From Max Ernst to Charlotte Gainsbourg to Sarah Lucas, if you like your holiday served with an enormous slice of culture, you need to get to Porquerolles this summer.
With a glittering, white sandy beaches and a population of less than 1,000 Porquerolles is still small enough to be legitimately considered as a hidden gem. Thanks to only being accessible by boat, the island is the perfect escape – and has avoided being entirely flooded with selfie-taking tourists thanks to its National Park status and strict development rules.
Smoking is banned everywhere except for in the town, there are very few cars (the island is only accessible via a 20 minute ferry – or, if you’re rolling with the right crowd – a yacht.) But what Porquerolles lacks in infrastructure (and fine dining, but more on that later) it makes up for in culture, thanks to the opening of the Fondation Carmignac on the island in 2018.
The Fondation, which was founded by French investment banker Edouard Carmignac and is now run by his musician son Charles, has accumulated an eclectic collection of 20th century art. This impressive collection when Carmignac Snr acquired an Alice in Wonderland etching by Max Ernst – it now forms part of the introduction to the current exhibition, ‘The Source’, curated by Chiara Parisi.
Set in a redeveloped villa and its surroundings lands, Fondation Carmignac has introduced art to an island that until about two years ago had little more to boast than a couple of nice beaches and a nature reserve. And they aren’t playing it safe; despite being quite literally in the middle of nowhere, the Fondation have to date presented pieces there that the non-art buffs amongst us wouldn’t recognise.
This really is an art-lovers collection; currently the top floor of the charming French villa has been taken over by the recently rediscovered YBA Sarah Lucas (hot off last year’s retrospective in New York). Lucas’ grungy self-portraits and domesticated sculptures sit against a backdrop of incredible views and state of the art architecture. It’s a disarming juxtaposition, much like the rest of the work at the Fondation, and speaks volumes about their willingness to do things differently.
Downstairs is a site-specific installation by Bruce Nauman, and then a host of pieces that form ‘The Source.’ The most popular piece apparently is a gloriously self-indulgent and fun sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan (who has visited the island this summer) which references his own most famous previous works. Art joking about art – if that doesn’t convince you that this is an art lovers’ retreat, nothing will.
Of course this isn’t the first time a collector has decided to plonk their wares on an island. The most famous predecessor to this being Naoshima, Japan’s art island in the Seto Inland Sea. And it’s a formula that works. Fondation Carmignac also has a very impressive sculpture garden, which was designed by the French King of garden design Louis Benech. Despite only allowing 50 visitors at a time, 70,000 people have visited so far. Not bad for a random unknown island off the beaten track.
The Fondation’s other appeal is the tasty little restaurant sitting beneath the pines adjacent to the villa, serving wine from the local vineyard and locally sourced, seasonal food. It doesn’t look like much from a distance but the menu is impressive – even more so when compared with what else is available on the island; although my travelling companions assured me that it was a vast improvement from ten years ago when the local cafes catered exclusively for tourists seeking burgers, chips and pizza.
So if you find yourself in the South of France this summer and the 24 hour rose and sunbathing gets a little tiresome – redirect that yacht to Porquerolles. It’s a rare opportunity to see some of the world’s most exciting art, miles from a hectic inner-city museum. And there’s not a queue in sight.