Three years after laying the foundation stone, the Musée Jean Cocteau has now opened to the public. Thanks to an extraordinary bequest from Séverin Wunderman, this large-scale cultural project, backed by the Municipality of Menton, has become the world’s most important publically accessible resource dedicated to the works of Cocteau. The winner of the international competition, held by the Municipality of Menton in 2007, was Rudy Ricciotti (winner of the 2006 Grand Prix National d’Architecture). Covering 2.700 m2, his design houses all the works of the Wunderman bequest.
Although offering great potential, the site also had numerous limitations. These included a sea-level aquifer, backfilled soil, exposure to sea spray, proximity to a noisy coastal road, and, finally, a pre-existing car park on the first basement level and a water purification plant on the second, with the access ramps to these two areas cutting the site in two. The positioning of the museum, however, will strengthen the relationship between the town centre and its seafront, and give resilience to the existing urban landscape. The building also needed to reflect the urban fabric and encourage pedestrians to use the Quai Monléon area. While stepping beyond those somewhat uncomfortable images of Menton’s archways often seen on postcards, the city’s nature as a seaside resort needed to be retained.
Another limitation on the project was that no structures may be built abutting the nearby indoor market – a remarkable 19th century structure. By keeping this area free of buildings and creating a garden and square, the Musée Jean Cocteau has been integrated into its surroundings while also showcasing Menton’s early 20th century seafront architecture and giving sense to the motto ‘My town is a garden’.
Located opposite Maison Trenca, the museum neither competes with this building nor obstructs its sea views. Rather, it provides a unique point of reference, reflecting the elegance of the original architecture for which Menton came to be known – a pleasing combination of the most important stylistic currents at work in the early 20th century. The roof of the museum forms an allegorical design and will be visible by both day and by night.
The truth is too stark to be of any interest to man. – Jean Cocteau
The architects set out to create a building that allows itself to be discovered and that preserves the mystery of the ‘truth’ of its construction and static elements. The museum accepts its own appearance, while its transparency arouses viewers’ curiosity and attracts them through what it allows them to see. By bringing to mind the idea of a labyrinth, the project reflects the breadth and complexity of Jean Cocteau’s work. It expresses the passage between the worlds of the living and the dead – a theme that preoccupied the artist.
A key element behind the concept of the museum was the creation of an atmosphere that fully expresses the force of the contrast between light and dark – of that interplay of shadows that gives rise to ‘the emotion that inspires us to see, believe, think and dream’, as Henri Alekan put it. The cinematographer on “La Belle et la Bête” went on to say, ‘I will record what I see on film as if I were writing it in ink.’ Alekan was paying homage to the poetic vision of Cocteau, who often experimented with chiaroscuro effects, aware of the psychological role that light and shade play in our emotions and knowledge. This approach – reflected in particular by the black and white aesthetic – was used to interpret the dream, mystery, contrasts and complexity of Cocteau’s art and personality in a museum that mirrors the artist and his work.
Location: Menton, France
Client: Municipality of Menton
Gross Floor Area: 2700 m2
Architects: Rudy Ricciotti
Project Manager: Marco Arioldi
Site Driver: Yohan Assouline
Contractor: Campenon Bernard
Structural: Sudeco Engineering
Landscaping: Agence APS
Museographic Design: EDP & Associés
Lighting Design: Lightec
Forward Engineering: Van Santen & Associés
Waterproofing: Golfe Etancheite
Exterior doors and windows: Serrurerie de la Parrette
False Ceilings, Partition Walls: Clibat Amenagement
Wall Coverings, Curtains, Flooring: Bally
Interior doors: Bareau
Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning: CCS
Photo by: © Olivier Amsellem