History & Culture

Find your Eldorado at Lille3000 this summer

With more museums per sq km than anywhere outside Paris, the Nord is the perfect place for a monster art festival. Rachel Ifans is our guide.

The dream of El Dorado, the mythical lost city of gold in South America, has led many a curious conquistador on a fruitless mission. But a short break to Lille this year is anything but fruitless – as I discovered, Lille3000 Eldorado is an exciting mix of urban metamorphosis backed up by a host of impressive art galleries.

From the unforgettable art-deco La Piscine in Roubaix, the MUba in Tourcoing and the high-class LAM, to Lille3000’s flagship venue at the TriPostal in town (and let’s not forget the Louvre Lens which only serves to gild the Nord’s lily), these art venues pack a punch.

Lille3000 Eldorado runs from April to December, although not all the events run the full distance. This is art for everyone – arty-farties, intellectuals, locals and tourists alike. It’s all remarkably accessible.

Lille3000 shows Mexican art, sculpture and painting at the Hospice de la Comtesse

For me, there are four main Eldorado venues that you absolutely must visit: the Musée de l’Hospice Comtesse; the MUba in Tourcoing; the TriPostal’s three-floored extravanganza; and the popular art at Lille’s Natural History Museum.

Where the wild things are

In April hail and wind, I popped to Gare Lille Flandres to see the moon installation by Bristol artist Luke Jerram before heading down Rue Faidherbe (aka Lille Ramblas) towards the main square and the old town beyond. A line-up of Les Alebrijes Mexican folk art statues guided me down the wide boulevard to my first gallery.

There are two distinct exhibitions in Lille’s Hospice Comtesse: Intenso / Mexicano and Tlacolulokos / Oaxaca in Los Angeles. The first shows how the Mexican Revolution of 1910 still inspires painters today. What they were fighting for then, their Eldorado, is still relevant today – land, of course, but also education, safety, water and social equality. Artists from early 20th century Mexico created new archetypes: mothers, farmers, school mistresses, the proletariat and later, after the rural exodus to cities and USA, the street children too. The paintings are wonderful and the descriptions fascinating – you’ll even spot Frida Kahlo’s Coconuts here.

Lille3000’s 2019 festival has Eldorado as its theme

The old paintings are juxtaposed by the huge work of the Tlacolulokos as you enter, depicting the rich street culture of Oaxaca. The paintings explore what it means to be part of an indigenous community in the 21st century in cities like LA. The work shows the complex cultural mix that comes from communities escaping the regime after uprisings in their own country. 

I went from here to the MUba in Tourcoing. It’s just a few kilometres in the car or a metro ride from Lille. It’s a wonderful space and the Les Enfants du Paradis exhibition is light and bright. The contemporary artwork here sees artists searching for Eldorado in the paintings they make or perhaps in the act of painting itself. I saw ethereal scenes, cultish poses, nostalgia for an idyllic past, and utopian scenes tinged with disturbing, dystopian nuance.

Criss-crossing back to TriPostal in town, I tentatively entered Eldorama, a heady, sometimes gaudy exploration of human hopes for a better life. Some stories are rooted in the past, like the prodding of Indian traditions such as arranged marriage, deserted wives and stolen dowries; some tell of tensions between civilisations and nature; some – a mirror room filled with thousands of multi-coloured LEDs – show a disorientating and hypnotic infinity; and some create mangled phrases with new meanings painted on batiks.

Thukral and Tagra are two Indian artists showing their work at TriPostal in Lille

In truth, the three floors are stuffed with thought-provoking work from all four corners of the globe – from India, Africa, South America, Canada, UK, China, France, and more.

Off topic but on target

Once footsteps have slowed and the galleries have closed for the night, the sweet-toothed conquistadors among you will love Lille’s foodie offerings – from heritage greats like Méert’s lip-smackingly sweet waffles (word in your ear: the son of the city, Charles de Gaulle, loved the Madagascan vanilla) to Fred’s magical meringues (Aux Merveilleux de Fred), they’ve got your back.

Street art and art installations as part of Lille3000’s Eldorado festival 2019

And if hearty savoury is your thing, the Flemish food of the estaminets in Lille (try Le Barbue d’Anvers for aesthetic and authentic rolled into one) is great, as is a quick stop at a friterie (a chippy). They take their chips seriously in the north, sometimes served with meaty mussels, sometimes with a dab of mayo. There’s excellent shopping too, and one of the best markets I’ve ever been to – in Wazemmes on Sundays.

Top image: The Alebrijes will watch over Lille’s Ramblas-esque Rue Faidherbe until the beginning of December © Romain Greco

Feeling inspired by Lille3000?

Most Popular