Two cars

Original digital art by Mercedes-Benz at Design Essentials IV: The Art of Creating Desire

LUX stops off at the Mercedes-Benz Design Centre in Nice to hear about its latest projects – from EVs to NFTs, and everything in between 

Few places can evoke desire like the Cote d’Azur. Home to the world’s superelite and their superyachts, it is where the most exclusive communities migrate in summertime – and where the aspirational go to see them.

All of which made it a fitting backdrop for Mercedes-Benz’s latest Design Essentials instalment, ‘The Art of Creating Desire’. Presented between their Design Centre in Nice – a cylindrical, spaceship-like structure hidden in the pine forest of France’s tech hub – and the newly-opened Maybourne Riviera, the showcase featured the marque’s latest projects and outlooks on the future of luxury.


The Mercedes-Benz Design Centre in Nice

‘We aspire to design the most desirable cars in the world. With Design Essentials, we illustrate how we approach this privilege in concrete terms,’ explained Chief Design Officer Gorden Wagener. ‘The venue – our Design Centre in Nice – plays a central role in this. I see it as a creative melting pot where we forge ideas for the luxury cars of the future.’

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That future, according to Mercedes-Benz, is digital. The marque has joined as the fifth and final founding member of the Aura Blockchain Consortium – a non-profit association of luxury brands investing in blockchain solutions for the industry – alongside LVMH, Prada Group, OTB Group, and Cartier, part of Richemont.

Car interior

Mercedes-Benz is expanding into in-car digital art experiences

‘Every product going forward will have a digital twin,’ explained Daniela Ott, General Secretary of Aura. ‘This is for all the use cases you can imagine, from traceability and provenance to resale and second-hand, NFTs and using the physical products you own in the metaverse’. In Mercedes’ case – the first and only premium automotive manufacturer to have joined the consortium – this means providing new digital art experiences both in-car and beyond.

Elsewhere, the marque is strengthening its commitment to the global fashion scene with the concept Mercedes-Maybach Haute Voiture, an S-Class reimagined through an haute couture lens. The car, which is expected to appear in 2023 in a limited release of 150 units, features a two-tone midnight blue and champagne exterior, and a nappa leather interior with bouclé fabric and gold trim.

Car interior

The limited edition Mercedes-Maybach Haute Voiture

We also had a sneak peek of the new Limited Edition Mercedes-Maybach. Soon to be available in a 150-unit run, the model was borne out of Project MAYBACH, the off-road EV concept created in collaboration with the late artist and fashion designer Virgil Abloh, which was presented at the Rubell Museum during Miami Art Week. The limited edition model marks the third and final collaboration with Abloh, whose Project Geländewagen set a benchmark for fashion and automotive collaborations in 2020.

Two cars

The Mercedes-Maybach by Virgil Abloh (left) and Project MAYBACH (right)

The grand finale took place over aperitifs at the Maybourne, where we were introduced to the Vision AMG, Mercedes’ new, all-electric sports car concept, slated for release in 2025. The car offers a preview of the all-electric future of Mercedes’ performance brand, having embarked on an electrification plan which will see electrified alternatives in every segment by the end of 2022, and an all-electric fleet by 2030.

Read more: Octopus Energy Founder Greg Jackson On The Green Revolution


The Mercedes-Benz Vision AMG

Speaking of the formal aspect of the Vision AMG, Wagener said, ‘it continues to write the history of the VISION EQXX and raises it to a completely new level’.

If the future really is electric, we want to do it in the Vision AMG.

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A view inside a painter's studio
Painting details of two canvases

Details of paintings by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar gives LUX readers a rare glimpse inside his Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat studio, normally open only to collectors and close friends, and shares insights into the artistic process

Every artist’s studio is unique, but French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s studio is, to coin a phrase, more unique than most. It is in a “secret” building on the spine of the chi-chi Cote d’Azur peninsula of Cap Ferrat, just outside the village of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. His neighbours are not other artists and craftspeople, but the discreet owners of fabulous villas in what is some of the most expensive real estate in the world. From the balcony of the second floor windows of the studio, you can see yachts moored at St Jean, and, in the distance, the rocky backdrop of Monte-Carlo.

