Aubenas Castle becomes a contemporary art center

Aubenas (Ardèche). A new life is coming for the Château d'Aubenas with the creation of a contemporary art center within its walls. A month and a half before the inauguration, on July 5, the restoration of the imposing composite-style castle is nearing completion. It has restored a beautiful presence to the emblematic building of the city built on a rocky peak. The different parts of the site, the oldest of which date back to the 13th century, were the subject of a major rehabilitation campaign which lasted seven years.

Redesigned by its successive owners and declared a national asset in 1792, the castle has been the property of the City since 1810. Over two centuries, it has undergone several developments and additions linked to the various uses it has undergone. “The departure, in 2014, of the courts which occupied a large part of the space gave us total control of the castle”explains Jean-Yves Meyer, mayor of Aubenas since 2018 (DVD), and in charge of culture for twenty years. “The City could not carry out its renovation alone. We therefore worked with the Drac services on a project to obtain aid, and we came to the conclusion that a contemporary art center was justified since no structure of this type existed in Ardèche. » You actually have to go to the neighboring departments, to Montélimar, Valences, Nîmes, Thiers or Clermont-Ferrand to find museums.

A renovation costing 12.6 million euros

Although the castle was the subject of various restoration campaigns during the 20th century, none was of this scale. The budget for renovation and adaptation of the castle to its new functions amounts to 12.6 million euros, 56% financed by subsidies allocated by the State and the Drac, the Rhône-Alpes Region, the Department of Ardèche and the community of communes of the Aubenas basin. For the remaining 44%, the City took out a loan.

Facades, roofs, towers, dungeons, courtyards, terraces and interiors dating from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the 18th century have been completely restored; elevators were installed and exhibition spaces developed for the art center. With a total surface area of ​​3,000 m2, its spaces offer, on three levels, nearly 1,500 m2 of exhibition rooms.

The art center team is made up of thirteen people, headed by Victor Secretan, former curator at Mo.Co in Montpellier. Since February 2023, he has worked on programming and laid the foundations of an artistic and cultural education policy, while forging links with several local cultural structures, such as the Format association (producer of shows located in Aubenas ), the Privas theater or the cultural association Sur le Sentier des Lauzes in Saint-Mélany which brings together renowned artists (Guiseppe Penone, Gilles Clément, Christian Lapie, etc.). Aubenas (12,000 inhabitants) is in fact located in an area with a handful of cultural players specializing in contemporary art, such as the Château de Vogüé, the Mirabilia gallery and the Fabrique d'Aleyrac. “We have joined the Échappées network which brings together around ten art places in Ardèche ranging from the Vans Museum to the GAC in Annonay via the Sentier des Lauzes”specifies Victor Secretan.

Permanent access to exhibitions and visits

For its operation, the art center benefits in 2024 from a budget allocated by the City of 1.1 million euros – including 60,000 euros from the Drac and 60,000 euros from the Region and the Department. Jean-Yves Meyer hopes to ultimately reduce the City's share of financing to 50% (instead of 90%), counting on an increase in public subsidies and on ticketing profits (on a basis of 50,000 visitors per year), rental of castle spaces and sponsorship. “An annual pass of 12 euros will give the inhabitants of Aubenas permanent access to the art center’s exhibitions and heritage visits”underlines Victor Secretan.

The inauguration of the art center at the beginning of July will lift the veil on the two opening exhibitions: “Inhabiting the World” and “Gérard Lattier”. This programming “intends to show the plurality of mediums, forms and stories of contemporary art”, according to the director. For “Inhabiting the World”, he brought together works by Hicham Berrada, Bianca Bondi, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Ruben Brulat, Seyni Awa Camara, Daniel Crews-Chubb, Gino De Dominicis, Sheila Hicks, Vojtech Kovarík, Yein Lee and Kiki Smith. Some were produced by the art center itself. A film on the castle and its restoration was also commissioned from photographer Grégoire Édouard, originally from Les Vans, in Ardèche.

The monograph dedicated to the painter and storyteller Gérard Lattier will present a set of pictorial tales on the history of Ardèche or based on Ardèche legends. From the fall, photographer Vanessa Winship will follow, an exhibition on manga and another by the artist duo Île / Mer / Froid, currently in residence at the Sentier des Lauzes refuge workshop.

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