The new exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Nice gives you a good idea of what happens when Harry Potter spends a “Night at the Museum”.
There is an anecdote that goes around at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle de Nice : in 1881, one of the collaborators of the Niçois naturalist Jean-Baptiste Barla claimed to have discovered a mushroom species on Mont Daour (Mont d’Or). However, this place does not exist – it is a fictitious toponym. Still, the story that the museum weaved around it, inspired sculptor Marie Larroque-Daran to create a collection of works at the intersection of art and science, creating an open path to the mythical territory.
Runnng from 17 September to 28 November 2021, “Sortir de sa réserve, Métacréatures du Mont Daour” (The metacreatures of Mont Daour come out of hiding”) is a treasure trove of possibilities – the link between the specimens presented to the public in the permanent exhibition gallery and the collections kept in the reserves.
The show is organised into three spaces:
“Under the Surface”
This section explored the discomfort generated by the presentation of naturalized specimens. All that remains of these dead animals is the surface of a skin enveloping a composite structure. The artist juxtaposes death and loss with humour as she creates layers of body mass covered by skin made from agar-agar skin. She opens a pathway for imagination, coupled with awareness to the threats to biodiversity.
Between imaginary fossils and their fleeting unreal presence, this first space opens up the fictional territory of Mont Daour. Transparent fragments of coloured skins preserved in jars, pinned on entomological supports or escaping from a mural fresco of climbing algae, the ensemble is a luminous and immaterial work of fictional science.
“From one Scenario to another”
Creatures of myth and legend come to life in the exhibition gallery of the museum’s permanent collection. Passing into parallel dimensions, the work questions the boundaries between life and death through massive sculptures of wired cement and a digital installation. The artist’s paleo-fantastical creatures come straight out of the museum’s reserves and take over its scenography. Different stagings for the Guardian of the Dark Valleys, the Big Bad Wolf, and a fitting room for skins transport us in an imaginary timeless space between collective fears and personal fantasies.
“Another Stage at the Museum”
The final section allows us a sneak peek at some of the missing scientific links in a 19th century curiosity cabinet. Weird specimens imprisoned in preservation jars, a reconstituted cephalopod specimen, and a drawing/agar-agar hybrid, sow disorder in organized knowledge. Decidedly, a manifesto for artistic creation!
Marie Larroque-Daran, the artist behind this exhibition was born in Toulouse in 1980 but lives and works in Nice. Her interest in patrimony enticed her to explore the naturalist collections of the Natural History Museum of Nice in 2019. While her favourite materials are cement and wool for large volumes, her reflection on naturalism and the threats to biodiversity lead her to develop epidermis made of dehydrated agar-agar or rice starch. Her sculptures and installations – works that highlight the passing of time – are a hybrid between hypothesis and an ode to the living.
The Natural History Museum – Nice’s first municipal museum – opened its doors to the public in 1846, originally in the Old Town, then moving to its present location on Boulevard Risso in 1863. It understands itself as an instrument of knowledge of biodiversity and as a witness to the fragile richness of the Mediterranean natural environments, with a vocation of promoting these treasures in order to make the public aware of the importance of protecting the natural environment.
Sortir de sa réserve – Métacréatures du Mont Daour
By Marie Larroque-Daran
17 September – 28 November 2021
Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle
60, boulevard Risso, 06000 Nice
Tel. +33 (0)4 97 13 46 80
Open daily except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm
All standard health measures apply (masks, pass sanitaire, physical distancing…)
All photos courtesy Ville de Nice