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The studio building is, however, much as you might expect an artist’s studio to be: the communal garden (the studio shares the block with residents) is characterfully overgrown, and the studio itself comprises a small and basic kitchen which is not used for anything other than mixing paints, a tiny bathroom, and two large, bright and light rooms filled with canvasses, paint, studies, sketches and everything in between. There is barely anywhere to sit, and while the balcony looks out over the garden and rows of villas to the sea and mountains beyond, it doesn’t look like it is used for anything except musing.

The setting may seem unusual now, but in fact the artist follows in the footsteps of artists such as  CézanneMatisseChagallRenoir and Picasso, in his choice of the French Riviera as his creative backdrop. The floor-to-ceiling windows provide the artist an opportunity to connect with nature, a theme which increasingly permeates his work. The mountains and climate of the south of France provide a geographic link with Iran, Behnam-Bakhtiar’s ancestral homeland where he spent his formative years and young adulthood, and the culture and language a direct link back into Paris, the city of his birth, 1000km and a world away to the north.

Below, and for one of the first times ever, the artist shares intimate images from inside his studio alongside accompanying commentary about life as an artist under lockdown.

Painter's studio

“Since mid 2019, I have had a calling to focus on our connection to nature and have been painting that mainly. I had this urge to paint art that transfers an experience that is both good for us and our planet. The lockdown just reinforced it even more. The routine has not changed but the focus on my work has deepened.”

Views of the ocean from a balcony

“The view from my studio is a constant reminder that we are part of something much greater and connected to all living beings, and understanding this fact is vital to one’s evolution of the Self. The beauty of nature in its purest form pushes us to see beyond what most of us call the norm – to understand the value and importance of what is provided for us by nature and its energy, which is flowing through us and all around. My location is important because of its energy and what is provides for me on a daily basis – I didn’t get the vibes I get here when I used to work in my studio in London and it showed in my work. All of this is interconnected and will affect the artist path and work throughout the years.”

Read more: Boundary-breaking artist Barbara Kasten on light & perception

Artist's paints in the studio

“I definitely require a certain atmosphere to be able to create. Not that the ambiance needs to be positive and happy for me to create – I’ve done some of my strongest canvases under pressure and negative circumstances. It’s hard to explain, but I place myself in a particular mode when I work. It is all about what needs to pour out of you with the subjects in mind. I’ve had horrible days with so much thought in my mind and once I bring out all of it on a canvas (normally resembles a fight between myself, the canvas, my tools and the paint), I leave the studio with a sense of ease and peace.

I don’t like to have people around when I work. As I create some sort of an energy bubble where I place myself in during the creative process, I can’t have any interference. I do have very few select people (collector friends) who can see my creative process.”

Interiors of a painter's studio

“The studio is divided into five main spaces. There are two painting spaces in two different sections, one for where 90% of the creative process happens and the other for the detailing work. There’s also a storage room where finished works are stored (I can’t show you that as don’t like to show sold works), an equipment and paint room, and a mounting room for when my framing partner passes by to pick up canvases to take back to his atelier and to mount smaller works on the chassis.”

A view inside a painter's studio

“There are some of my collectors who have become friends throughout the years who pass by regularly to see new works and have a chat, which is always fun. Our topics usually revolve around the work, their messages, the process and visionary discussions about life and our humanities. They usually find one or two works they fall in love which I end up putting in the ‘sold room’ until they are picked up. There are maybe three of my collector friends whom I like to listen to as they have a unique eye and understanding of the arts.”

Read more: Examining the work of visual artist and philosopher Wolfgang Tillmans

abstract painting

“This study, entitled Rebirth Under the Gingko Tree, has been a work in progress for about a year, which a larger piece will be based on.”

