I have nothing but good feelings for the GoodPlanet Foundation, which I stumbled across by accident after having lunch in the Bois de Boulogne recently. Tucked away in the midst of the forest, the complex, open to all for free, was created by environmentalist photographer Yann Arthus–Bertrand, probably best known internationally for his 1999 book of aerial photography, Earth from Above, and the 2004 film of the same name.
Located on the 8.7-acre Domaine de Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne, the foundation is an expression of many of the militant ecologist Arthus–Bertrand’s concerns. As visitors wander along the paths through the greenery, they come across a number of disparate sights and places, all of them arresting. Over there are a couple of stranded wooden boats, filled with orange life jackets. A sign explains that they were used by people fleeing their homes in 2017, a year when, according to the UN, 3,139 of the 172,000 refugees crossing the Mediterranean in boats like this died or disappeared in the process.
Farther on, you come across a stone tower, the Tour de Longchamp, housing an installation on the life of bees (press the red button for a sound and light show depicting life inside a hive). Outside is a collection of beehives from around the world. Beyond that is “The Three Poles,” an outdoor exhibition of spectacular photos by Vincent Munier, who has spent many years tracking wild animals in the Arctic, Antarctic and Tibet, and photographing them in their natural environments, still untouched by humans. Camouflaged polar bears and snow leopards nearly disappear into the wide-open spaces in some photos, while other images depict wild asses marching single file along a ridge in a burst of light, for example, or a bearded vulture in full flight casting a beady eye on the viewer.
Inside the 19th-century Château de Longchamp, I took a seat to watch the first work in the exhibition “Vivant”: “L’Envol,” Arthus-Bertrand’s up-close-and-personal film of migratory birds in flight, so close that you feel you are flying among them.
I finally tore myself away to explore the rest of this exhibition, which is full of excellent artworks and manages to get its educational messages across with a light touch. Short, engaging and clearly presented texts (in French) accompany works by 11 artists in a variety of media.
I was taken with Duy Anh Nhan Duc’s installation of artworks made with that most fragile of materials: the spherical seed heads, or blowballs, of the dandelion, whose very clever reproductive strategy is to tempt every child to blow its seeds into the wind to be carried to new locations. This piece inspired a text on the life of seeds, some of which can lie dormant for thousands of years and remain viable, and on the loss of biodiversity in our diet, 75 percent of which now comes from only 12 plant species and five animal species.
That work resonates perfectly with “Human Nature” (2016), a piece by Irish artist Claire Morgan, who works with recycled plastic and taxidermy animals (victims of accidents) to create beautiful sculptures that are themselves as light and airy as dandelion blowballs yet often inspire troubling emotions.
The Fondation GoodPlanet, which also has a school and holds concerts and talks, could have come across as preachy and self-righteous, but the natural and architectural beauty of the place, the laidback atmosphere and the fascinating exhibits help deliver vital and even disturbing messages in a way that makes them easier to absorb.
I ended my visit in the foundation’s library/salon, which is open to all, sitting peacefully on the balcony overlooking the park’s greenery until closing time.
The GoodPlanet Foundation is open Wednesday-Friday, noon-6pm, and Saturday-Sunday, 11am- 7pm. Free admission. Click here for directions. Fondation GoodPlanet, Domaine de Longchamp
1, Carrefour de Longchamp, Bois de Boulogne, 75116 Paris. Tel.: 01 48 42 01 01