Sculptor Michel Bassompierre’s exhibition “Ice Giants” seeks to raise awareness of the major challenges facing the polar regions.

Situated on the balmy Rivieran shores, Monaco is situated a good 3,000 miles from the North Pole and more than 9,000 miles from the Southern equivalent. And yet, the Principality has committed itself to a fierce fight to preserve the indispensable and yet so fragile Polar Regions and their endangered species. At the forefront of this endeavor: the Musée Océanographique. Ongoing high profile activities and exhibitions seek to playfully educate visitors of all ages. This year, sculptures of polar bears and emperor penguins are the stars of a new exhibition, titled Les Géants des Glaces (Ice Giants) and created by famous artist Michel Bassompierre.

Seven monumental works by the Parisian artist are featured throughout the Oceanographic Museum and its roof terrace through 6 October 2024. On this occasion, the sculptor unveiled five new creations, specifically conceived for this exhibition: four polar bears and a 3-metre-high emperor penguin. Original drawings and sketches are also on display in the Conference Room, accompanied by the continuous projection of a film showing the artist’s work in the intimacy of his studio.

An Appeal to Preserve Polar Biodiversity

Michel Bassompierre’s depiction of the animal is an ode to wildlife without the rose-tinted glasses. “Perhaps the duty of artists is to share our sense of beauty, to create wonder. This reconnection with the beauty of nature is necessary to inspire a desire to protect it,” he says. In this exhibition, the emblematic representatives of polar fauna are shown as they live today, vulnerably and threatened by climate change. While the polar bear sees the pack ice on which it hunts shrink, condemning it to a slow and painful death by famine, the emperor penguin is forced to venture out further and further in search of food for its offspring, putting itself at risk and thus threatening the very survival of its chicks.

By arousing wonder, these fragile behemoths question and challenge visitors about the extreme vulnerability of these species,” adds Robert Calcagno, Director General of the Oceanographic Institute. “These sculptures confront the public with the current challenges of protecting biodiversity and contribute to our historic mission of making the Ocean known, loved and protected”.

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Photo © Institut oceanographique de Monaco – Frederic Pacorel

Michel Bassompierre is one of the most important artists in contemporary animal sculpture. Trained in Leleu’s studio at the Rouen School of Fine Arts, the sculptor learned to look closely. In the tradition of François Pompon, he does away with the anecdotal and focuses on the essential instead.

Through his innovative and instantly recognisable work he becomes the storyteller of a bewitching animal world. For him, animals are neither strangers nor accessories. In fact, he feels much closer to his “animal brother” and his “plant sister” than to many humans. There is no anthropomorphism in his work, no threatening or roaring beasts. The animal is there, for what it is, in complete tranquility, magnetic and masterful.

Michel Bassompierre’s powerful body of work demonstrates an exceptional mastery of drawing, a perfect understanding of volumes and a poetic approach to light that makes visitors want to caress it. But it is also the artist’s tenderness, respect and humility that shine through in this work of rare delicacy.

I was 14 or 15 when I felt that the animal world was my own. I’m one of those people who love nature and are in awe of life. Perhaps the first thing we can do to protect nature is to help others admire all the marvels that they pass by without realising it. We need to share our sense of beauty to inspire wonder. This reconnection with the beauty of nature is necessary to make people want to protect it.
— Michel Bassompierre


This temporary exhibition, realized in collaboration with Galeries Bartoux, is part of the polar programme supported by the Oceanographic Institute since 2022.

The Museum’s ongoing Dedication to Ocean and Polar Preservation

Hidden from our eyes but close to our hearts, the distant lands of the Polar Regions are the stuff of dreams. Far more than just breathtaking scenery, the poles are essential to the smooth functioning and equilibrium of the planet, particularly its climate. Yet they are under increasing threat every year, not only from climate change and its corollaries – damage to biodiversity, rising sea levels, acidification, melting permafrost – but also from pollution, over-fishing, temptations to exploit the subsoil and diplomatic tensions…

In its dedicated 3-year programme (2022-2025), the Oceanographic Institute is deciphering the major issues facing the Polar Regions, with the aim of raising awareness and mobilising a wide audience. To do this, the Institute of Oceanography has opened up a dialogue through a number of tools and initiatives based around the publication of a book entitled Au cœur des mondes polaires, entre réchauffement et convoitises (published by Glénat – 2022) and two scientific symposiums (2022 and 2024), a major interactive exhibition entitled “Mission Polaire” presented at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco (2022-2025), and a temporary photographic exhibition entitled “Poles, Fragile Worlds” by naturalist photographer Greg Lecoeur (July 2023 to March 2024).


Photo © Institut oceanographique de Monaco – Frederic Pacorel

Situated at Av. Saint-Martin, 98000 Monaco, the Oceanographic Museum is open every day from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm (last entry 6:30 pm). Ticket information here.

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All photos courtesy Musée Océanographique, Monaco and as credited

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