Large scale abstract paintings

“Both of these canvases have been prepared for my upcoming show Rebirth. Both works were done simultaneously showing each a tree amongst nature. This shot was after each canvas was stretched on a chassis.”

Abstract paintings in the studio

“Space is primordial for me – I have recently taken over the above floor of my current studio to extend my working space.”

Large scale abstract painting

“This work is entitled Eternal Garden. It’s hard to describe how I know when a painting is finished – it is like an internal click and then you know it’s perfect.”

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s upcoming exhibition ‘Rebirth’ is due to open at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat Cultural Space (Villa Namouna) on 11 September until 11 October 2020.

He is represented by Setareh Gallery, Dusseldorf:


Reading time: 5 min
Luxurious villa property
Luxurious villa property

Grevillia is a waterfront residence on the port of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, on the market for €56m

Portrait of a man in a suit

Lord Andrew Hay. Image by John Wright

Lord Andrew Hay is Global Head of Residential at Knight Frank, the international real estate consultancy, and has built up property portfolios for some of the wealthiest people in the world. In this regular column, he is handed a theoretical sum of money by LUX and asked how he would invest it. This month, we asked Lord Hay where he would buy if he had £50m to spend on a single home

“If you had £50m to spend and could buy a property anywhere in the world – where would you choose?” It sounds like a question you’d ask your friends at a dinner party and actually is something I get asked quite regularly. My answer often changes as there are so many places around the world where I’d love to live, but having just returned from my summer holiday and with the thought of sunshine and the Mediterranean fresh in my mind along with this healthy budget, I would have to choose Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera.

Cap Ferrat is glamorous yet unspoilt. It has been a firm favourite of aristocracy and Hollywood celebrities over the years and is arguably one of the most exclusive addresses in Europe. It is easily located between Monaco and Nice, accessible both by car and helicopter making it a huge draw for wealthy clients looking for a second or third home and is somewhere they go to escape.

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As we describe in the latest Knight Frank Prime France Report, the 1.3km forested peninsula is home to around 500 spacious villas on large plots and has one of the strongest international buyer profiles on the French Riviera. The Eastern side is home to the best beaches, the Port and the old town, it offers the widest array of amenities, whilst the west has a steeper coastline and good views. There are two Michelin-starred restaurantsLa Voile d’Or and Le Cap and the small marina has around 560 berths.

Luxurious contemporary furnishings inside a villa

Contemporary interiors of luxury villa Grevillia

When a client arrives on Cap Ferrat, they always ask for homes with direct access to the sea and that’s what I would look for. And, with Knight Frank recently opening its sixth office along the Cote d’Azur in Cap Ferrat, and its 22nd office in France, my team would be primed to help me.

Two properties in particular stand out to me. The first being Grevillia, on the market for €56m. This is an exceptional, waterfront residence on the port of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It is a beautiful modern estate, comprising a principal villa, a secondary villa and a guest house – ideal for someone like me with a large family and friends who regularly join us on holiday.

Luxurious holiday villa with outdoor pool

Luxurious villa terrace with outdoor pool

Villa Neo is built into the hillside above the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer, on the market at €15m.

The second is Villa Neo, on the market at €15m. Significantly under my €50m budget but it is a perfectly presented villa, built into the steep hillside above the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer and provides idyllic Riviera scenery. The villa’s wide terrace, infinity pool and principal rooms face the Mediterranean Sea so by day the small sail boats moored in the azure water provide a languid but ever-changing picture while after dark, the lights of the peninsula gently sparkle against the night sky.

Read more: Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards 2019

Property prices on Cap-Ferrat range from €2,000,000 to over €200,000,000 with the most active band between €5,000,000 and €10,000,000. Prime property prices have increased by 4 per cent in the year to 2018 but this is a most extraordinary market, one that resonates far and wide with international buyers and also those based in Monaco looking for a nearby escape with a slower pace of life. The unique homes on glorious Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat make the market anything but predictable.

