Art3f: highlights from Monaco’s contemporary art fair

Art3f Monaco

Walk around Monaco’s art3f and you might run into a revisitation of an Al Pacino picture or one of Jeff Koon’s famous balloon dogs protected by a glass cover. This weekend, over 3,000 works are on display at Monaco’s Espace Fontvieille, ranging from abstract and figurative paintings, to sculptures, ceramics, and even a stained-glass artist. 


The Monte-Carlo International Circus Festival is long gone but the Fontvieille Marquis remains a feast for the eyes. During the Monaco edition of the art3f international contemporary art fair, around 200 artists are currently exhibiting over 3,000 works. At first, the choice can seem a little overwhelming. To help you out, here are some artists that caught our eye. We hope they’ll catch yours too. If not, there are countless other to be discovered this weekend at Monaco’s Espace Fontvieille.

Sonja VishnudArt

Sonja’s statues remind of that tale Plato tells in The Symposium about lovers having once been two parts of a whole. There is an intimacy about her work. As if by looking at them, you come a little closer to understanding some universal truth about the body, about relationships, and about how the two are mediated. When asked what she sculpts, she replies “Love – love in all of its shapes”. Hers are statues of bodies entwined. She sculpts touch. 

One of the works represents a chain of people, their clothes melting into each other so as to form a single chain. The work is titled “Solidarity” and was a runner up at the competition launched by the Belgian government to find a statue to commemorate the 2016 Brussels bombings. Another work is a statue called “Soulmates” which recently won a prize in Monaco: two hugging bodies intertwined into infinity ring. Like in Plato’s story: a single head is shared by both.  

Sonja VishnudArt, “Soulmates”

Michel Houel

Michel Houel is the only stained glass artist exhibiting at art3f. “Stained glass artists, there aren’t many of us,” he tells us. The craft is one that is ancient and complicated. It is the manual aspect of his work – the lengthy hands-on process required to create stained glass – that he seems to take most pride in: “It is art in its purest form, but it’s now fallen in disuse. I wanted to keep a certain authenticity while modernising the subject matter.” Lions, violins, a gramophone that turns into a bird depending on how you look at it; Houel’s subject matter is prosaic but not void of poetry. Music especially is dear to him. “Music is colours – a note is a colour. Just like glass,” he says. And how should one hang these secular glass paintings? “These paintings are perfect for Verandas, for spacious, luminous rooms,” he advises.

Stained glass by Michel Houel on display

Painting the sea, painting its coasts

The artistic tradition of the French Riviera is long-lived. The names of painters who found inspiration and solace on these coasts are so famous it almost seems superfluous to mention them: Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Cézanne, Cocteau…

“There’s no escaping the Mediterranean when you live here” tells us Fonso, a painter from the region, “nor the olive trees for the matter”. His paintings of the Riviera and its olive trees echo the impressionistic tradition with its short brush strokes that hint to the silhouette of a fishermen’s village. Yet, the sea is painted with paint rollers, and the mix of techniques results a distinctively innovative feeling. 

Deniz Küsem too paints the sea. The themes depicted by the Turkish-born artist are varied – from abstract works she painted during the coronavirus lockdown to Japanese women (she is particularly interested in the Edo period) and her “Oceans” series. Hers are works that privilege colour: “I’m interested in the harmony of colours – in the composition – and the feeling that the picture gives me as I paint it”. She tells us her paintings are about being in the moment: “the wave comes and the image freezes in my head. It doesn’t have to be a complete view. In that moment time is stopped and your attention is suddenly there, on that wave”. The painting she is referring to is a rectangle of a vivid blue: you can see the waves created perhaps by a boat, and the foam coating on the waves.

“Oceans” by Denizart

Perpignan native Denis Ribas says he doesn’t have a favourite painting of his. “Nature is my favourite painting”, he claims.  Indeed, his works depict overflowing vegetation in vivid colours, recalling the Riviera’s tradition of impressionism and fauvism. When asked about why he paints, Ribas says that, as a painter, he paints for others: “lots of people are touched by places in nature, and I wanted to find them all, the places that touch others, to transcribe them on linen canvas so that they could enjoyed them”. 

Denis Ribas Collection, 2016 070

Why become an artist?

When asked about why they became artists, they all speak of their work as something unavoidable. “It comes from inside, it’s a feeling, people are born like that. I’ve been painting since I was a child. It is there, it is a passion that comes from the heart,” explains Deniz Küsem, while Sonja Vishnudatt comments: “sculpting felt good, so I continued – and suddenly I was working full time”.

These artists, and many others, can be discovered Saturday August 22nd from 10am to 8pm and Sunday August 23rd from 10am to 7pm. Entrance is free for minors and costs 10€ for adults. Due to of health guidelines, face masks are compulsory and hand sanitiser is available to all visitors.