To see the exhibition “A Journey to Norway,” all you have to do is take a trip south, to the lovely French city of Tours, just over an hour from Paris by TGV.
There have always been plenty of good reasons to visit Tours – read all about them here – and yet another has been recently added with the reopening of the Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré in a brand-new building designed by Portuguese architects Aires Mateus.
This regional art center is named after the French painter Olivier Debré (1920-99), who was a frequent visitor to the Centre-Val de Loire region and who made a bequest of many of his works to the center so that they could be exhibited in conjunction with the work of contemporary artists.
Debré was a great traveler and had a special fondness for Norway, which he visited often. The new building is being inaugurated with “Un Voyage en Norvège,” an exhibition of paintings he made in that country, alongside a show of works by contemporary artists working there.
On the main floor, in the light-drenched “White Gallery,” Debré’s beautiful abstract paintings lift the spirits immediately. The only painting in the show not made in Norway, the monumental “Gris Bleu, Taches Bleues de Loire” (1990), takes up the entire far wall, drawing visitors into the room with its sweeping expanse of cloudy sky-blue, occasionally opening up to a deeper blue and hints of other colors.
This master colorist liked to paint outdoors, even when it was snowing, so he could take direct inspiration from the landscapes in front of him. The canvases here, while totally non-figurative, evoke icy mountains or the blue light reflecting off a fiord. Others, especially those painted in Lærdal, immediately call to mind the Aurora Borealis, although there is no direct reference to the phenomenon. Some of the color combinations are breathtaking. (The photos on this page don’t really do them justice.)
Debré, whose work seems to have been unfairly neglected outside of France, fittingly referred to his style as “fervent abstraction,” and his passionate reaction to the landscapes before him comes through strongly in his paintings.
Downstairs, in the “Black Gallery,” a group of young artists working in Norway – Ahmad Ghossein, Tiril Hasselknippe, Saman Kamyab, Ignas Krunglevičius, Kamilla Langeland, Lars Laumann, Solveig Lønseth, Ann Cathrin November Høibo, Linn Pedersen, Tori Wrånes and Thora Dolven Balke – offer up entirely different interpretations of the Norwegian “landscape” with their mostly conceptual works. Titled “Innland,” the show explores the idea of the interior of a territory, whether geographic, intellectual, personal or geopolitical.
A third exhibition in another of the CCCOD’s spaces, The Nave, is a monumental installation by Per Barclay called “Oil Chamber,” which uses a pool of black gold to create a vertiginously disorienting experience for visitors. I won’t spoil it by explaining it – it must be seen.
A visit to the center is well worth the trip to Tours, especially to see Debré’s paintings. While you are there, however, take the time to visit Balzac’s native city as well.