Cap Ferrat not only has a timeless quality which my wife Claire, being half-French, would adore, but it also has one of the broadest international buyer profiles of all the markets on the French Riviera. This helps protect owners’ exit strategies by ensuring the market isn’t dependent on the economic fortunes or currency shifts of one particular buyer nationality.

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Reading time: 3 min
Facade of a hotel at night lit with a purple sunset behind
Facade of Le Negresco hotel

Le Negresco hotel is the epitome of the French riviera

Why should I go now?

July is the month the city of Nice, capital of the French riviera, comes alive. Beaches are lively but not yet as teeming as in August, the nightlife is in full swing, the weather is warm and the sea is blue. If only there were a place to rise above it all – oh, wait, there is.

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What’s the lowdown?

Le Negresco is the epitome of the French riviera, with art and glamour at its heart. Whether you’re a fan of Princess Grace or Niki de St Phalle, Dalí or Louis Armstrong, there is something in the hotel to touch you – the grand facade even hides a roomful of street art.

Luxurious classic style dining room

The hotel’s two Michelin-starred restaurant Le Chantecler

Meanwhile you can hone your Riviera as it suits you; there’s live music every night on the Terrace, which looks out onto the Promenade des Anglais, the classic curved boulevard looping along the Mediterranean seafront; or disappear into old-world elegance in the two Michelin-starred Le Chantecler restaurant, with its 18th century grandeur.

Read more: Ruinart x Jonathan Anderson’s pop-up hotel in Notting Hill

Getting Horizontal

There are different styles of room as well as different price-categories. Decor in the rooms is a blend of classical and super-contemporary with suitably artistic touches in fixtures, fittings and funky wall coverings; meanwhile a sea view junior suite transports you to a time when the French riviera was pretty much the only seaside destination for anyone wealthy enough to visit on their Grand Tour, with rich classical furnishings.

Luxurious hotel suite with a balcony and views of the sea

One of the luxurious suites at Le Negresco


Nice is a city with a rich cultural programme, and teeming with restaurants, bars, museums, gardens and artisanal shopping. The Negresco is the seafront hotel literally at the heart of it all, so it’s not a place to be if you want to be away from the world. But for a few nights of summer living, we love it.

Rates from: €155 per room ($200/£150)

Book your stay:

Darius Sanai

Reading time: 1 min
Abstract vibrant painting by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar.

‘Love Ritual’, 2018/19. Oil on canvas. Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar.

This year’s edition of artmonte-carlo brings international galleries to the Côte d’Azur. We speak to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat resident and artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar about the fair and the rising interest in contemporary Iranian art

artmonte-carlo returns to the French Riviera for its fourth-edition with a select list of prominent international galleries, including Kamel Mennour, White Cube and Victoria Miro to name but a few. This will be artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar‘s first time participating in the fair at Dusseldorf-based gallery Setareh’s booth, alongside contemporary Iranian artist Reza Derakshani. The booth will also feature works by Gregor Gleiwitz, Hans Hartung, Imi Knoebel, Markus Lupertz amongst others.

Based in Dusseldorf with three locations, Setareh Gallery presents a global selection of contemporary and modern art. Established in 2013, the gallery is anchored in the Rhineland whilst operating internationally.

Known for his vibrant, abstract mixed-media paintings, which draw on ancient Persian motifs, patterns and landscapes, Behnam-Bakhtiar celebrates a complex cultural identity and not only invites new perspectives on the region, but also explores themes of a prosperous way of life, human evolution, the universal language, eternal feelings and Self, history, present and future. His work awakens a strong sense of experiencing positive emotions and transcendence, while accessing its audience’s psyche to bring about locked knowledge, intuition and human sensitivity.

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‘It is not a surprise that Iranian art holds its own league due to the vastness and richness of the Iranian culture and heritage,’ says Bakhtiar. ‘Even though the contemporary Iranian art scene has faced many challenges throughout the last few decades due to the political climate on Iran – unfortunately affecting its artists, gallerists and art institutions – Iranian artists due to the quality of their work and their profiles internationally have managed to perform in an outstanding manner, being represented by leading galleries internationally, holding important museum and gallery exhibitions.’

