philippe Breard
Karel Martens (Pays-Bas), Couleurs sur la plage, 2017/2018
© Philippe Breard

Flash-back : Le Havre at the year zero

The port city of Le Havre, founded by François I, went through a commercial golden age during the 19th century before entering a long period of mourning and trauma after the total destruction of its historical center due to the bombings of September 1944.
The city was rebuilt between 1946 and 1954 by Auguste Perret, who implemented his modern urbanism concepts : “What I intend is to build something new and lasting. Since we are starting from nothing we must take the opportunity and create new bases that will allow us to face Le Havre’s future as a great city and a great port...”

(À gauche) Vue de la rue de Paris et du Havre vers l'ouest en 1945 - (À droite) Vue de la rue de Paris et du Havre vers l'ouest en 1955 pendant la reconstruction © DR
(À gauche) Vue de la rue de Paris et du Havre vers l'ouest en 1945 - (À droite) Vue de la rue de Paris et du Havre vers l'ouest en 1955 pendant la reconstruction
© DR

The city’s new center is part of an orthogonal plan, a geometric grid where axes intersect at a right angle, following the principles of rational urbanism, with an organization comparable to that of cities of Antiquity or to North-American city centers. The buildings are made of concrete, the apartments equipped with “modern comfort”. However the city’s inhabitants, feeling nostalgic of previous times, denigrate this radical urban aesthetic.

The slow increase in value of the city’s architectural heritage

Discredited for more that forty years, the city has gained value through the historical reinterpretation of Auguste Perret and the figure of Brazilian architect http://unesco.lehavre.fr/fr/comprendre/lespace-oscar-niemeyer Oscar Niemeyer], who conceived the Volcano (1972-1978), a book commissioned by the communist municipality and pejoratively nicknamed “the yoghurt pot” at the time.
In 1995 Le Havre was listed as a Zone de Protection du Patrimoine Architectural, Urbain et Paysager (Zone of Architectural, Urban and Landscape Heritage to protect). This led to the first interventions : Les Jardins de la plage (the Beach Gardens) in 1992-1995, created by the landscape architect Alexandre Chemetoff; or the restructuring of the current MuMa, built between 1959 and 1961 by a collective of architects and engineers who followed an innovative concept based on lightness and flexibility.
The realization that Le Havre is a whole masterpiece of urbanism has had its impact, slowly leading to its classification by the UNESCO as World Heritage of Humanity in 2005. Le Havre, which now enjoys a reputation comparable to that of Chandigarh or Brasilia, continues enriching its heritage with new commissions such as the one made to Jean Nouvel regarding the Docks’ pool (2008).

From a strategy based on events to sustainable development

In 2011, mayor Edouard Philippe created Les Assises de la Culture, drawing the basis of a global cultural policy that would ensure access to culture at every level (restructuring the “petit Volcan” in a new generation library). Philippe also set the City’s 500th anniversary horizon (in 2017) as a “first step towards the assertion of an identity”.

Follows Un été au Havre 2017 (A summer in Le Havre) under the artistic direction of Jean Blaise, the “magician” behind the touristic mutation of the city of Nantes through culture and creation. At his side, Fazette Bordage, the “fairy” of industrial halls, who was called in 2012 by the municipality to transform the Fort de Tourneville into a multidisciplinary space. They both work in synergy with the actors and local cultural spaces in order to build a summer event intertwining artistic, festive, sportive and popular experiences… while several itineraries of artworks revisit and turn the urban landscape into a scenography.
Similar to Voyage à Nantes, the strategy focusing on punctual events relies here on a long-term policy that installs the pieces in the public space definitely, planting new symbols. The 2017 and 2018 editions have anchored no less than 12 artworks interpreting or reinventing the spirit of the space for the city’s inhabitants. All the works are the expression of a need, marking the imagination and adding new identities to the patrimonial trajectory of Le Havre.

Stéphane Thidet (France), Impact, 2017 © Photo : Thomas Malgras
Stéphane Thidet (France), Impact, 2017
© Photo : Thomas Malgras
Impact, Stéphane Thidet’s fountain, results from the collision between two water jets, moving in permanent tension. The iconic white beach huts are colored each summer following a protocol conceived by graphic designer Karel Martens. Sculpture Up#3, by Swiss artists http://www.langbaumann.com/?project_id=376 Lang et Baumann], is installed on the beach, becoming a junction between the city and the open sea.

Vincent Ganivet (France), Catène de contenairs, 2017 © Oliver Boitet
Vincent Ganivet (France), Catène de contenairs, 2017
© Oliver Boitet

Vincent Ganivet’s Catène de Containers, located in a neglected port area at the intersection of Paris street and Southampton wharf, will accelerate the wharf’s re-qualification program; the location has already come to life with the reopening of businesses. Its iconic arch is considered the “Tour Eiffel” of Le Havre.

Parallel to the cultural seasons mentioned (which bring national and international artists to Le Havre) the municipality has created a specific residency program for artists from Le Havre, including all disciplines. The selected artists receive 8,000 euros and travel to another country during three months. On their return, they organize an important exhibition at the MuMa André Malraux, inspired on their experiences abroad.

La Bande des Havrais © Philippe Breard, Ville du Havre
La Bande des Havrais
© Philippe Breard, Ville du Havre

The program named “La bande des Havrais” aims at stimulating artists, in order to review Le Havre’s identity in its current movement, between the port home and the open sea. Discover the eleven artists and their session 1 project.

Repercussions and key figures

Lang/Baumann (Suisse), UP#3, 2017/2018 © Philippe Breard
Lang/Baumann (Suisse), UP#3, 2017/2018
© Philippe Breard
The commemorative event of 2017 triggered internal dynamics that resulted in unprecedented financing actions : an exceptional budget of 20 million euros, of which 3/4 are covered by GIP LE HAVRE 2017. This is a group of general interest that associates the seven strata of the territory’s economic scene : City, Agglomeration, Department, Region, Chamber of Commerce, Port and University. The rest of the financing was covered by local business groups and sponsorships.
The economic and touristic repercussions that same year were quantified at €80 million, €10 million went directly into local businesses.
A summer in Le Havre gathered more than 2 million visitors in 2017 against 1 million in 2016.
It is interesting to note how monumental works attracted the highest proportion of external visitors in Normandie in 2017 : they represented 37% of visitors, among which 17% came from the region of Ile de France.

Perspectives

The municipality gained strength through the new dynamics triggered by A summer in Le Havre, so it decided to rehire Jean Blaise for three new summer editions until 2020, with 3 million euros in funding. In 2018 the theatricalization of the urban landscape continued with new perennial works in the public space, such as Fabien Merelle’s Jusqu’au bout du monde and À l’origine.

Fabien Mérelle (France), Juqu'au bout du monde, 2018 © Philippe Breard
Fabien Mérelle (France), Juqu'au bout du monde, 2018
© Philippe Breard

The 2019 and 2020 editions will include three to four supplementary works, which would turn Le Havre into the second French city to hold the largest collection of contemporary public works after Nantes. This moving heritage, commonly shared through social networks spreading its attractiveness and pœtic power, could contribute to opening a new page in the cultural and economic history of Le Havre. To be continued.

Nina Rodrigues-Ely
Publié le 19/03/2019
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Karel Martens (Pays-Bas), Couleurs sur la plage, 2017/2018 © Philippe Breard

Karel Martens (Pays-Bas), Couleurs sur la plage, 2017/2018
© Philippe Breard

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