Bring your glasses! France to open three underwater sculpture parks this fall

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Corsican collector François Ollandini commissioned nearly 30 underwater sculptures from Marc Petit, including a seated figure of Gaia in front of his private museum in Ajaccio
Photo: Claude Gaillemin

The trend of underwater museums has reached the coast of France, with three aquatic sculpture projects taking the plunge this fall.

Favorite is Corsican collector François Ollandini who, on September 19 (weather permitting), will immerse three sculptures by Marc Petit into the Mediterranean Sea, perched on a rock under the 17th-century Isolella tower on the west coast of the Isle. Seven other figures of the artist are already on view to divers at the site, having been dived to depths of 50 to 80 feet last summer. Meanwhile, a sculpture of the goddess Gaia can be found in the shallows in front of Lazaret Ollandini, the collector’s house in Ajaccio and the private museum dedicated to Petit’s work. Inspiration came from a diver friend who suggested extending the property underwater five years ago.

Ollandini has ordered 18 other sculptures from the artist for a location that remains to be determined. Confident that he will obtain the necessary permit from state authorities, he envisions a no-fishing and no-sail zone that will turn the sandy coast north of Ajaccio into a popular dive site. All the works will be part of a collection that he promised as a gift to the city museum, Palais Fesch.

Petit is also contributing to a sculpture at the Musée Subaquatique de Marseille, a snorkeling attraction slated to open on September 24, with ten pieces by different artists set about 16 feet below the beach in downtown Les Catalans. Its founder Antony Lacanaud cited the model of the Museo Subacuático de Arte of Mexico, created in 2009 by the British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor off the coast of Cancún. Its 500 life-size statues made of non-toxic, pH-neutral cement also act as an artificial reef that stimulates coral growth.


British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor puts the finishing touches on a work off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, in 2009

Taylor created the world’s first underwater sculpture park in 2006 in the Caribbean Sea, followed in 2016 by the first European museum, the Museo Atlántico off Lanzarote. He is currently preparing six works for an underwater exhibition in early November south of Sainte Marguerite, a small island in the bay of Cannes. Taylor’s 8-foot-tall sculptures – based on casts of the faces of local volunteers – will be placed 13 feet below the surface, so swimmers won’t need snorkel gear to view them.

Like Cancún, the Cannes Underwater Art Park also has an ecological mission. The project, which was commissioned by the local government, doubled the size of a neglected swimming area, and the waters were cleaned for the occasion. Municipal authorities in Cannes and Marseille are planning partnerships with local schools, using the new attractions to educate students about marine conservation.



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