Arik Levy’s Sculpture Park In Provence Is An Enchanting Secret Garden

Husband-and-wife artists Arik Levy and Zoé Ouvrier’s rambling country estate in Provence has been transformed into a sculpture park, complete with cypress trees, olive trees, wildflowers, and totemic sculptures.
by Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle

Perched on an outcrop between the Alps and the Mediterranean, Saint-Paul de Vence is this sculpture park. Curated by artists Arik Levy and Zoé Ouvrier, it is nestled among the oldest medieval villages on the French Riviera. In the past, it was frequented by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Jean-Paul Sartre and Marc Chagall.

Credit: Arik Levy’s Crater Marble awash in Mediterranean light on the grounds of his 12,000 sq-m estate. (Photo: Arik LevySculpture Park 2022)

With sculptures all around and galleries and museums — including the Maeght Foundation, which contains one of the biggest 20th-century art collections in Europe, and the CAB Saint-Paul de Vence Foundation — hiding within its labyrinth of pebbled alleyways, the picturesque fortified village continues to beguile artists just as it did during the golden era.

In a quiet valley, at the bottom of a small street, lies the bucolic private retreat of Israeli artist-designer Arik Levy and his French artist wife Zoé Ouvrier. Punctuated by his monolithic techno-poetic sculptures, the 12,000- sq m Arik Levy Sculpture Park opened to the public in May with the artists personally conducting visits that are strictly by appointment only to ensure the grounds retain tranquillity and an element of secrecy.

“No gallery can compare to what’s going on here,” explains Levy when I revel in the chance to visit the park in July. “The exchange with people is very important because the public or the collector is interested to have the story first-hand and experience the work differently.”

A place filled with creative energy and vibrations

Credit: Arik Levy and Zoe Ouvrier. (Photo: Florian Kleinefeen)

“The world is about people, not objects. We’re not obsessed with our exhibitions. We are fulfilled through our work and speaking about it. Some people have an amazing capacity to analyse on a philosophical or intellectual level, and their reactions are fantastic. They might say two or three words that will change my view of myself or start a different thought, so all that is precious,” he says.

Levy and Ouvrier had been looking for a place away from the city when they instantly fell in love with the place and its creative energy and vibrations. Prima ballerina Sylvie Guillem owned the estate, and had expressed her hope to sell to someone with a passion for dance — a universe Levy knows intimately, having been a set designer for the Nederlands Dans Theater, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and the Finnish National Ballet, in addition to his work as an artist, product designer, photographer and filmmaker.

A variety of objects Levy designed for the biggest names in home furnishings, including Bitossi Home, Coalesse, Compac, Desalto, E15, emu, Eno, Gaia & Gino, Molteni, Serralunga, TON, Verreum, and vitra., can also be seen. His surfboard dominates a corner of the living room, evoking his early career painting surfboards that were his first canvases back in Tel Aviv, where he was born in 1963.

Creative juices flow in the studio

Credit: The couple’s joint atelier was previously Sylvie Guillem’s dance studio. (Photo: Arik Levy Sculpture Park 2022

Apart from renovating Guillem’s dance studio into their joint atelier, flooded with natural light through oversized arched windows, they have left many of the house’s original features intact.

On one side of the studio is Ouvrier’s enchanted forests in the form of screens and wall panels, each painstakingly carved, engraved and hand-painted, while Levy occupies the other half with his sketches, abstract acrylic paintings and experiments that gradually transform into sculptures that are brought to life in foundries and ateliers in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, and Italy.

For 17 years, Levy and Ouvrier lived in Paris with their daughters before moving to Saint-Paul de Vence in November 2019. They discovered this property by chance while travelling back from Monaco. Their search for a place began in 2015, when they rented a house in Burgundy to escape the crowds and pollution on the weekends.

Surrounded by hundreds of cypress, olive, fig trees

Credit: Levy’s RoackMesh sculpture (Photo: Arik Levy Sculpture Park 2022)

Within a few months after their move, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, preventing them from leaving their Provençal hideaway. In Levy’s opinion, the transformation from city dwellers to agriculturists surrounded by hundreds of cypress, olive, fig, pomegranate, avocado, mandarin, and apple trees has been a privilege.

“We underestimated the amount of work the park would take, but it’s therapeutic,” Levy says of tending the park, which includes flora and fauna, a vegetable garden, koi pond and beehives.

“I can water, trim and clean while at the same time I am thinking about creating my next sculpture.”

Levy’s signature Rock sculptures

Credit: RockGrowth sculpture in corten steel. (Photo: Arik Levy Sculpture Park 2022)

The park itself hosts seasonal exhibitions beginning with a number of Levy’s signature Rock sculptures. Among them, his Corten steel sculptures RockTreeRockStoneFusion, and his RockFormationTower series of multifaceted mirror-polished stainless steel totems that reflect everything around them in an ever-changing dance of light and wild greenery.

“They show you reality in a way you cannot see it for yourself,” says Levy of his reflective works that interact with their environment. “Secondly, it’s the antithesis of what you have learnt. When you are in front of a mirror, you see yourself, but in front of my sculpture, you don’t see yourself, so the question is where are you? When you discover yourself, you do so unexpectedly because you see part of your head, leg or back — different parts of yourself in different places. My sculpture creates a sort of realism-surrealism, which is magical.”

Their residence also displays the couple’s personal art collection, including the works of American painters Frank Stella and Julian Schnabel, British sculptor David Nash, contemporary Israeli painter Gideon Rubin, and German visual artist Tom Fecht. Eventually, the goal will be to welcome artists, writers, musicians, and other talent to create on site and share their insights.

“We buy mostly artists that we like or friends that we are happy to have with us because it’s a joyful thing,” says Levy. “We want to take it step by step and do it the right way. But there’s nothing better than a dialogue of different ideas.”

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