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Artist Stefan Szczesny conquers the village of Les Baux-de-Provence



By Alfred Thum

Artist Stefan Szczesny in Les Baux-de-Provence This medieval village offers undreamt-of, rich possibilities for the presentation of art - and amazingly - of modern art. It gathers everything that belongs to a genuine Provençal village: an imposing castle ruin on the top of the mountain and a settlement that stretches along the foot of the mountain on a road called Grande Rue leading to the Town Hall and finally to a square with a chapel and a church. All the houses are in plain light grey of the surrounding stone. The town hall itself is built in Renaissance style, the other houses could be much older.

When the visitor arrives below the castle ruins, at the village level, he is greeted by a fanfare of modern sculpture. Along a road that is more like a plateau, larger-than-life sculptures are lined up, which seem to stage the festival of life. They are painted in vivid, strong colours and show palm trees and other tropical plants as motifs - and people who live in harmony with these plants. They are two- and three-dimensional hermaphroditic sculptures: they are initially cut out of metal plates, i.e. two-dimensional, but are then often combined with other figures in an oblique sequence so that they end up appearing three-dimensional. They look light and airy because they are only silhouettes, in reality they are of course quite heavy and anchored in massive pedestals so that they can withstand the Provencal Mistral.

The subsequent stroll through the village becomes a voyage of discovery in the artist's footsteps. In several places, half-hidden courtyards open up, showing, for example, Szczesny's latest paintings in the open air, using, of course, materials and colours that can withstand the weather. In another such courtyard, photos showing himself are lined up. These are particularly successful photographs by well-known photographers, biopics in other words, that show him in the various phases of his life and work.

It begins with photos from the artist's early years in Germany when he was part of the group The New Wild Ones. These "wildly" determined innovators had revolutionized the painting style of that time. Their exhibitions caused a sensation. The participating artists suddenly became known.

The "main artery" of the village, the Grande Rue, leads into the middle of the village to the town hall, the Maison "Manville". A sculpture by Szczesny, three metres high and specially created for this square, awaits the visitor. Large vases are set up in two arched side niches. You can see how skillfully the artist stages his works of art, so the staging itself becomes part of the work of art.

From the inner courtyard of the town hall, a door opens into an exhibition room that is itself worth seeing with its arched vaults. There are glass sculptures set up, which Szczesny recently had produced in Venice by a congenial glass sculptor under his guidance. The most diverse possibilities of forming glass at a correspondingly high temperature have been used: for example, mouth blowing, but also letting the glass be pulled down using gravity, and the participation of the artist in the process. The presentation on pedestals of the same height and white with the discreetly coloured background of this Renaissance vault allows the glass sculptures to take full effect in all their colourful splendour.

Szczesny Exhibit in Les Baux-de-Provence (c) Stefan Szczesny

All in all, we are dealing with an exhibition project of unusual dimensions. It was only possible because there was a synergy between the Mayor of Les Baux on the one hand and the artist and his team (the "Szczesny-Factory") on the other. The use of creativity and practical labour, of machines and other means, was enormous. Bringing the large sculptures to this place, setting them up and making them windproof required a great deal of effort. The result is unique. To turn an entire village into a stage for one's art is something that no one is able to imitate in Szczesny's time.

Szczesny - Les Baux-de-Provence
The exhibition is open throughout the summer - until 15 October. Admission is free.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue and individual exhibition locations within the village are well marked with the exhibition poster.