New perspectives | Monocle

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The Culture pages of monocle’s June issue include a dab of inspiration, a splatter of fresh ideas and a rather fetching art special. First, our editors whisk you around three bold new openings, from the gallery making Carthage cool again (and rallying Tunisian talent) and a Valencian palace-turned-nightclub that’s welcoming an altogether artsier crowd, to the canny conversion of a military building aiming to put Kristiansand in Norway on the contemporary art map.

Elsewhere in these pages, we offer a not-to-be-missed preview of Art Basel, the 10 things to see at the Venice Biennale and share come secrets from a Canadian art collector par excellence. Sometimes the hardest thing about making a masterpiece is knowing when it’s finished – we hope that you enjoy our portrait of the best to see, buy and inspire this summer. — L

emerging art scene
Carthage cool

Gallerist Selma Feriani

Selma Feriani took a gamble when she decided to open a contemporary art gallery in Tunis’s commercial district Le Kram, far from the city’s arts neighbourhood. “When you take the initiative, other people follow your lead,” says Feriani, who is perched on an orange George Nelson sofa on the vast third floor of her industrial gallery, which was designed by Tunisian architect Chacha Atallah. The space, the largest of its kind in the country, deliberately feels out of place. Feriani wanted to redefine the city’s arts boundaries by positioning her gallery downtown, rather than in the bourgeois neighbourhood of La Marsa, where you’ll find the residence of the French ambassador and the whitewashed bohemian village of Sidi Bou Saïd, which Paul Klee came to paint in 1914.

It’s a bold move but this is Feriani’s third outpost (she first opened in London’s Mayfair in 2010 before inaugurating a smaller space in Sidi Bou Saïd in 2013, now closed) and she isn’t afraid to take risks when it comes to championing her country’s art. More challenging, however, has been finding Tunisian artists who remain in the country. Under the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian creatives emigrated en masse to Europe in the 1980s in search of freedom of expression and, since his overthrow in 2011, their return has been slow and gradual. But Feriani intends to do everything she can to keep them here.

Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956 and the European population that had settled in Tunis under the French protectorate dissipated. “The identity of the arts and culture scenes experienced a vigorous Arabisation as a result,” says Atallah. That Feriani’s eponymous gallery has moved from a location in a converted convent in Sidi Bou Saïd to a slick white cube in Le Kram in the time since the dictatorship was dismantled is a useful barometer for measuring how the country’s changed politics have given the arts space to flourish.

Nevertheless, ever a product of its time, art here remains politically charged. Wider social tensions have calmed but the sector is experiencing significant growing pains. As a result of heavy taxes imposed on importing and exporting artworks, as well as the weakness of Tunisia’s currency, making a living as an artist in Tunis can be complicated and arduous. Relocating elsewhere is not an option for most. The US, for example, only offers 55,000 visas to Tunisians seeking to emigrate via an annual lottery.

Exhibition opening at Selma Feriani’s gallery
Sculptures by Nidhal Chamekh at the Selma Feriani Gallery
Painter Fares Thabet

But the community is persistent and is making headway at home. “In Tunis, you always have to have a plan B because nothing comes without a fight,” says Feriani. “As Tunisians, we know never to ask anything of the government. Instead we support each other.” In a country that dedicates a tiny percentage of its budget to the arts, the scale of the new Selma Feriani Gallery sets a precedent for a city with a distinct absence of space for exhibitions.

Feriani’s aim isn’t just to contribute to her native city’s burgeoning art market; she wants to take it to the next level. “I looked to build a gallery that would become a reference point for the region and for the continent as a whole,” says Feriani, who hopes that by exhibiting works by Latin American and Middle Eastern artists, alongside the domestic output (which remains the focus), she can create a cultural mix, harnessing renewed links, particularly within the Middle East and North Africa. She wants to channel her energy into bringing art to Tunis, rather than sending it away. “I don’t want to be everywhere and nor do my artists,” she says. “When artists from here become international, they’re no longer accessible to the Tunisian market, which disenfranchises the industry further.”

One way of doing this has been to create an artist-in-residence programme. “We want to invite international and Tunisian players to spend time in Tunis, to integrate into the tight-knit community and to produce site-specific projects,” she says. In a converted garage in Bhar Lazreg, a rural area in the northern suburbs, Franco-Tunisian visual artist Férielle Doulain-Zouari, who studied at the École Duperré Paris, is currently using the programme to hone her craft. “In Bhar Lazreg, it’s much easier to engage with people who don’t find the city’s art to be very accessible,” she says, motioning to curious onlookers peering in, including a flock of sheep – a reminder of how recently this area has become home to an artistic community. Industrial workshops here make raw materials that Doulain-Zouari, who uses scraps from an ironmonger and a Syrian glassblower based nearby, can easily access to celebrate what she refers to as the behind-the-scenes Tunis.

