Daniel Buren, Le Cylindre incrusté aux couleurs, work in situ, 2017–21. Photo: © DB-ADAGP, Paris et Christophe Goussard, Courtesy Commanderie de Peyrassol

A Brief Guide to Sculpture Parks in the South of France

Beaches, vineyards, historic cities, and exceptional food, not to mention the Pyrenees and French Alps—the South of France certainly has no shortage of draws. Perhaps less known, however, are the region’s exceptional opportunities to experience contemporary art, much of it outdoors. The following listings offer a glimpse into southern France’s abundant options to experience sculpture (and libations) en plein air.

Château La Coste
Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade

Installation view of “Jean-Michel Othoniel: Îles Singulières,” Chateau La Coste, Le Puy Ste Réparade, France, 2019. Photo: We are Contents

Château La Coste offers something for everyone: important, exciting sculpture and architecture, gourmet dining, and even the option to hike in the hills adjacent to the Château vineyards and manicured gardens. Château La Coste’s enormous collection includes large-scale works from an array of artists, in various genres and materials, spread around 100 hectares. The architecture holds as much pride of place as the art, with a breathtaking glass-walled Oscar Niemeyer gallery building setting the bar high and a Tadao Ando chapel further blurring the lines between function and beauty. Visitors should be prepared for a hearty walk, but can reward themselves with a gourmet meal at the Francis Mallman Restaurant or a more casual, but equally delicious, bistro option serving wine under the trees. Highlights from the collection include a remarkable underground Oak Room by Andy Goldsworthy, the impactful Boxes Full of Air by Sean Scully, and the suspended Richard Rogers Drawing Gallery; commissioned works add intimacy and a distinct sensibility to the impressive space. 

This year, Château La Coste will present an exhibition of works by renowned German artist Anselm Kiefer, including landscape paintings as well as outdoor sculptures from his “Women of Antiquity” series (for more on Kiefer, see below). To get the most from Château La Coste’s perfectly Provençal trifecta of art, wine, and landscape, visitors should plan to spend the better part of an afternoon exploring. 

Reservations suggested for visit and restaurant. For more information, visit www.chateau-la-coste.com.

Domaine du Muy
Le Muy (Var)

Subodh Gupta, Doot II, 2003–09. Cast aluminum. Photo: Hilary Nitka

Set among the wild pine and cork forests around the town of Le Muy, Domaine du Muy has built a dynamic, evolving collection curated by Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand and his son Edward. Visitors are welcomed into a reception and office space designed by India Mahdavi that takes full advantage of the rugged gardens and landscape beyond. Designed by renowned French landscape architect Louis Benech, the landscape allows for an organic flow between the 30 permanent sculptural works as well as the addition of temporary works that change seasonally. The rustic aesthetic enhances the sculptural works through the illusion of an unplanned, natural sequence that requires visitors to wander over, between, and through the pines to discover the next Oppenheim, Höller, or Chadwick. In a rocky pond, one encounters 1,600 floating steel spheres by Yayoi Kusama. Standouts in the summer of 2022 were Mark Dion’s The Dark Museum, Peter Kogler’s Untitled pool, and Subodh Gupta’s A Giant Leap of Faith. Expect a delightful couple of hours and a warm welcome from the director on site, Maxime Combot.

Reservations are necessary. Visit domainedumuy.com.

La Ribaute/Eschaton-Anselm Kiefer Foundation

La Ribaute. Photo: Hilary Nitka

A visit to medieval Barjac—near Cevennes National Park—is already unforgettable, but it becomes extraordinary with a stop at La Ribaute, the site of Anselm Kiefer’s monumental, 200-acre silk factory, which has evolved into an overwhelming project of hills, excavations, and exhibition buildings. Nothing quite prepares a visitor for the scope and scale of the art and projects that Kiefer has created over 30 years through the literal moving and shifting of earth: the scattered plaster brides crowned with heads that recognize women from the past; tangles of wires, metal, or scattered detritus from his years of collecting and digging on the property; and even a subterranean echo chamber of beeswax walls by Wolfgang Laib (From the Known to the Unknown—To Where Is Your Oracle Leading You). Seven Heavenly Palaces, tottering towers constructed of shipping containers, loom next to a lake and alongside the hillock of dirt built from the excavations helmed by Kiefer. Lead books, tin submarines, and a hospital-like ward dedicated to women of history are only a few of the things that make this otherworldly place worth a journey and the necessary persistence to arrange a visit.