Abstract painting by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

‘Mini Lovers’, 2017. Oil on canvas. Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Read more: Inside one of the world’s most exclusive business networks

Behnam-Bakhtiar’s own work has been steadily gaining an international presence since his emergence on the art scene back in 2009. A recent sale Christie’s sale in Dubai, U.A.E, Dubai, U.A.E, saw his painting ‘Eternal Spring, 100 x 73 cm’ surpass its estimate of USD 6,000 to 8,000 to sell for USD 12,500, whilst ‘Hunting the Dawn, 199 x 224 cm’ by Reza Derakshani sold for USD 112,500, both nearly doubling their estimates.

Bright pink abstract painting by artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

‘Psychedelic Wholeness’, 2017/2018. Oil on canvas. Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

Abstract colourful painting of flowers

‘Flower Garden’. Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar.

Bakhtiar will be unveiling a new collection of works at the fair and is looking forward to exhibiting in a country that he feels a deep connection to. ‘As a somewhat local artist living and working in the neighbouring Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat while having roots in the principality from a very young age, it is nice to be representing the arts of the region in a fair of this calibre,’ he says.

artmonte-carlo runs from 25 to 28 April 2019. For more information visit:

To view more artwork by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar visit or follow the artist on Instagram @sassanbehnambakhtiar

Reading time: 2 min
Vibrant mural painting of an angel with sculpture of a colourful man standing in front
artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar seated in a green arm chair surrounded by colourful sculptures of men and a painted mural

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar in Villa Santo Sospir surrounded by his own sculptures and the artwork of Jean Cocteau

When artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar came across a 1960s film by Jean Cocteau, he was stunned to discover they were both addressing the same ideas in their work. Virginia Blackburn meets him to discuss his new exhibition – set in the Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat villa that’s full of Cocteau’s creations

Art is the international language: it speaks to the soul, not needing to utilise any mother tongue, and that communication is about to manifest itself in a major new exhibition in the south of France. It speaks across generations, too, to fellow artists and connoisseurs. And this is what happened when the French/Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar chanced upon a video made in the early 1960s by Jean Cocteau entitled Jean Cocteau Speaks to the Year 2000. “It was an inspiration,” Behnam-Bakhtiar says. “He was talking about the same things as me: that humanity is on the wrong path. That it is too robotic rather than humanised. That the global system is against wellbeing and health. Jean Cocteau was talking about this in 1962 and saying, ‘Hopefully you guys will have opened your eyes up to it by now.’ And when I saw it, I thought, ‘Oh my God.’ And that’s how it started.”

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The ‘it’ he refers to is his latest solo exhibition: Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau, housed in the beautiful and plush environs of Villa Santo Sospir at the southeastern tip of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cocteau’s home for over a decade. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is also where Behnam-Bakhtiar is now based. Following on from his recent highly successful Oneness Wholeness exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery from May to June this year, this follow-up is designed to carry on a dialogue with Cocteau, quite literally in some ways. Cocteau and his circle, which included Picasso, Matisse, Coco Chanel, Greta Garbo, Vaslav Nijinsky, Charlie Chaplin and Marlene Dietrich among many others, are very obviously the inspirations behind the work: Behnam-Bakhtiar has created two metres of sculptures of the historical figures who passed through the villa following Cocteau down to the beach. Does Behnam-Bakhtiar feel himself to be very much part of the tradition of the numerous artists who made this scorchingly beautiful part of the world their home? “Emotionally I’m very happy and excited to be here as a fellow French artist,” he says. “But it is also very upsetting because if Cocteau were here now he’d be so upset that we’re in an even worse state than we were when he made the video. These are the core values and beliefs in the work.”