Bohemian village of Sidi Bou Saïd
Behind the scenes at Selma’s gallery
Bookshop in Selma’s gallery
Copper work in the Medina

Feriani’s dynamic artist-in-residence programme is nurturing local talent and helping to democrtise the industry. “Before the Tunisian Revolution, the art world was reserved for those who could afford to study in Paris. Now emerging creatives are being granted the space to get involved, challenging the Western idea of the art world as elitist,” says sculptor and filmmaker Malek Gnaoui, who is also the artistic director of the video art section of the Gabes Film Festival. The trope of documentation appears in one form or another across much of Tunis’s modern artwork. “Our government is still very secretive when it comes to archiving,” says Gnaoui.

Established in 2007, the work of cultural ngo L’Art Rue is another driving force behind the opening up of the city’s artistic spaces. Tucked away in the Unesco-protected medieval Medina, L’Art Rue’s lively programme runs workshops funded largely by the French and Swiss ministries of culture. “We’re trying to break down barriers, in terms of the spaces themselves but also economically: some of the most marginalised people live in the Medina, which is home to one tenth of the population,” says production manager Aicha Zaied. Cultural centre 32bis, which is in the former Philips HQ in downtown Tunis, offers free access to its media library to make arts publications more accessible. “We don’t publish enough art books in Tunis,” says Feriani, who has a budget to produce one publication a year. Removed from the pressurised environment of Europe’s most lucrative markets, artists choosing to return to Tunis feel some sense of relief. “Here my work has the space to breathe,” says landscape painter Fares Thabet, who studied fine art in Madrid before returning to Tunis in 2016 to take over his father’s ceramics workshop. “In Madrid, the art world has become very intellectual.” As we sip fresh mint tea on the studio balcony overlooking the coastal fishing village of La Goulette, it is clear why Thabet feels calmer away from the noise of Madrid.

The same goes for other key European centres. “Paris is a bubble,” says photographer and calligrapher Nicène Kossentini, who studied fine arts at the Sorbonne University and whose calligraphy poetically preserves medieval Arabic texts, the language tha forms the bedrock of her Maghrebi identity. After exhibiting in Algiers, Tehran and Alexandria, Kossentini found the most fertile artistic territory in her native North African nation, returning in 2010 despite her family’s base in the French capital. It’s a familiar feeling that Feriani wants to harness. “In Tunis, your work won’t be judged. That’s very refreshing,” she says.

Exhibition at 32BIS
Férielle Doulain-Zouari
Views of Sidi Bou Saïd

But without a comparable proliferation of arts institutions throughout Tunis, the new generation will continue to migrate. “It’s still the norm to study abroad because we only have 12 art schools,” says Kossentini. This has led to an undervalued Tunisian market. “Art here isn’t always meritocratic because people are still scared to give native artists a platform,” says Benjamin Perrot, co-founder of El Warcha design studio in Le Kram. “Until we fully commit to investing in the art produced within our borders, the scene here will lag behind.”

Sculptor and filmmaker Malek Gnaoui

Though Tunis’s arts infrastructure continues to be hampered by political, economic and logistical constraints, there is a fresh sense of optimism pulsing through the city, which is still suffering from post-revolutionary trauma. Organised by L’Art Rue, the city’s biennial art festival was exported to Brussels for the first time in April. It is a clear indicator that there is a growing European appreciation for North Africa’s rich artistic offering, a trend that Feriani intends to nurture. The festival is aptly named Dream City – a reminder that Tunis has always dared to dream.

Tunis address book

La Villa Bleue
Arab-Andalusian architecture draped in bougainvillea looms large over the Gulf of Tunis.

eat & drink
Ben Rahim
Arab coffee culture is ingrained in Tunisia’s first speciality coffee shop, which is open late.

Le Golfe
An elegant spot overlooking the Mediterranean: sample the boutargue (mullet roe), a delicacy of the city’s Italian diaspora.

