Mediterranean voyages with Monet, Renoir and Chagall at Carrieres de Lumieres until 05 January www.carrieres-lumieres.com Price: 9 euros 50

I’d always thought of the shows put on at the Carrieres de Lumieres in Les Baux de Provence as fit only for tourists and children. Tourists because they are always desperate for something to do on a rainy day, and children because the cynic in me equated the picture shows on the cave walls with low brow cinema. This year the management of Carrieres have put on a show boldly entitled Mediterranean journeys showcasing the artistic period that began with impressionism (Monet, Renoir) moved on to pointilism (Cross, Signac) and the Fauves (Vlaminck, Derain), ending with Chagall. The idea is to present a show based on the theme of the Mediterranean, so that even when the subject matter of a painting is not the Med, the light and the colours of the sea are the background noise.

(c) Nuit de ChineThe first thing to say about the show is that it is a hugely enjoyable experience. The caves are disorientating to begin with but increasingly become a cocooning environment in which to experience art in a different way. The largely classic musical arrangement that plays in the background drives the progression of the slides and guides the mood of the experience from somber, to vivacious, to melancholy, depending on the artist displayed. The central concept of a voyage to the Mediterranean through the experience of colour is also valid. Monet’s famous water lilies would at first seem to have little to do with the south, yet the light that shines through the garden in Giverney, is reflected again and again in the pallet of the Mediterranean painters. Image after vibrant image reinforces this point until the light of the water lillies is finally forgotten in the blazing imagery of Vlaminck and Derain.

Despite the thousands of pounds of technological wizardry used, the images displayed on the walls are grainy and lacking focus. The works impressive through size and number alone. The most arresting parts of the show occur when a three dimensional universe is created by the paintings of which the watching crowd are an integral part. Scenes of seafront promenades, couples gazing out of windows to sea, and the fading light on the pastel facades of Mediterranean housing are particularly effective at creating this illusion. The ability of the shows creative directors to manipulate particular characters and images within the paintings and move them seemingly towards and away from the viewer augment this feeling of participation.

The least effective parts of the show involve the nudes, where there is an immediate disjunct between viewer and painting, and the illusion of being part of the painted world vanishes. In moments like these the show regresses to its basics – a series of slides being shown on a wall – and memories of tedious hours spent in stuffy classrooms are want to return. The ending also disappoints with Chagall’s blue palate too subdued for the walls of the cave. Better to have ended with the uplifting fiery paintings of Vlaminck and Derain, particularly with the artistic aim of the directors to transport by emotion. But these are minor criticisms, because overall the show works, the technology is new, the concept is new, and there are bound to be mistakes and uneven parts, but the combination of paintings, music and the unique viewing experience, is moving, and ultimately that is worth the price of admission.

If you liked this you might also like:

Camus Centenary – An overview of Camus’ work and links with Provence

Provence Popular Culture – Insights from a night at Olympique Marseille football club

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