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Le Voyage à Nantes, a permanent voyage!

With its singular identity, based on culture and artistic creation, Nantes is a city where excitement and la dolce vita live side by side. Its permanent collection of public artworks on display is unparalleled anywhere.

In Nantes, art is everywhere!

It blooms here and there according to its own whims, spills out of the framework, grows out of the walls, and comes out to meet the public – be it in city streets, public squares, on buildings, or wherever! Since 2012, artists, architects, designers and graffiti artists have been invited by Le Voyage à Nantes to create in situ installations. 

Some of these works have become permanent and now form part of a collection that can be seen all year round known as Le Voyage Permanent. In the city – which has all the makings of an open-air art gallery – some fifty contemporary works can be seen and discovered by one and all, in total freedom. Around a random street corner, they leap out at visitors, surprise them, arouse interest, curiosity and even bewilderment, bringing a touch of poetry to everyday life. They belong to everyone: locals and visitors alike can reappropriate them and make them their own. 

Rise up

To discover Tadashi Kawamata’s work – one of the highlights of last season’s Le Voyage à Nantes – you must first rise up and climb Butte Sainte-Anne hill. Once past the delightful Musée Jules Verne, his Belvédère de l’Hermitage finally appears, offering a brand-new perspective onto the city and its transformations. Designed and executed by this acclaimed artist, the large-scale project is likely to leave its mark on the city the same way Daniel Buren’s Anneaux or the Grand Éléphant have. Indeed, the Belvédère offers one of the most beautiful views of Nantes. 

For this permanent work – which stretches 36 metres in length, 10 metres of which are cantilevered above the cliff, nearly 20 metres from the ground – the world-renowned Japanese artist has used his fetish material: wood. The structure is composed of a seemingly chaotic mess of larch beams that, when seen from a distance, is reminiscent of a gigantic stork’s nest and by association… a voyage. Through the very simplicity of his favourite material and its infinite building potential, he shines a light on both the identity of these places and the fragile precariousness of the human world. In addition to its primary function of providing a unique view, walking along this lookout post is also an experience in itself.

Once visitors reach the end of the overhanging structure, they are gripped with vertigo. But, after walking between high fences, they step towards the void and discover a breathtaking view of the city and river. At that moment, visitors can dream of the space they see, re-examine it, reinvent it. But the work also tells them that nothing is eternal. Below the Loire River flows like time… Given the Loire’s width, its history is more maritime than fluvial and remains a testament to the city’s history as a port. Back then, ships sailed to Spain, Portugal and England, laden with wheat, salt and barrels of wine – or returned from the West Indies and Americas with stores full of sugar, coffee, cocoa, spices, rum, and more. 

Sitting on the crossroads of natural routes between Anjou, Vendée and Brittany, and only a short distance from the ocean, Nantes has always been nothing short of an important meeting point and commercial hub. 

“It serves no purpose, aside from letting us dream"

Across the water, on Île de Nantes, a new playful and joyful city is being created. The old industrial wastelands have been given a new life or now offer new spaces for relaxation along the banks of the Loire. Piers, riverside paths, pontoons, thematic gardens, and former slipways have all been rehabilitated. And the former naval shipyards – aka, the Parc des Chantiers – now look like an artistic playground. Here is where the massive wood and metal Grand Éléphant roams. It is 12 metres tall, weighs 40 metric tonnes, and can carry forty people on its back. 

“It serves no purpose, aside from letting us dream. It’s useless, and therefore kind of essential…” recognizes François Delarozière, its designer. Other Voyage Permanent works can be found here: the Carrousel des Mondes Marins (“The Marine Worlds Carrousel” – same inventor), the Arbre à basket (“Basketball Tree” by a/LTA), the Jean Prouvé station, Vincent Mauger’s Résolution des forces en présence, and also On va marcher sur la lune by Détroit Architectes. On the Quai des Antilles, it is impossible to miss the Hangar à Bananes: an 8000-square-metre former warehouse which is now home to the HAB Galerie, a contemporary art gallery, a night club, and a wide selection of bars and restaurants. Here, patios overflow with students, tourist families, and hipsters. On the same quay, you will find all eighteen rings of Daniel Buren’s (and Patrick Bouchain’s) Anneaux, each of which are 4 metres in diameter. At night, they light up in different colours and form a long view that looks out onto the Atlantic Ocean. Simply magical!

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