Lascaux IV – International Centre of Wall Art

  • Montignac, France
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Rekindling the Emotion of Lascaux


The history of the Lascaux Cave is a miracle.

It’s a miracle that its sublime paintings have been preserved for many thousands of years.

It’s a miracle that Abbé Breuil discovered them.

The history of Lascaux is alarming.

Will we be able to protect this masterpiece of early mankind and keep it safe in perpetuity?

Fragility magnifies the myth.

Eternity is confronted by fragility, effacement, disappearance.


Emotions will only be preserved if visitors are constantly given a heightened awareness of being part of the Lascaux site, its geology, its biotope:

–  If the mass and immovability of the depths and their dark rcesses lend credence to the mysteries of burrowing deep underground.

–  If the fragility and immateriality of today’s technologies can sharpen the shock of the encounter between two temporal regimes separated by countless millennia.


For pity’ sake, rule out the Disneyland treatment and any form of commercial pollution of the kind that has ruined the great historic sites with caricatural images and shameful trinkets!


Only art – architecture, light, nature – and a delicate approach can make this place essential viewing as a solemn tribute of the 21st century, an in-situ tribute to a masterpiece of humanity that has come to grief and that we may not get to see anymore…


This dramatic dimension is the key to the emotion.


The scientific campaign needs to be doubled by sensitivity to all the spaces, all the details, all the different kinds of light, all the views.


The site. It is paramount that we ennoble the site.

Firstly, by planting trees, dense copses, to eliminate the sight of any constructions visible from the future museum.

Secondly, by eliminating the mundane view of the Avenue de Lascaux and transferring traffic to the rue du Barry.

After that, on the site itself, we need to replace the road by two on-site tracks for ‘silent shuttles’ and by a terrace-walkway that will be located on top of a slightly lower level.

We also need to create plantations of trees to completely hide the 200-space car park which will run alongside the tracks and the terrace.

The rest of the site will essentially be a ‘warm prairie meadow’ in the style of Louis Guillaume LeRoy (leaving a meadow lying fallow for several years, following a few simple rules).

Pedestrian pathways will be cut into the meadow and will allow viewing of a very simple division of the land into plots. Two of these pathways will be covered by planted canopies in continuity with the meadow. A parallel pedestrian path that undulates slightly will allow a choice between walking under cover or out in the open. The point is to break up the throng of visitors to avoid any massing. People will thereby be dispersed as they head for the museum space.

The museum space is spectacular, a fine example of land art: the wooded hill is slashed by a great horizontal fracture roughly 200 metres long – a bit like at Saint Christophe – which you can see from the shuttle access and from the car park access. This long in-depth façade is characterized by warm, amber colors that derive from moving light. It is a totally new image.

The architecture here needs to have a metaphysical and poetic dimension.

The architecture sets up an ambiguity between a natural phenomenon and human intervention.

The architecture illustrates the notion of inhabiting the earth at depths that are immediately discernible from the outside.

The architecture conjures up rock, an inhabited layer of rock modified by man.


The architecture is a complex geometry, a mix of pure geometry and geography. As the platform for different colors and kinds of light, it evokes the aesthetics of our beginnings, the fleeting appearance of light in darkness, the presence of living shadows.


It’s an interpretation, a take on the myth of Plato’s Cave. Visitors don’t understand the reason for the movement of light and shade over the rocks, seen from outside. The scenography of the museum spaces covers everything: it begins outside with the crossing of the uncultivated grasslands, and it continues inside with the mysterious movement of light and shadow. These mysteries are reinforced by variations in intensity which conjure up the sun passing through the clouds as well as flames of fire that set people’s blurred shadows dancing over the walls. Behind grids in the ground, projectors (partly fuelled by solar cells) light visitors up from below arriving and strolling around under the entrance canopy and in the walkways. The programming is rhythmic and random, intentionally distorting the shadows on the walls. These tonal differences in warm light conjure up torches and fires. The variations in light within darkness, all along the fault, refer to life under shelter and, beckoning visitors from afar, incite them to come and take a look.


The structure recessed along the hillside is created by the introduction of a wall known as ‘interpile sheeting’ (a double wall with diagonal-rod bracing). The long access ramp to the facsimile cave will be inside this interpile-sheeting wall. It is a dark and mysterious entrance, an uneven passageway with heights varying wildly from very high to very low.


We’d like to propose streamlining the educational support programme for the reasons mentioned above… In view of the announced cuts in the budget, we think that the museum space would be more solemn without the theatres, without the artificial discussions between researchers, without the comparisons with contemporary art, and so on. We propose simple spaces that will incorporate scientific and historic themes exclusively in the form of holographs that you can see without glasses. We propose a poetics based on telescoping images from many thousands of years ago with immaterial images from today. The matter is from the past, but the unreal holographic images are of the moment: they don’t alter the traces of bygone millennia; they are soft, subtle, mysterious, indistinct.


The place will only be visited if it is thoroughly exceptional.


Resurrecting theme park clichés is fatal.


It’s not the quantity of shows and information that will bring in visitors in their hundreds of thousands.


It’s an attitude, it’s a unique aesthetic.


It’s the feeling of visiting the only solemn museum space that will forever mark Lascaux in their memories through perfectly unfamiliar sensations.


To achieve this, the commercial spaces will be kept separate from the noble museum spaces, just as they are in the great museums, at the exit. Visitors will be forced to go through the bookshop, the shop selling mementos of the place and the cafeteria and restaurant spaces. All of that is located underneath the terrace, on the other side of the meadow, just before people get back to their vehicles.


This simplified programme is likely to facilitate a better-priced outcome but it especially positions the Lascaux Museum as an exception within the panoply of today’s cultural offerings. It accentuates the nobleness of this place of memory and respect, And, paradoxically, the most symbolic materials will be those that conjure up the original simplicity, with the use of beaten earth for the floors and polished concrete for the walls and ceilings – an evocation of the continuity of rock. By a happy coincidence, these Spartan principles will allow us to seriously cut costs.



Jean Nouvel