In the center of the French city of Arles, only five minutes from the ancient Roman theater, Michel Montagnier welcomes us to his old Provençal house, La Maison des Arts. He has retained the light and delicate breeze of the past, but has added his own style, with a variety of artworks, furnitures, objects and details from the last century. In places, it looks a little like a gallery, but we think that only adds to its appeal.
Michel Montagnier, how did you arrive in Arles, and why did you create La Maison des Arts?
Michel Montagnier: “I came to Arles after a professional life in Paris in the advertising industry. At 50, I told myself, let’s do something else, and I bought this house. Why in Arles? Because I am originally from Provence, and Arles has a particular spirit. It was the city of Van Gogh, and his most beautiful paintings are from here. He discovered the light of Provence here. This is why there is a famous Van Gogh foundation in Arles.
“There has also been a famous festival of photography here for 40 years, and now the architect Frank Gehry is building a tower at the Luma Foundation which is only 10 minutes from my house. It will be a great foundation for contemporary art. As you can see, Arles is much more than a small, historical and lovely Provençal town.”
It’s true, there is a growing art scene in Arles right now. Does that impact your way of life here, in La Maison des Arts?
“Most of my clients come only for this kind of thing. Some of them are artists or work in art galleries. So they love art, creation and exhibitions, but they also want history, good food, good wine and a nice place to stay. A place with a special sophistication. Yes, of course, La Maison des Arts beats with the art calendar of Arles. Right now, there is a big exhibition of Jean Prouvé at the Luma Foundation, and some of my clients want to see it so I organize meetings and visits. It’s part of my job, and I like it.”
Is La Maison des Arts a collector’s house?
“My friends say it is, but I don’t know. It’s true, I have a special relationship with all my objects here. I know where I bought each of them, but I don’t know if I’m a collector. I think I am much more like someone who created a kind of community. We share the same way of life and spirit, which is important. This is why there is a respect for every single object, furniture and piece of art here. There is a much more than a mutual artistic enrichment. Six years after opened La Maison des Arts, I have friends and connections all around the world!”