Luxembourg 2007: cultured capital

Article published on Aug. 24, 2007
community published
Article published on Aug. 24, 2007

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A trip through the 2, 500 kilometres of the official culture capital for 2007, as its wealthiest citizens in Europe brace themselves for an exceptional cultural calendar

2007 has brought an explosion in art and tourism to the streets of Luxembourg. Having been crowned once before as city of culture in 1995, the 'Little Switzerland' has thoroughly converted itself into Europe's utmost cultural capital. The initiative came into being in 1985 at the hands of Europe's Council of Ministers. It's objective is to give a new cultural impulse to European cities through funded artistic activities directed at a broad, international audience.

'Bankers? They only buy paintings for their offices!'

Things weren't always like this. In 2005, the number of tourists in Luxembourg (913, 000) didn't even manage to surpass the number of visitors (952, 770) to the Museum Quai Branly, which opened in June of the following year. The truth is that the cosmopolitan character of the city, fruit of its important financial centre, has not really contributed to its cultural growth. 'A lack of interest?' asks Josée Hansen, a journalist for Luxembourg's weekly Land newspaper.

'Luxembourg is suffering a huge setback in artistic material. Its small bourgeois mentality isn't helping one bit. Its people struck rich within two decades, and at the moment, they pose an immense purchasing power thanks to the work done at the bank,' explains the journalist and president of the administration council of popular concert venue Rockhal. The economy is growing, the rate of unemployment is at 4. 7% and the cost of living is high, 'but patrons and sponsors barely exist,' continues Hansen ironically. 'Bankers only spend their money on paintings for their offices!'

Kirchberg, new face of Luxembourg

The huge panels of colour and blue cardboard silhouettes of deer, the symbol which commemorates the city's cultural status, are popping up all over the place as if to emphasise the fact that things are changing. Leaving the historical centre behind and crossing the grand parks on the periphery, you arrive at Kirchberg. The panorama changes radically. The neighbourhood of European institutions is currently under repair and the two towers of the European Court of Justice, masterpiece of French architect Dominique Perrault, will soon be completed. A few metres away The Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art (Mudam) emerges on the landscape. It's an elegant building by Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, the father of the crystal pyramids at the Louvre museum in Paris. Marie Claude Beaud, director at Mudam, underlines the importance of the European Capital of Culture programme, to drive cultural activity: 'it's our task to animates these dynamics via programmes of quality.'

Matthias Naike is director of the splendid Philharmonica designed by Christian de Portzamparc, which is situated in the building adjoining Mudam. He agrees that the 'quality of the cultural events offered in Luxembourg has never been so high as this year, especially thanks to the iniatiatives of Luxembourg 2007.'

Is it a mere question of a short economic boom, or the beginning of a new era for 'Little Switzerland', which boasts an income per capita of more than £45, 461 (67, 000 euros) - more than double the average of the EU? It's certainly not financial means which prohibit Luxembourg from becoming a beacon of contemporary art on the Old Continent.

(Photo: Mikuzz/ Flickr)

Expositions: Exquisite Pain in the photos of Sophie Calle

What is the clearest example? The Exquiste Pain (Douleur Exquise) exhibition by French photographer Sophie Calle, situated just behind the train station, inside an old circular industrial deposit, designed for the maintenance of locomotives at the end of the nineteenth century. The artist is currently enjoying immense popularity in the whole of Europe. Alongside fellow countryman and conceptual artist Daniel Buren, the 54-year-old Parisian hosted the French pavillion in the Venice Biennale 2007, and in 2004 was exhibited in the Pompidou Centre.

Her latest piece is a photographic itinery of her sentimental painful experiences. It's the story of dumped love whilst journeying to Japan, a country in which she endured a tough three month seperation from her boyfriend. The lovesickness led to Calle embarking upon the Transsiberian Express for a month to try and reduce the distance between them, cutting short her Japan stay by sixty days. The firt part of the exhibiton consists of an intimate diary composed of text and photos on the distance between her lover. Ninety days passed and he did not show at their rendez-vous; he was with someone else. To try and beat the pain, Calle surveyed 99 people on what had been their most painful moment in their lives. To know and elaborate on the pain of others could help her overcome her own.

Still more gripping are the aluminiumsurfaces upon which the photos of Calle are presented: huge curved panels designed by Canadian-born sculptor and architect Frank Gehry. The couple met in 1984; 'I want you to be my agent,' said Calle. 'I agreed, as a joke. The next day an important gallery called me to arrange a date. And before I knew it, we had fixed a date for an exposition. Since that day, Gehry sends me a bouqet of flowers for every exhibition I do. I found my guardian angel in him.'

'Douleur exquise' is showing until 9 September at Rotonda 1 de Bonnevoie, Luxembourg

Thanks to Alex Vicente