Architecture Art Exhibition Museums

French art foundation to launch mobile museum on board the world’s largest catamaran worth USD32m

October 28, 2021

Tech entrepreneur Frédéric Jousset’s Art Explora will launch the vessel in 2023 with a tour around the Mediterranean and beyond

Launched in 2019 with a mission to broaden access to art, the French non-profit Art Explora is launching a USD32m catamaran that will double up as a mobile museum. Named Artexplorer, the boat is currently under construction in La Spezia, Italy, and is scheduled to set sail around the Mediterranean basin from Marseille in September 2023.

“The sea was instrumental in waging wars and trading goods — why not use it as a conveyor of culture?”, says Art Explora’s founder, the tech entrepreneur and Musée du Louvre administrator Frédéric Jousset. “The idea was to create a museum which would not be tied down to a single location, could go almost anywhere, and could reinvent itself permanently [because it has no] permanent collections.”

“Designing a 46.5 metre catamaran — the largest in the world — was in itself an exciting challenge; constructing a museum boat of these proportions that can accommodate 2,000 visitors is an unparalleled architectural and ship building challenge that I am extremely pleased to be tackling with my teams,” explains Axel de Beaufort, naval architect and designer. “We imagined this aquatic museum as a full-blown work of art, using the finest materials, craftspeople, and know-how for its construction. Alongside the work we are undertaking to develop the characteristics and performance required to travel around the world by sail, our main challenge with this unusual project is to devise an innovative design that reconciles the modularity of its spaces with the interior and exterior layout. This will allow the museum’s design to be optimally configured to provide everyone with a unique cultural experience in all four corners of the world.”

The 46m-long, 300-tonne boat will be able to accommodate 2,000 visitors. On board, a documentary about Art Explora will be screened in the Flybridge welcome space. The central gallery will house an inaugural digital exhibition about the representation of women in the Mediterranean, titled Icons and led by Noëmi Daucé, an archaeology curator at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The project room will be reserved for digital art responding to the theme of the main exhibition. The boat will also house five cabins for guests to stay on board. “It is not a production studio but artists could be invited to find inspiration on board,” Mr Jousset says.

Admission will be free and visitors will be encouraged to sign up in advance via Art Explora Academy, a new digital platform devoted to art history courses in French and English, with educational videos developed in close collaboration with Paris-Sorbonne University.

In addition to Artexplorer, Mr Jousset is also involved in the conversion of a former airship warehouse near Paris, Hangar Y, into a vast exhibition hall, and the construction of the MuMo, a travelling museum truck developed with the Centre Pompidou. “In the future, we may even turn a train into a touring museum,” he shares.

Mr Jousset is still scouting for destinations. Among the 15 or so stops to be confirmed, some will run for a longer duration and be accompanied by an events programme housed in pop-up pavilions on shore, co-organised with local cultural institutions. “Our goal is not to export Western culture only,” Mr Jousset says. “We want to be instrumental in promoting local artists as well.”

Two models of the ship are currently on view, the smaller at the Louvre in Paris and the larger one at the France Pavilion at Expo2020 in Dubai – the event is expected to attract around 25 million visitors over six months.

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