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Lebanese Artist Nabil Nahas on His First Solo Exhibition in France’s Famed Château La Coste

Unique to the world, the Château La Coste is a sprawling domain in the South of France speckled with architecture and art from the world’s greatest contemporaries. Now, it invites the work of Lebanese artist Nabil Nahas to inhabit its green hills.

The Tadao Ando art center, Château La Coste. Photo: Andrew Pattman

Gazing outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, wisps of cotton candy clouds paint the sky like brush strokes. They echo the pastel paintings by Francesco Clemente hanging on the wall of the pavilion by the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, perched opposite the view of the Trévaresse hills in Provence. Nearby, glass structures by Frank Gehry and land art by Andy Goldsworthy await to be discovered. Further down the valley, the magnanimous form of a pregnant woman by Prune Nourry appears birthed by the Earth herself. The voices of children laughing mingle with those of goats bleating as they munch grass near olive trees and rows of vineyards. The 200-hectare domain of Château La Coste is unique in France and the world. Patrick McKillen, a Belfast-born hotelier and businessman with interests in luxury hotels like The Connaught and The Savoy, recalls feeling “submerged by the beauty” of the place when he first laid eyes on it. Acquiring the land in 2002, his desire to share the space with lovers of art, architecture, nature, and fine cuisine saw it open to the public. Now, all may meander through pavilions and installations imagined by the greatest contemporary thinkers and in turn, be inspired to dream. It is here, amid this fertile soil peppered with structures by Jean Nouvel and Renzo Piano, that Lebanese artist Nabil Nahas has a solo exhibition. While it is his first in France, Nahas has long enjoyed recognition. The artist, who lives in New York, has his work showcased in the permanent collections of The Tate London and the Metropolitan Museum, to name a few. Under the umbrella “Les Racines du ciel” (the roots of the sky) Nahas exhibits two series; the first features various trees – olive, palm, and of course, the Lebanese cedar. Their barks are ancient, textured, and raw; they call to be touched. Splashes of red evoke the pain of a landscape on fire. The works were made following the Beirut blast. A walk through a slanted corridor brings guests to different works by Nahas in a pavilion by Renzo Piano. These were also spurred by a disaster – albeit a natural one, Hurricane Bob. Starfish and encrusted fractals invite viewers to meditate on geometries and decorative patterns that the artist discovered washed up on a Long Island beach.

The Oscar Niemeyer pavilion

“I was always interested in the earth and the universe,” says Nahas. Color, too, weaves through his work like a sure thread, never timid. It even permeates his clothes – his belt is a Yves Klein blue, and his jacket is a multitude of colors. Visiting the Château La Coste for the weekend, Nahas expresses his delight to see his works exposed in what feels like a temple for aficionados of art and design. “It’s nice isn’t it?” he smiles humbly, sitting at a table inside the Tadao Ando art center. Both he and his work are cocooned in magnificence; limited-edition lithographs of his paintings hang in the adjoining boutique.

Villa La Coste. Photo: Richard Haughton

The art center is surrounded by water. It features a sculpture by Hiroshi Sugimoto and a large black, yellow, and red mobile by Alexander Calder. Crouching Spider by French artist Louise Bourgeois appears to hover across blue ripples. McKillen is particularly fond of Bourgeois and her works can be found throughout the property. Black-and-white photos feature a young Bourgeois with cinematic airs posing for the camera, while The Couple, an intertwining silver sculpture, hangs over the main table at the Hélène Darroze restaurant. The Michelin star chef has prepared a tasting menu for guests that underscores the local foods of Provence like succulent Sisteron lamb and trout. Along with fine dining, the domain offers an Argentinian restaurant by chef Francis Mallmann with an outdoor grill. There is also an Italian wood stove pizza place, and chic French brasserie-style eateries surrounded by Damien Hirst art and the fresh, South of France air.

Nabil Nahas exhibits two series; the first features various trees – olive, palm, and the Lebanese cedar. The other is of starfish and encrusted fractals. Photo: Rabih Andraos

Nabil Nahas exhibits two series; the first features various trees – olive, palm, and the Lebanese cedar. The other is of starfish and encrusted fractals. Photo: Rabih Andraos

Nabil Nahas exhibits two series; the first features various trees – olive, palm, and the Lebanese cedar. The other is of starfish and encrusted fractals. Photo: Farzad Owrang

Recently, Château La Coste opened Villa La Coste, which offers 29 suites for guests wishing to remain on the estate. Neutral colors grounded in natural wood furniture, art and photography books, and beds overlooking pine trees and the valley, blend seamlessly with the surroundings. The pièce de résistance is the Jean Prouvé suite. Created in 1944 as a demountable house and installed in the estate in 2019, the rustic room is a sanctuary for lovers of mid-century design. Extensions – a kitchen and bathroom – are by Richard Rogers, the British-Italian architect who worked on the Centre Pompidou museum in Paris.

Tadao Ando art center. Photo: François Deladerrière

Small Crinkly by Alexander Calder. Photo: Andrew Pattman

Labyrinth by Per Kirkeby. Photo: Stephane Aboudaram

In the spirit of exchange, guests are invited to leave their mark on the property in the form of a wish. An installation by Yoko Ono features flowering trees with papers tied to their branches. “I hope to regain my health,” reads one. “I want to be touched by beauty,” reads another. Leaving the domain for Aix-en-Provence, a 15-minute drive away, one can’t help but notice that couples, families, friends – everyone on the property is smiling, conversing, relaxed, and happy. Here, one can see with their own eyes that wishes blossom.

Crouching Spider by French artist Louise Bourgeois. Photo: Andrew Pattman

Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Vogue Living Arabia

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