It may be known mainly for its financial institutions and EU offices, but Luxembourg is also the ideal city break destination for art-lovers.
A Luxembourg art tour begins on the way in from the airport, as the drive along Avenue John F. Kennedy through the Kirchberg business district passes Richard Serra’s monolithic steel sculpture ‘Exchange’ and ‘The Tall Banker’, a gigantic, elongated figure by a group of German artists. With his smart suit, umbrella and newpaper, he is a comical wink to the area’s bankers and corporate types.
The Musée d’Art Moderne, or Mudam (see top image) is Luxembourg’s premier public art museum. Designed by the Pulitzer Prize-winning “starchitect” I.M. Pei, the Musée d’Art Moderne, like most of the city, the museum rests on a craggy plateau and is built on the original foundations of the 18th century Fort Thüngen by the great fortress builder Vauban, whose original plan Pei used in his design. The result resembles a gleaming white, modern fortress.
Upon entering the building, visitors are greeted by German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol’s carved portraits of Their Royal Highnesses Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Joséphine-Charlotte, while you are invited to dip into Bill Woodrow’s ‘Pond Life’, a ‘pool’ of coin-like tokens (with a map of Luxembourg on one side and a pair of mating frogs on the other) which can be used in the storage lockers and kept as souvenirs.
The “Wow!” moment comes when entering the pyramid-like Grand Hall (echoing Pei’s pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris), which is used as a sculpture court. Glass-encased and flooded with light, its contemplative atmosphere invites you to take your time viewing the pieces and enjoying the outside views. There is no prescribed route through the building, so from here visitors are free to head off in all directions. Six galleries over three levels are devoted to modern, installation and experiential art in both temporary exhibitions, complemented by selections from the permanent collection of contemporary artworks by over four hundred artists.
So compact is the city that, with the exception of Mudam, which is in the Kirchberg district on the other side of the Alzette river and the picturesque valley, or ‘Grund’, which it has carved out, the main museums and galleries are no more than a few hundred metres apart.
In its neo-Baroque building, the Casino Luxembourg (its name is a clue to it former use) holds contemporary art exhibitions with an international programme of mainly younger generation artists. The ground floor has a Black Box projection room showing artists’ videos, while the expansive first floor is used for temporary exhibitions. With a programme which also includes conferences, contemporary music and artists in residence, the Casino likes to think of itself as an experimental ‘think tank’ for new art trends. The elegant cafe-restaurant is a popular hang-out, especially for Sunday brunch.
While dedicated mainly to The Luxembourg Story, a permanent exhibition tracing 1,000 years of urban history, the Luxembourg City History Museum also has presentations on art, craft and design, most recently an exhibition of Luxembourg street photography recording daily life in the city from the 1950s to the present day. Six levels are open to the public and on one of them a captivating series of moving images charting the seasons is projected onto the bare rock wall. The building itself is worth a visit, with a vertical drop from its rear side to the ‘Grund’ below capturing the city’s contrast between its upper and lower levels. Inside, the slow-moving, glass-sided lift seems to time-travel through the sheer rock foundations. There are panoramic views from the terrace.
Behind its stark, pinkish facade, the Musée Nationale d’Histoire et d’Art, or MNHA, is a modern structure with galleries arrayed around a central, multi-storey ‘well’. Its collections are displayed in four sections: Fine Arts, Decorative and Popular Arts, Archaeology and what is called the Medals Cabinet, which displays coins and medals.
The Fine Arts section comprises masterworks of the national collection spanning the 13th to 21st centuries and including Old Masters (Cranach the Elder, J.M.W. Turner), Modern and Contemporary (Picasso, Magritte, Cézanne), Art in Luxembourg (a room is dedicated to the Expressionist Joseph Kutter, including the wonderful ‘Luxembourg’, one of two paintings he was commissioned to paint for the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris) and a roomful of work by the legendary, Luxembourg-born photographer Edward Steichen (1879-1973), who served as Director of the Department of Photography at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Considered a leading figure in the history of the medium, his work marked the evolution from pictorialism to ‘straight photography’.
Special exhibitions include Art Deco in Luxembourg and Drama and Tenderness: Flemish, Spanish and Italian Art of the Baroque, featuring paintings on loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp by masters such as Rubens, Van Dyck and Murillo. The Decorative and Popular Arts section reveals living styles and applied arts in Luxembourg from the Renaissance to the early 21st century.
Evoking a calm and relaxing atmosphere, the city’s most picturesque art museum sits in the middle of a park designed by the French architect Edouard André (1840-1911), who was also one of the most famous landscape painters of his time. Named after Luxembourg’s fortress-builder, the Villa Vauban houses art collections brought together by three wealthy individuals in the 18th and 19th centuries and donated to the city. A modern extension seems to wrap itself around the beautiful 1873 villa. The collections consist largely of Dutch works from the 17th century ‘Golden Age’ and 19th century historical paintings and French landscapes. These are complemented by paintings, sculptures and engravings by European artists of the 17th to 19th century.
Just off the Place d’Armes, the Ratskeller is a spacious, city-owned space which hosts temporary exhibitions, most recently of magical, Tolkien-inspired works by the Canadian illustrator John Howe.
WHERE TO STAY
A short walk from all major art museums, the Hotel Simoncini is owned by an art collector, whose paintings, engravings and sculptures are displayed throughout the property. He also owns the adjacent Galerie Simoncini, where he has been showing contemporary, international artwork for 35 years.