Open seasonally, from mid-April through October, with a summer break. To arrange a guided tour, visit eschaton-foundation.com.

La Commanderie de Peyrassol

Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Teenager Teenager, 2011. Fake stone and sofa, dimensions variable. Photo: © Christophe Goussard, Courtesy Sun Yuan & Peng Yu, Galleria Continua and Peyrassol

Driving down the dirt road into La Commanderie de Peyrassol, one first sees Dennis Oppenheim’s enormous overturned wine goblets, a fitting welcome to the remarkably realized vision of sculpture and art in the landscape that Philippe Austruy has built since 2001. Stone walls carved with Templar crosses serve as reminders that the site was founded by the Knights Templar in the 13th century. It is a solid walk through the working estate, manicured gardens, and untamed Provençal woods to see 100 works in place from an impressive roster of artists, including Richard Long, Lee Ufan, Sol LeWitt, and Carsten Höller. Austruy has also built a large gallery space that offers exhibitions curated to include his personal holdings and works of emerging artists. Certainly not to be missed is a break at Chez Jeannette or the Bistrot de Lou. Let your tour end with a great meal and a glass of world-class rosé, grown and bottled on the estate in the pastoral surroundings—it will be a perfect day.

Visit www.peyrassol.com.

Villa Carmignac
Ile de Porquerolles

Vhils, Scratching the surface Porquerolles, 2018. Photo: Hilary Nitka

A belief that the journey to discover art is as important as the destination is justified by a visit to Villa Carmignac. Located on Ile de Porquerolles (accessed via a 15-minute crossing from Hyères), Villa Carmignac combines an art/sculpture park and an unusual landscape in an area of France not widely recognized for art. Visitors willing to take the less-obvious detour for beauty are rewarded. The Provençal-style art gallery is awash with island light and offers a temporary exhibition each season (this year’s exhibition, “The Inner Island,” explores introspection in contemporary art practice). The native gardens and landscape, designed by Louis Benech, are as worth the journey as the art: pioneer and endemic plantings, as well as the site’s agricultural nature, have been beautifully preserved.

Wander through wild orchids and olive trees to discover Jaume Plensa’s Three Alchemists, Vhils’s Scratching the surface Porquerolles, and Wang Keping’s LOLO, keeping a look out for sculptures sited with rare botanical plants and trees that Mr. Carmignac has transported to his gardens. After a few hours in the gardens and gallery, enjoy lunch with local wines under olive trees in an al fresco cafe. If time allows, continue on to hike or bike through the surrounding Parc national de Port-Cros. 

Visit www.fondationcarmignac.com.

Venet Foundation
Le Muy (Var)

Bernar Venet, 85.5˚Arc x 23, 2015. Cor-ten steel, 785 cm. high. Photo: © Xinyi Hu, Collection Venet Foundation

James Turrell (times two), Bernar Venet (times 10), and so much more: artistic bounty awaits when you arrange a visit to the Venet Foundation in Le Muy. It boasts two contiguous open-park sites with Venet’s own work, from his “Collapse” series and other pieces to multiples of his large-scale works created over 50 years. Enormous Cor-ten steel beams are bent, arced, disordered, scattered, and rearranged into graceful forms. After experiencing the park, you can take a short stroll to the larger property where Venet has built his home in an unforgettably serene, pastoral landscape dotted with his artist-friends’ sculptures and installations. Works by Donald Judd, Robert Indiana, Anthony Caro, and many more are sited to enhance a slow walk through this park. James Turrell built two light installations, Prana and Elliptic, Ecliptic; Frank Stella designed a site-specific outdoor chapel in 2014. Finally, a gallery space with rotating shows makes this visit very much worth a day in Le Muy. 

Reservations required, limited opening hours. Visit www.venetfoundation.org.