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L’AiR Arts: Reviving Historic Atelier 11 Through New Art

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Atelier 11 is a living heritage site steeped in the cultural legacy of the École de Paris. For 150 years, the studio has hosted the likes of Soutine, Modigliani, Foujita, and Brâncuși, but has fallen into disrepair over time. Today, L’AiR Arts is dedicated to preserving the Atelier and nurturing contemporary art, issuing a global call for partnerships and support. 

Tucked away in the heart of Montparnasse, at the center of the historic Falguière neighborhood, stands a 125 sq meter portal into another world. The broad glass windows panels are frosted with curls of masking tape that unfurl like smoke—a recent installation by Maryna Semenkova, Ukrainian artist in exile who was in residence at Atelier 11 in 2022. Beneath the window, the inscription in faded red paint is older, “Dans cet atelier habita le peintre Chaïm Soutine.” In this atelier lived the painter Chaïm Soutine. Nearby, Gaugin, Modigliani, Brancusi, and Foujita also once resided as his neighbors. In fact, the site is a fabled art studio that produced some of the most renowned pieces of 20th century avant-garde art, and is the last of its kind. 

Atelier 11 is the only surviving member of Cité Falguière, the world’s longest-running international artists’ residency, which at its height totaled around 36 studios. Founded in 1875, the site has always been dedicated to nurturing contemporary art, and was one of the epicenters of the École de Paris (School of Paris). More than an art history term, the École de Paris is both a moment and a movement.

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It represents the community of predominantly international artists in Paris during WWI and the interwar period, seeking artistic and personal truth and freedom. From the heart-rending romance of Chagall, to the stomach-turning sensuality of Soutine, and of course the endless inventiveness of Picasso, the community supported and influenced one another’s innovative styles as friends and neighbors.

Atelier 11 by Chaïm Soutine, L’Atelier de l’Artiste à la Cité Falguière, 1915-16, huile sur toile, Private Collection

The spirit of the École de Paris is still very much alive in the Atelier 11 today, as it continues to host contemporary artists and cultural professionals. But its structure is decaying, threatening the end of 150 years of artistic history and the loss of priceless and irreplaceable heritage. That’s where L’AiR Arts comes in.

L’AiR Arts

Founded in 2016, L’AiR Arts is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fostering intercultural exchange through international arts residency programs, research, exchange and professional development. It has welcomed over 150 arts professionals from more than 35 countries, expanding from a small residency in the French countryside to a thriving program in the heart of Paris. 

In 2021, Serbian-Russian contemporary artist Mira Maodus had spent nearly half a century living and creating art in Atelier 11, and sought a new steward to ensure its continued legacy as a living artistic space. She entrusted L’AiR Arts with the mission. With their experience in art residency programs, international collaboration, and deep passion for the École de Paris, L’AiR Arts and their partners are clearly the perfect team for the job. Joining forces with the historic Cité Falguiere association, they act with a new sense of urgency to restore, protect, and revive this living heritage site, while continuing to foster intercultural exchange and contemporary creation.

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Mira Maodus in front of Atelier 11, from the Jacques Mauve archive, 1980s

Atelier 11: The Workshop For Artists, By Artists

Originally created by artists for artists, the space is already set up with functionality in mind. Now, the goal is to make it more practical and sustainable. The Atelier has been virtually untouched since the mid 19th century, leaving the façades and interior spaces in a worrying state. 

A transatlantic team of architects will oversee the project, with plans drawn up by award-winning Canadian firm GH3, and specialized advisory from renowned American firm, Studio Gang, and Paris-based design firms TNT and FREAKS, supported by the heritage expertise provided by the Fondation de Patrimoine. To restore the facades of the Atelier, archival photographs and paintings by past residents, like Soutine and Foujita, will serve as reference, imbuing the renovated studio with the artistic spirit of the École de Paris. Vital input collected from artists during pilot residency programs at Atelier 11 ensures that the space will be perfectly tailored to the needs of its future residents.

Atelier 11 Interior
Atelier 11 current interior © L’AiR Arts
gh3 architectural rendering
Architectural rendering by gh3 © L’AiR Arts

Beginning in 2024, the renovation aims to transform the Atelier into a modern, versatile space while maintaining its historic charm. The revamped three-level space will feature two private living studios, a communal work area, meeting space with a fully equipped kitchen, a multimedia art presentation space, and a research library. Paying homage to the Atelier’s rich history as a hub for intercultural artistic exchange, the interior finishes will draw inspiration from its origins as a sculpture studio and the diverse backgrounds of past resident artists, including influences from Italy, Japan, Eastern Europe, and France.

A Vital Institution for the Future of Art

Since 2021, L’AiR Arts has been running a pilot program at Atelier 11, hosting nearly 70 artists and cultural professionals from over 35 countries. Nearly half have been from North America, including American photographer and visual artist Barbara Boissevain and award-winning novelist ​Debra Spark. With two artists residing in Atelier 11 at a time, the space provides a doubly fruitful environment as an international residency.

