Postcard from Toulouse, France: Arts festival reflected on contemporary condition

“Going from Nowhere. Coming from Nowhere,” a neon installation by Maurizio Nannucci, casts reflections onto the Garonne River during Le Printemps de Septembre.

When we were in Toulouse this past fall, several of the city’s major museums were closed for remodeling, COVID or a combination of the two reasons. They were all scheduled for reopening in early 2022, so probably have unlocked their doors by now.

The arts were not being ignored though, particularly during Le Printemps de Septembre, a month-long city-wide celebration that ran through mid-October. The theme for the 2021 festival was “Sur les Cendres de l’Hacienda/On the Ashes of the Hacienda,” a theme selected pre-pandemic and promoting artists who expose disaster, stand up to it and look ahead. For the gallery-hesitant, the night-time illuminations along the banks of the Garonne River were stunning.

For those with little imagination for the possibilities of adaptive reuse of old structures, Les Abattoirs stands as a stellar example of what can be accomplished. With slaughterhouses scattered throughout the city, leaders of Toulouse recognized the health benefits that could be achieved by grouping the facilities in one location. Architect Urbain Vitry (1802-1863) was commissioned in 1825 to design the new facilities, and he employed a handsome neoclassical basilica design. The brick structures endured and functioned as slaughterhouses until 1988. Architects Antoine Stinco, known for renovating the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris, and Remi Papillault combined their talents to transform the property into Espace d’Art Moderne et Contemporain de Toulouse Midi-Pyrenees, which opened in 2000.

Even if there were no festival or exhibits, the grounds of Les Abattoirs themselves merit a visit. They serve as a public sculpture garden, and the walls surrounding Les Abattoirs boast an outstanding collection of Fernand Leger’s post-World War II mosaics.

Man needs color to live; it’s just as necessary an element as fire and water.”

Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

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