The Musée de l'Abbaye Sainte-Croix (MASC), a museum of modern and contemporary art in Les Sables d'Olonne, is a pioneer in France. Since its creation in 1963 by Pierre Chaigneau, its first curator, it has continued to expand and assert its commitment to promoting modern and contemporary art in France and abroad.
In 1622, Countess Charlotte Flandrina of Nassau, the daughter of William of Orange, established a priory in Les Sables d’Olonne, located outside the ancient ramparts, close to the Talmont gate. It was a simple building with sober lines, in keeping with the ideals of the Counter-Reformation that outlawed ornamentation. The site was returned to the city in 1792 and was used for various different purposes.
Located in the 17th-century abbey founded by the Benedictine nuns of Poitiers, the museum occupies an area of 2,500 square metres (26,910 square feet) with its large white galleries. On the third floor, a room housed in the inverted-hull roof-space forms the oldest part of the building. The abbey is protected as a listed Historic Monument; the museum enjoys the title “Musée de France”, designating it as one of the main state museums in France.
In more than fifty years, the MASC has held over three hundred exhibitions and has published more than 135 “Cahiers de l'Abbaye Sainte-Croix”, well-illustrated catalogues that feature free-thinking authors, not necessarily art historians. The museum is something of an outsider in the sense that it showcases major established and re-emerging artists or simply, for the younger contributors, faces of the future: Antonin Artaud, Gilles Barbier, Georg Baselitz, Robert Combas Philip Guston, Anton Prinner, Peter Saul, Carlo Zinelli, to name but a few.