Ricko Jueng and Marcela Cantuaria
Brazilian Marcela Cantuaria shared the Atelier 11 with Hong-Kong artist, Ricko Leung in April of 2023. © L’AiR Arts

“The beauty is that we have a nice community of cultural professionals based in Paris who dialogue with the artists and researchers coming from abroad. As a result, we have a global macro-microcosm in one small atelier,” expresses Stephanie Nadalo, who is a professor at Parsons Paris, President of the Cité Falguière Association, and a research resident at L’AiR Arts.

While some residents have been presented at top institutions, such as Venice Biennale, the L’AiR Arts also supports artists who are not at the height of their career. The association believes supporting future generations of artists is a cultural imperative, particularly given the Atelier 11 renowned alumni. While artists like Soutine and Modigliani are globally acclaimed today, they experienced little support or success in their lifetimes, and many other artists of the period have likely been forgotten. “That’s why it’s important for us to continue history in that way,” explains Mila Ovchinnikova, Founding Director of L’AiR Arts.

Two Worlds Combine

To some, Atelier 11 may appear to occupy a contradictory position as both a historic site and a living contemporary art studio. Yet the truth is that the studio is a singular place, where the echos of the past continue to influence today’s contemporary artists in ways only possible at Atelier 11. The 2024 resident, Argentinian artist based in NYC, Tamara Kostianovsky, shares, “During my residency, I became aware of the history of Montparnasse and felt connected intergenerationally to the artists I admire.  An original creative energy emanated from the walls of the Atelier. I feel fortunate to have experienced its history and to count myself as one of the many artists propelling it into the future.”

Tamara Kostianovsky in Atelier 11
Tamara Kostianovsky in Atelier 11. Her exhibition, La Chair Du Monde, produced as part of her residency with L’AiR Arts, opens at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris on April 23, 2024. © Lara Al-Gubory L’AiR Arts.

Visitors of the studio experience a similar effect. “Some come to see contemporary art and then discover this place, or the other way around. They come to see the historical place and discover the contemporary living artists working. It’s amazing to see how two worlds come together and the unexpected reactions they generate,” shares Ovchinnikova. These juxtapositions produce fascinating community gatherings at Atelier 11, such as the recent event “Art, War & the Community of Montparnasse” commemorating the closing of the Ukrainian artist Vasyl Grubliak’s Baiser Russe exhibition. The event reflected on the parallels experienced by artists during WWI and artists in exile today. With its rich history and wealth of current-day talent, Atelier 11 is truly a unique meeting of the past and the present that allows for insightful conversations and comparisons.

Support for L’AiR Arts 

L’AiR Arts and its Living Heritage project at Atelier 11 has garnered support from donors and institutions both internationally and in France, recently earning the recognition of the Fondation du Patrimoine and the Île-de-France Region. This heritage designation is a “game-changer” for the Atelier, says Ovchinnikova, as it not only ensures protection, but is also an important recognition of the studio’s cultural and historic importance. The heritage site had been neglected for decades, and barely escaped a demolition order in the 1960s. 

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The Hotel Villa Falguière, now destroyed. From the Jacques Mauve archive.

Now, with a new lease on life for Atelier 11, L’AiR Arts has launched a global call for institutional partnerships to broaden access to this historic site, fostering international collaboration in art and research as part of the shared, international heritage of the studio. Ovchinnikova highlights the importance of collective effort, stating, “There’s something for everyone, and we can do a lot with very little. But we have the opportunity to do something big together with more funds and more support from the international community.” 

Next year, Atelier 11 will celebrate its 150-year anniversary. Looking ahead, L’AiR Arts envisions Atelier 11 as a hub for artistic exchange and historical exploration, offering opportunities for meaningful involvement in preserving the cultural heritage of the École de Paris. A major aspect of the preservation project includes research. With more resources, research residents can dedicate themselves to studying the Cité Falguière, potentially even recovering lost artists and their work, particularly by women and other underrepresented artists. Research is often presented as part of Atelier 11 cultural programming, like the upcoming talk by Dr. Stephanie Nadalo which explores the legacy and revival of the Cité Falguière, titled “Before They Were Famous: Modigliani, Soutine & the Cosmopolitan Artists of Cité Falguière.” The event, happening on May 19th, will be online in English, and is free and open to everyone. Registration is available here.

Friends of Fondation de France is proud to support L’AiR Arts, whose dedication to preserving history and passion for contemporary arts is inspiring. American donors who wish to support L’AiR Arts and their initiative to save Atelier 11 can make tax-deductible donations through our website. Together, we can protect this vital cultural heritage site and support its future artists.

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