A grand re-opening with many previously unseen works


Two decades after first opening its doors to the public, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Cambrai has undergone a radical facelift. Each of the 12 rooms that make up the fine art section of the museum has been completely revamped, revitalised and relit. Visitors can enjoy over 200 works, many previously unseen, as well as experience a totally renovated and modernised interior.

“My background in contemporary art taught me that a work of art is inextricably bound to the space and context in which it’s found,” explains Alice Cornier, director of the Musée de Cambrai for the past four years. “I used the geographical and architectural context to guide me during the designing phase for the new itinerary of the museum.”

Cornier invited contemporary artists to design new wallpapers for three of the rooms, wallpapers that reflect the century of the artworks displayed in each.

The paintings are hung in what may appear to be a rather haphazard way. “We’ve played with how the pictures are displayed. There are intentional imperfections,” says Cornier. Some pictures are hung as low as 30 cm from the ground. “So you won’t need to raise your gaze too high to view them.”

Cornier says she wanted to give back a degree of domesticity to the museum. The space was previously a family home and was inhabited until the end of the 19th century. “The building is situated in what remains a residential area of Cambrai, so for the sake of coherence, I wanted to create the feeling that visitors are guests entering a person’s house and admiring their artworks. I think of the people in the portraits as the inhabitants of the house.”

Most of the previously unseen works are from the 20th century, in particular the interwar period. Here, visitors will notice a strong emphasis on the female form with one room dedicated to images of women from the ‘20s and ‘30s doing a variety of activities. In fact, ‘the body’ is a central theme running throughout the museum, with more than 90 per cent of images representing a person.

The atmosphere in each of the spaces is very different and Cornier hopes visitors will reinterpret what they see and experience the space in a more intimate and cosy way.

The ambitious renovations at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Cambrai do not detract from its intimacy. Ambiance and art are fused together here in a symbiotic relationship of equal importance where viewer and artworks create a unique and personal rapport.

Contemporary artist meets notable, 20th century abstract artworks

For the autumn, and in close conjunction with the grand re-opening, the Musée de Cambrai will exhibit the work of a young Brussels-born artist, Farah Atassi. Born in 1981 from Syrian parents, and now living and working in Paris, the colourful geometric canvasses of this young artist are attracting attention on the contemporary art scene.

Farah Atassi – Works in Conversation will be Atassi’s first solo exhibition in a French gallery space and she has been given carte-blanche to create her own personal Cambrai project. “Cambrai has a reputation for exhibiting the art of its time,” explains Alice Cornier, “and I want to continue the tradition.”

Farah Atassi studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris. Her reputation among contemporary art-watchers is growing, and she was nominated for the Marcel Duchamp prize in 2013. She has previously exhibited in Geneva and Los Angeles, as well as in Antwerp, Brussels and Le Havre. Her works are in both private and public collections.

Included in the Atassi exhibition are also works by some prominent 20th century abstract artists − Victor Vasarely, Aurélie Nemours, Sonia Delaunay to name a few − some of which were donated to the Musée de Cambrai in the early 2000s. Paintings on loan from the Pompidou Centre and Strasbourg’s Museum of Modern Art, complete the selection, with Georges Braque and Marcelle Cahn.

“I wanted to use an outside artist to draw attention to these works,” explains Cornier. Atassi’s work will be ‘in conversation’ with the donated pieces, as an artist who has taken her ideas from that time.”

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Cambrai reopens to the public on the weekend of 13 and 14 October. Entry and activities are free.

Farah Atassi – Works in Conversation will be on display in the temporary exhibition space from 24 November – 17 March 2019.


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