Japanese-Mediterranean fusion cuisine inspired by Tokyo’s convenience store culture.
Rue de Phosphate, Marsa

Bleue Deli
Sidi Bou Saïd’s only concept store-cum-café: pick up a jar of locally made harissa or try the signature shakshuka.
8 Rue Habib Thameur, Sidi Bou Saïd

Phosphor Design District
A creative area in the city’s industrial neighbourhood, which is home to 12 studios.
Rue Phosphate, Bhar Lazreg

Le Violon Bleu
Set up by Selma Feriani’s mother, Essia Hamdi, in 2004, this gallery promotes the modern artists of L’École de Tunis.
16 Rue de la Gare, Sidi Bou Saïd

the palatial gallery
Hortensia Herrero Art Centre


The museum used to be a nightclub

Art collector Hortensia Herrero’s plan to establish a museum that would be the pride of her hometown, Valencia, has been a decade in the making. Herrero, a part-owner of Mercadona, Spain’s biggest supermarket chain, wanted to create a world-class venue for cutting-edge international artists and worked with curator Javier Molins, her advisor and artistic director of the project, to make the museum come to life.

“We had to think about what would be good for Valencia,” says Molins as he shows monocle around the Hortensia Herrero Art Centre, obviously excited by the opening day ahead. “It’s about bringing together artists who would normally only exhibit in London or New York. By having this art here, we are making Valencia more beautiful and international than before,” he adds, peering out of a window towards the sun glinting off the golden roofs of the historical centre.


Sean Scully’s rethought chapel

The Mediterranean city is already home to a clutch of well-pitched commercial galleries – among them, Luis Adelantado, Vangar and Ana Serratosa. But, until now, there were few hallmark spaces dedicated to bringing contemporary art into the public sphere. From works by Alexander Calder, Eduardo Chillida and Anselm Kiefer to Georg Baselitz, Olafur Eliasson and David Hockney, the collection is a hit list of modern visual art. The building is inviting, with the works presented against a deliberately accessible backdrop of whitewashed walls.

For some Valencianos, the structure is part of the pull. Many hadn’t stepped foot inside the building since its time as a club in the 1980s, when the owners are said to have kept lions in the basement (monocle is still trying to find out whether this is apocryphal). The property was originally built as a palace in the 17th century but also served as a printing press for Las Provincias newspaper from the early 1890s until the 1970s. By the time the architects at Erre studio were tasked with reimagining the space in 2016, the building had been abandoned for decades. “It had completely deteriorated; it was in ruins,” says Amparo Roig, a partner at Erre and Herrero’s daughter, while standing in the light-filled inner courtyard. “But you could see that it was magical. We were sure that it would be great in the end.”


Curator Javier Molins


The light-flooded former granary

Playing with perspectives

Remarkably, it is the only place in town where you can catch a glimpse of the city’s ancient Roman circus, the remains of which are hidden beneath the streets. During the renovation work, the architects uncovered a medieval oven, Moorish fountains and a tiled passageway from the former Jewish ghetto. All of these signs of the city’s past are now displayed alongside the gallery’s main collection. “You know that you’re going to find a prize when you start digging in the centre of Valencia,” says Roig with a chuckle. “There are so many layers of history.”

The biggest challenge for the studio was to adapt the residence to displaying art. The team decided to build a vast, hidden elevator platform to bring hefty works all the way up to the top floor, as well as a new wing to house multimedia projects. Much of the debate between the architectural and curatorial teams centred on whether it was possible to keep all of the original windows in place – or whether it might be better to cover them up to create more wall space on which to hang the art.

Olafur Eliasson’s iridescent corridor
Work in situ 
Amparo Roig of architecture studio Erre 6

The former idea – and seemly fenestration – prevailed. The refit feels more sensitive and airy as a result. The team was keen to involve artists in shaping the structure from the beginning of the process, commissioning six site-specific installations to maximise all the display space.

Space to linger

Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno’s bulbous glass sculptures give the brick-lined courtyard an iridescent glare, while Cristina Iglesias’s “Transito Mineral”– a reproduction of large tree trunks in stone – creates a seamless passageway between the museum’s two wings. The building’s former chapel was given to Sean Scully, who produced a striped painting and two colourful stained-glass panels to add to the space’s sense of solemnity.

British artist Mat Collishaw’s video installation, “Left in Dust”, plays a seemingly infinite loop of galloping horses that eventually reveals itself to be a chariot race. For him, the project was an opportunity to connect with the location and showcase its layers of history. “It’s good to evoke some of the ghosts of this spot,” he says, surveying his piece’s final placement. “In a lot of my work, I explore primal impulses and I am also interested in celebrating spectacle.”

