An article by Joyce Fang
Le Havre is a relatively small port town located in the wild and windy Normandy. The area is known for its close ties to WWII when the city was bombed and completely destroyed. From the ashes that followed, architect August Perret redesigned the important port town, and his trademark structural neo-classicalism was an attempt to create France’s first modern city. The result was a concrete jungle of square uniform buildings, which often get a bad rep as “ugly” and “fascist” from the rest of France and its fancy façades. The beauty of the city is not conspicuous, and thus nor is its cultural or artistic value. The concrete grey of the building walls often match the hues in the sky, and it’s not the first place one would consider visiting to discover new or contemporary art. But looks have proven themselves over and over to be deceiving, and there are some small gems across the city that offer a memorable artistic experience and the discovery of something new.
Le Portique, which means the gantry in French, is a contemporary art centre tucked away in a small gallery wedged between a crèche and a concrete apartment block. It is rather undiscernible as an art space from walking past, without so much as a street sign. Only the blue logo “LP” is written across the front wall of the building. Walking in, the gallery front is open and clean, with a shop and café bar serving a range of coffees and drinks. With free entry, you are offered an exhibition guide for the discovery of the exhibition and the possibility to deepen your visit and have a better grasp on the issues and challenges of contemporary creation. Opened in 2008, the centre presents the work of both established and emerging contemporary artists, and a vast panorama of different mediums within the field of artistic creation and the perpetual rewriting of art history. Supporting reinvention, the gallery described itself as a “laboratory of ideas” where one can question the processes of creation, and where artists can invent and experiment new forms in situ. You will be directed upstairs, where the exhibition space begins with one large open room with an open terrace with colourful tables and beanbags. The abundance of natural light, even on a cloudy day, gives a pleasant perspective to the exhibitions. The second floor includes two smaller rooms with similar atmospheres.
In Le Havre, it’s true that art spaces are hard to find. It’s hard to believe there are such places to showcase contemporary art in this “Stalingrad on the sea”. It is instead useful here to really appreciate what you have. Grey concrete walls become cosy unique respites from bad weather, or smooth canvases for street art. The small remote population becomes a close community. And the tiny galleries, like Le Portique, an opportunity to discover something you would otherwise never see.