Nice was a force in the modern art movement in the ’60’s and ’70’s, attracting conceptual artists from all over Europe and calling itself L’Ecole de Nice, or the School of Nice. Influencing and intersecting New Realism, Fluxus and Supports-Surfaces, the major players included Sosno, Cesar, Arman, Yves Klein, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Bernar Venet, George Brecht, and Ben.
As a result, the influence of contemporary art in Nice cannot be overstated, and it shows up absolutely everywhere, in its architecture, restaurants, hotels, shops, festivals, and public works (…see recommendations below).
The MAMAC Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art and Contemporary Art (MAMAC) is dedicated to the history of the European and American avant-garde movement from the beginning of the 1960’s to the present day.
How to get there:
- Walk: The giant arched white marble covered museum is just off Place Garibaldi, so it’s just minutes from the Old town or the Port. A stroll up the Promenade du Paillon gardens ends at the giant white marble National Theatre of Nice and MAMAC.
- By tramway: get off at either Garibaldi stop, from the middle of Place Garibaldi you’ll see the giant marble archway.
- By car: There’s 1 hour free parking at the Promenade des Arts public parking lot, but if you go into the 2nd hour, you have to pay for the first hour too. Better to park in the Palais des Expositions ParcAzur Park and Ride lot, where you can leave the car for the whole day for the price of a 3€ round-trip ParcAzur tram ticket.
Hours: 10am to 6pm; closed Mondays, May 1, Easter Sunday, Christmas and Jan. 1. Sometimes they have late hours on Thursday nights until 10pm.
Tickets: Buy your tickets at the entrance under the giant marble arch.
Tickets are 15€ for adults, but your ticket gives you access to all 10 municipal museums in Nice for 48-hours. The museum is free for children under 18, students of any age with student ID, locals with the blue Pass Musée, or with the French Riviera Pass. Click here for more info on the ticket/museum pass including which museums you get access to, suggested ways to group them, and some strategy to make the most of your 48 hours.
Free Audioguides: New for 2021, the MAMAC’App available for download in the App Store or Google Play. Lots of original content, in audio, video, text and games.
Guided Tours: Guided tours of MAMAC in English are available for 6€ per person on Saturdays at 4pm.
Insider Tip: Check out the MAMAC rooftop!
The Espace Ferarro Contemporary Art Museum – FREE
Nice’s second modern art Museum is also its newest: the Espace Ferarro Museum which showcases Jean Ferarro’s vast collection of works from the Ecole de Nice modern art movement, in rotation. This museum is free and at 27 boulevard Debouchage near the Nice Etoile shopping center, tram stop Jean Médecin. it’s just a 15 minute walk from the MAMAC so might as well make it a double header. Closed Mondays and all of August.
Villa Arson Museum – FREE
The Villa Arson Museum is adjacent to the Institute, which churns out a new crop of avant garde artists every year. The museum is free, but open to the public only during their exhibitions, so check the site to see what’s showing before you go. Hours during exhibitions 2pm to 6pm (7pm July/August); closed Tuesdays, May 1, Easter Sunday, Christmas and Jan. 1. 20 av. Stephen Liégeard, tram stop Le Ray (line 1) and then a 10 minute walk.
Modern Art Galleries in Nice
- Lou Babazouk The newest modern art gallery, and in-house artist changes monthly. Located on the corner of rue Droite and rue de la Loge in old Nice.
- Galerie Ferraro is just down the street at 17 rue Droite in old Nice, and is one of the most established.
- Eva Vautier Galerie is run by Ben’s daughter, who grew up with the Ecole de Nice artists. Located at 2 rue Vernier (tram stop Gare Thiers or Liberation).
- Galerie Depardieu sometimes moonlights as a pop up jazz concert venue! 6 rue du docteur Jacques Guidoni (tram stops Opera or Massena).
- Espace à Vendre at 10 Rue Assalit (tram stop Port Lympia)
- And here is a link to my favorite virtual gallery where Gregory Preston shows 20 years of highly original photo-artistic creations, all cutting edge and completely inspired by, and imbued with Nice.
This art movement is still shaping Nice, as witnessed by Sosno’s Tete Carrée, the giant square-head-shaped building just down the street from the MAMAC, that aptly houses the administration of the public library. This marvel of architectural engineering is best seen from Boulevard Barla/Carabacel, and the locals either love it or absolutely hate it. The new Iconic building by the train station will be another example of innovative architecture in the same vein.
There are so many, but check out the Ben store in the old town on 16 Rue Colonna d’Istria, where you can take home a piece of Ben’s famously scrawled French pith.
Nice’s iconic and highly eccentric Hotel Negresco is famous for its trippy mix of modern art with staid baroque.
And if you really want to stay with the theme, check-in to The Windsor Art Hotel. Since 1989, the owners have given chosen Ecole de Nice artists carte blanche to transform one room a year into an ouvre d’art, sometimes with very surprising results. The choice of lobby art is the first clue that this 3-star establishment is not like the others, but check-in to one of their Artist Rooms and you will have no doubt. The Ben room is one of the most popular, covered with his scrawls, most starting with, “I dreamed that…” Read all about Nice’s most eccentric hotels here.
All the art installed along the new tramway lines has its influences in The Ecole de Nice, which has inspired almost all public sculptures in Nice. Notable ‘can’t miss em’ works including Max Cartier’s giant stone man at the entrance to the Nice airport, Venet’s epic steel woosh just off Place Massena and his latest, a 30-meter tall set of 9 rusty steel sticks (I’m paraphrasing) on the Promenade des Anglais. Again, you either love it or hate it.
Les Visiteurs du Soir (The Visitors in the Night) – 2 nights of surprising art in unexpected places, mid-April or May tdb – FREE. Les Visiteurs du Soir is a kind of sprawling, ephemeral, almost ‘underground’, yearly contemporary art festival. During two days, the public is invited to a free nighttime self-guided tour to discover approximately sixty locations in Nice: artists’ studios, private apartments, cultural or offbeat locations… even a fabulous abandoned mansion, the Villa Cameline. The purpose of this event is to have contemporary art leave its walls and make it more accessible through a surprising itinerary that shows today’s creation where it is not expected. Check with the Tourist Office for dates and map.
The momentum continues at the Villa Arson, a national institute of contemporary art that churns out more provocative free-thinking artists every year. They have a gallery and a monthly conference and film series open to the public.
- Back up to main Art Museums page