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The Oceanographic Museum welcomes seven monumental sculptures

One polar bear has just smelled a seal several kilometres away, while the other is quietly sitting on the pack ice © Institut océanographique de Monaco / Frédéric Pacorel
One polar bear has just smelled a seal several kilometres away, while the other is quietly sitting on the pack ice © Institut océanographique de Monaco / Frédéric Pacorel

The exhibition «Les Géants des Glaces» (The Ice Giants) by Michel Bassompierre will run until October 6, 2024, from the entrance to the roof terrace of the Oceanographic Museum. We look back at the inauguration and our meeting with the artist. 

You can’t miss the first protagonist in the new exhibition. A three-metre tall emperor penguin looks down on visitors as soon as they walk into the fabulous hall at the Institute. The new collection is aptly named! The size is due to Michel Bassompierre’s desire, in partnership with the Galeries Bartoux, to make “others admire all the wonders they pass by without realising it”  by eliciting different emotions in each visitor.

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Prince Albert II graced the inauguration with his presence, along with the artist and François Cluzet, the exhibition’s patron © Institut océanographique de Monaco / Frédéric Pacorel

The artist and the Institute hope to fill visitors with wonder but above all to raise their awareness on the major issues facing the vulnerable fauna of the polar regions, as the temporary exhibition is part of the polar programme the Museum has been hosting for two years now.

A male emperor penguin keeps his young snug and warm under his plumage. He is waiting for the female to return from fishing at sea ©  Institut océanographique de Monaco/ Frédéric Pacorel

The polar bear’s hunting ground, the ice pack, is shrinking, and the emperor penguin is forced to go further and further to find food, which poses a threat to the chicks’ survival.

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The sculpture’s design required a lot of work on the part of the artist, who had to closely study the body shape, skeleton, muscles and behaviours of the animal, which was new to him. “There are four of us in my head: the animal scientist who observes and understands the subject and its behaviours, the anatomist who grasps the body structures, the artist whose lines capture the movement and the sculptor who adds the third dimension of volume. But in the end, it’s always the sculptor who has the last word!” says Michel Bassompierre.

The ice floe king in Monaco

A few floors up, on the roof terrace of the Museum, six massive polar bears watch over the Principality. Some are facing the sea, others look landward. The artist explains that they are all constantly on the hunt for food: “The polar bear is a nomadic creature. Its only purpose is to find food or it will die. Here, each bear represents an action during the hunt.”

Michel Bassompierre always displays his monumental sculptures in public spaces, so that they can be seen by as many people as possible. They become ambassadors for endangered species. ©  Institut océanographique de Monaco/ Frédéric Pacorel

From sketches to the clay figure, then plaster for the mould and finally resin for the finished result, Michel Bassompierre explains that he was inspired by many hours’ watching polar bears, to gain a thorough understanding of the animal. However, he does not want to make a completely realistic representation: “I don’t want it to be in the animal’s original colours, because it needs to stil be a sculpture and not the representation of a subject that you could put on a carousel or something… An animal sculptor needs to show the animal’s shape and spirit through the piece. This is what I have been doing for fifty years.”

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© Institut océanographique de Monaco/ Frédéric Pacorel

Also of note:

  • The artist’s original drawings and sketches are also on display in the Conference Room of the Oceanographic Museum.
  • These are accompanied by the continuous screening of a film showing the artist as he works in his studio.
  • The artist will hold a conference during which he will create a piece, live, on June 14, from 6.30 pm to 8.30 pm in the Institute’s Conference Room.