Genie in a Bottle: The Martell Foundation

SLIDESHOW: The Passage is a sculptural wooden tunnel. Built in solid oak, the Passage not only mimics the hull of a ship (the one Jean Martell embarked on to come to Cognac) but the shape of Martell’s symbolic bottle.

A former bottling factory in the town of Cognac is the site of Martell’s ambitious cultural foundation project.

Looking at the derelict buildings, no one would have bet, a couple of years back, that Martell would open a cultural foundation in the very heart of Cognac. The project sits in the modernist Gâtebourse building that once housed a bottling factory in the town of Cognac, in southwestern France.

“The 1929 Bauhaus-style building designed by Jean Chalard was in ruins; it had to be completely recomposed. It’s almost as if it had been de-listed and needed to be re-listed: it stands, however, as a vital part of the Martell heritage,” principal architect Olivier Brochet from Brochet-Lajus-Pueyo explains.

Once pieced back together, the architects chose to open the building to the city and landscape a park around it. Over the years, Cognac had perhaps forgotten about this towering landmark in its very centre. Taking centre stage, the revamped Gâtebourse building is now open to the public.

Spearheaded by director and curator Nathalie Viot, its cultural programme is expected to encompass art, design, architecture, crafts and technology. The foundation will attempt to nurture exchanges and foster collaborations on a local, national and international scale.

Further along the way, the building’s six floors will be renovated; the ground floor and rooftop terrace will reopen to the public in spring 2018, thus increasing the number of gallery spaces dedicated to artist residences, exhibitions and research. The 6,000 square metres of the foundation will be completed by 2020 with a spectacular panoramic restaurant at the top.

A permanent sign of the foundation’s radical approach, the Passage is a sculptural wooden tunnel. Built in solid oak, the Passage not only mimics the hull of a ship (the one Jean Martell embarked on to come to Cognac) but the shape of Martell’s symbolic bottle.

‘By Nature’, Vincent Lamouroux’s immersive art installation has now taken over the rough ground floor. In between the concrete pillars, an all-white landscape looks altogether muted in silence, ice-cold and warmly exotic. Testing the notion of time and biological evolution, the white-lime-covered scenery seems poised and transfixed. Composed of sand (from flasks), wood (from barrels), glass crystals and plants, it transfigures the materials used for the fabrication of the Martell Cognac bottles. As visitors embark on a labyrinthine walk up the white sand dune, through the thick vegetation, they tread on a boardwalk made in solid oak by Martell’s barrel-makers. Lifting off, a white cloud [of sand] spreads around the work.

The overall Martell foundation project is due for completion by 2021.

‘By Nature’ by Vincent Lamouroux is on show at the Martell Foundation until 31 January 2017.

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SLIDESHOW: The Passage is a sculptural wooden tunnel. Built in solid oak, the Passage not only mimics the hull of a ship (the one Jean Martell embarked on to come to Cognac) but the shape of Martell’s symbolic bottle.