Wooden boat on stilts being constructed on a river bank
(Image credit: TBC)

At first glance, Nantes is probably not the sort of city one would choose to host an international festival of contemporary art. An industrial port; the obligatory honey-coloured buildings stand against a backdrop of hulking ship cranes and silos.

Nantes may be something of an urban ambiguity, but with a Mayoral culture vulture in the shape of Jean-Marc Ayrault at the helm, the city is fast transforming itself into a legitimate European centre of culture - despite its distinctly un-Parisian exterior.

Last weekend saw Nantes, along with sister settlement Saint Nazaire, swear in the second installment of the bi-annual Estuaire event. With three segments taking place over the course of six years (the first was back in 2007) the brains behind the left-of-centre festival have brought together artists from across the globe, with a view to construct a permanent exhibition along this slow-moving stretch of the Loire.

Ernesto Neto, Leviathan Thot, 2009

(Image credit: TBC)

Being the 'in-situ' beast that it is, Estuaire is not easily absorbed in one go. Running 65 km end to end, pieces are liberally dotted around and about in-between, and some detective work is required if going it alone.

However, with a centre in the city's beloved old biscuit factory-turned-cultural encampment - the 'Lieu Unique'- eager artistic beavers are free to venture as near or far from base camp as they dare.

On the whole however, the trek is worth the effort. Stand out pieces from Erwin Wurm, Daniel Burren and British artist Anthony McCall dot the shore and, taken as one, the 30 or so works on show constitute an exciting departure from the well-worn biennale uniform.

With an opening ceremony consisting of a giant animatronic brass diver walking through the streets of Nantes after a crane-aided dip in the Loire, there is little room to argue against the sheer audacity of the Estuaire spectacle.

Take a look at our Estuaire gallery for a peek at some of our favourites from this years festival.


Le Lieu Unique
2 rue de la Biscuiterie
BP 21304
44013 Nantes Cedex 1