Treasures in the Streets of Rennes

Surprising discoveries of contemporary art

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You'll find contemporary works of art scattered all over the city of Rennes. They're often highly original, and although some are discreetly displayed, others are put there to astonish and they can turn up in some surprising places… like a car park. 'Aître Voyages' will show them to you on a walking tour that's open to anyone interested.

A work of art at the railway station

Rennes. Its half-timbered houses, its Parliament: these images appear on every picture post-card. But I knew much less about its works of art and modern architecture. That’s why I was delighted to meet Étienne, our guide from the Aître cultural travel agency, to discover a different side of Rennes: its modern art. We were to meet at 10am beneath the statue of the Magician, Jean-Michel Sanejouand’s large sculpture that adorns the station forecourt. The youngest member of our little group is seven-month-old Giuseppe. He might not be an art-lover yet but he’s quite happy to spend three hours being wheeled around in his push-chair. We’re each given a little log-book and off we go.

Strong impressions

First stop: Les Champs Libres. Everyone turns towards the extraordinary building that houses the Museum of Brittany. However, our guide’s advice is: “Look behind you instead”. What we discover is a small building of grey concrete. When you look closely you realise that it has lots of character and yet no one had really noticed it. Not even the natives of Rennes in the group who have walked past it hundreds of times. Étienne explains that “The architects deliberately built it low-key; it’s a convent.” That’s what gives this walk its charm: it opens our eyes to the beauty around us. When the group sets off again there are lively discussions: whether people love it or are not too sure about it, the architecture of the convent has made an impression on all of us.

A red and black city

But that’s not the last of the surprises. We head for the car park under the Esplanade du Général de Gaulle! Étienne takes us to the middle of one of the access ramps. Huge photos of trees hang on the wall and the circular ramps are surrounded by fine white pillars. Bleuwenn thinks it looks like a temple. To me, it’s more like being in the middle of a forest. We give ourselves a little time to gaze at it and then go back up into the daylight.  Étienne points to the Champs Libres building: “What colours can you see?”. Red, black and white. “This is the range of colours that give the town its beauty. You’ll see them again on the new building for the Regional Modern Art Collection that we’ll look at later.” They're also the colours that say something to lovers ... of football.

Sitting inside a work of art

We continue with our walk. Sculptures, buildings, digital works... Art is everywhere, from the pavements to the façades of the buildings. Our guide tells us the stories attached to them, and in doing so relates a history of the whole town. Gradually the way we look at things is changing: we pay more attention to what's around us. We arrive at a little square near the Parliament. In its centre there's a massive granite fountain with the delicately-sculpted head of a statue rising above the water. “The artist, Claudio Parmiggiani, also designed the bench that you are sitting on and the tree that is shading you”, our guide explains. “The entire square is a work of art”. And yes, it’s true, in Rennes, you can often find yourself, without knowing it, INSIDE a work of art.

Text : Julie Durand

Contact Aître Voyages for a tour of the town that is something different: “Dans Rennes... à l’œuvre” (In Rennes...at work).

A walking tour, lasting 2.5 hours, through the streets of the city. Make sure you wear suitable footwear and warm clothing. Further details at www.aitre.eu

With TripAdvisor’s reviews from travellers

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