A spirit of fun always reigns at the Domaine de Chamarande, where a once-aristocratic residence and its park have become something of a “people’s palace” with contemporary art exhibitions and a vibrant program of performances and activities, all open to the public for free. A visit there makes a relaxing break from the summer smog and noise of Paris and is always a pleasure. And no car is needed, since it is easy to get to on the RER, with the station just a short walk from the 17th-century château.
The château, built in the “severe” Louis XIII style with a brick and stone façade, has had a number of owners over the centuries and now belongs to the Essonne Department. The current exhibition, “Habiter,” is an indoor/outdoor affair. The idea is to propose not only new structures for living but also new ways of looking at and thinking about the spaces we inhabit. Inside the château, for example, an installation entitled “La Maison Vide,” by Pierre Ardouin, turns an elegant white-paneled room with gilded molding
“La Maison Vide” (2011), by Pierre Ardouvin. Photo: Laurence Godartand a fancy parquet floor into a kind of funhouse. Numerous partitions with doors cut out of them are placed at crazy angles. Disorientation sets in as visitors wander through the wacky spaces, catching glimpses of a gilt-framed mirror above a fireplace here, a view of the park through the window there, all to the tune of a soundtrack of slamming doors that calls to mind a boulevard comedy.
Another piece comments on the past life of the château. In the “hunters’ dining room,” Charlotte Charbonnel’s “Fumerolles” also refers to its former use as a smoking room, rather literally, perhaps, with a pair of “antlers” emitting smoke. When you come across them in the darkened wood-paneled room with an elaborate tiled floor, however, the piece, complete with eerie sound effects, effectively evokes that long-ago world.
Outside, strollers will come across varied installations here and there. The most exciting has to be “Gabie,” by Florent Albinet, a designer who specializes in floating structures. This one is a boat’s mast floating in the park’s lake with a couple of chairs equipped with
pedals attached to it. After being rowed out to the structure, visitors take their seats and pedal until they are lifted up into the sky for a panoramic view of their surroundings.
On an island in the lake are a few simple, colorful, droll-looking wooden structures (pictured at top of page) that appear to have large boulders roughly nailed to their pointed roofs. These are “transformable monocellular habitats” by Françoise Doléac and David de Tscharner. Inspired by Canadian tents and Le Corbusier’s architectural principles, they can serve as picnic tables with their sides opened wing-like and as sleeping tents at night with the sides closed. Is also rather pleasant just to sit on the bench and look at the view of the lake. They are available for rent on certain nights; write to email@example.com to reserve. You can also reserve a free canoe on the park’s Canal des Amoureux.
I recommend that you choose the day of your visit to the Domaine de Chamarande to coincide with one of the live performances. Check the website for the program.