Artist Blanca Muñoz
British artist Mat Collishaw

Madrid-based artist Blanca Muñoz has a small sculpture on show in the building’s most atmospheric room – the former granary, under the old roof – and has collaborated with Herrero on a number of bespoke projects in other locations. She appreciates the value of a patron. “Working with a collector is the best thing that you can do,” she says, taking a seat on the breezy terrace. “It’s great to adapt your inner world to a concrete space.” Thanks to these artists’ efforts to fit in, the Fundacíon Hortensia Herrero is all the better for it.

the museum
Kristiansand, Norway


Staircase inside a former silo cylinder

A bird’s eye view of Kristiansand, a city on Norway’s southern tip, only a short ferry ride from Denmark, reveals a neat settlement nestled on a rugged coastline. A smattering of red, yellow and white wooden houses perch on the waterfront opposite a port where cruise ships from the UK and Germany dock and disperse little crowds at intervals throughout the day.

Beyond the fish restaurants, wine bar and ice-cream parlour lies what is putting this city of nearly 117,000 people on the map: art, specifically Kunstsilo, a new quayside museum on the island of Odderøya, a former naval base in southwest Kristiansand. The space houses the Sørlandssamlingen (the South Collection), the Christianssands Picture Gallery and the Tangen Collection, the world’s largest, most comprehensive body of 2oth-century Nordic art. The last of these takes its name from Nicolai Tangen, the manager of the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, who bequeathed his collection of Nordic art to Kristiansand, his hometown, in 2015.

As custodian of the donation, Kunstsilo received more than 3,000 ceramics, paintings, photographs, installations and conceptual works. Tangen believes that the new museum will make Kristiansand a more interesting place to live. “I love that this small place will be able to challenge some of the big national museums,” Tangen tells monocle from Olso. “The museum will be important for the children who grow up there. It will also be good for visitors.”


Magnus Wåge of Mestres Wåge Arquitectes


Exhibition rooms being readied for opening day


Entrance to the museum

Kunstsilo is within a former grain silo that was designed by renowned Norwegian architects Arne Korsmo and Sverre Aasland in 1936. The structure had stood unused for almost 20 years. And now Mestre Wåge Arkitekter, the practice that won the international competition to repurpose the silo – beating more than 100 other proposals – has breathed new life into it. 

Kunstsilo’s industrial space feels akin to a cathedral. Its soaring silo cylinders have been cut open to enable free passage around the building. monocle visits a month before its opening on 11 May. The atmosphere is giddy: everyone seems excited and not yet stressed about any last-minute snags. New staff are being ferried around to get the feel of the place. The menu for the downstairs café and rooftop restaurant is being sampled. Workers busily finish the plaza outside the building’s harbourside entrance.

When the museum gave out passes for its opening day, they were snapped up within hours. “It was like selling tickets to a rock concert,” says Kunstsilo’s ceo, Reidar Fuglestad, who joined the project in 2017 having previously run a nearby theme park for 17 years.

The cut open silo

Modernist Nordic paintings on display


Curator Åsmund Thorkildsen

The opening exhibition, Passions of the North, comprises 600 works from the Tangen Collection. It was curated by Åsmund Thorkildsen, who previously worked with Norway’s Drammens Museum, in consultation with Norwegian art historian Steinar Gjessing, and showcases significant pieces of Nordic modernism, including Swedish impressionist Isaac Grünewald and Danish surrealist Rita Kernn-Larsen.

“We have had a lot of fun developing this exhibition,” says Thorkildsen as he directs us through the exhibition rooms, some of which are painted in inviting hues of yellow, green, blue and pink. “We’ve done away with the neutral way of showing art,” he says, pointing at a group of paintings that hang close together as if in a huddle. He then stands next to a work that’s hung high up on the wall. “The placement does something to how you view the art,” he says with a mischievous glint in his eye. “The exhibition should be a bodily, as well as visual, experience.”


Solen’ by Synnøve Anker Aurdal



Hanne Silje Dovland, head of project management (left), and Else-Brit Kroneberg, head of collections


Kunstsilo’s exterior

But the process of showing the Tangen Collection in a functionalist grain silo hasn’t been fun and games from start to finish. “We endured six-and-a-half years of political opposition and only six months of support,” says ceo Fuglestad.

He explains that scores of Kristiansand’s residents opposed tax payers’ money going to the art museum. Kunstsilo became such a hot potato that local politics shifted against the project. However, once interest from beyond Norway’s borders started to trickle in, Fuglestad noticed a significant change in people’s attitudes and the positives of having the museum there became apparent. “Now it is a source of pride that residents can show to visitors,” he says. “I joined this project because I believe in it and I am convinced that it will bring real benefits to the people who live here.”

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