Vibrant mural painting of an angel with sculpture of a colourful man standing in front

The show contains a collection of mixed-media sculptures as well as a sound installation

In truth, although Behnam-Bakhtiar is often referred to as a French/Iranian artist, he is considerably more than that. Born in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1984, the young Sassan lived in France until he was 10, after which the family returned to Tehran. The rest of his childhood was spent in the land of his immensely distinguished fathers – the artist can trace his heritage back to Iran’s ancient Bakhtiari tribe through his mother Firouzeh Bakhtiar-Bakhtiariha, while his great-grandfather General Gholam-Hossein Khan Bakhtiar (Sardar Mohtashem), was Iran’s minister of war. His grandfather Abdolhamid Bakhtiar was a Majles deputy, while the late Iranian Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar and General Teymour Bakhtiar were two of his great-uncles. Through his father, he is a descendant of the Qajar monarch Ahmad Shah. A stint at the American University in Dubai followed his time in Tehran, before moving back to France with his wife Maria Zakharchenko to obtain his MBA at the International University of Monaco.

This joint European/Middle Eastern influence has given Behnam-Bakhtiar an insight into both cultures and beyond: he prefers the description “citizen of the world without boundaries” and has spoken often of his desire to bring a new focus to work from the Middle East. Since springing on to the art scene in 2009, he has become a hugely successful international presence, with exhibitions all over the world and his works selling through Bonhams and Christie’s and other major auction houses. He has now set up the Fondation Behnam-Bakhtiar in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, as well as an art gallery in nearby Monaco, which shows Iranian artists alongside other international names. And he is very clear about the influence Iran’s artistic history has had upon his own work. “In terms of influence, the Persian cultural heritage is vital,” he says. “When I was a kid in Iran, I went around with a camera and a sketchbook, around all the famous cities in Iran – Shiraz, Isfahan, of course Tehran. I focused on all the architectural sites and they made me what I am today. There is a huge legacy from Iran.”

Read more: Adrian Cheng & James Corner are redesigning Hong Kong

But it is the new exhibition that has been engaging him of late. “Oneness Wholeness is a very personal body of work that started about seven years ago,” he explains. “I was going through a very difficult time in terms of my health and so I began to focus on energy, everything that connects us to everything, the universal language. This was merely a beginning, and at the start I couldn’t decide whether to put it in front of an audience as it was so personal.” The work ended up at solo show drawing on thousands of years of Iranian culture, employing ancient Persian motifs, patterns and landscapes to create huge mixed-media paintings calling to mind the Zagros mountains in south-west Iran that are still home to the Bakhtiari tribe. Now the work will progress further in the Villa Santo Sospir.

Artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar standing in garden with his sculptures and the ocean in the distance

Behnam-Bakhtiar is based in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, where his new exhibition is taking place

However, Behnam-Bakhtiar is keen to emphasise that his vision is not based solely on the circumstances of his upbringing. “I do have two different cultural backgrounds,” he says. “But something within me has been present ever since I was a young kid back in Iran. I would look at the world and ask what is wrong with it on a human level. A seed was planted in me back then.”

Like so many before him, Behnam-Bakhtiar chose to base himself on the Côte d’Azur because of the extraordinary natural qualities of the area. “It is a very special place for any artist,” he says. “I chose to reside here because of the natural beauty, the light, the sea and the energy. In coming to France I was coming back home and it feels right – a person has to listen to a gut instinct. I was lucky to be able to feel these extra things.”

Read more: Caroline Scheufele on Chopard’s gold standard

Behnam-Bakhtiar professes to feel marvellous today, in marked contrast to the events of seven years ago that eventually led to the recent body of work. He is reluctant to go into too much detail, but explains, “I felt ill due to emotional pressure when a series of events led to my health deteriorating seriously. I started doing things such as Kundalini meditation in order to be able to find myself again. When I finally got out of the cage or trap, I wanted to tell the world about it. I talked to my family and friends and the work came about very naturally – it was not forced or planned, it just happened. Saatchi related to the values I was talking about and the same thing happened at the Jean Cocteau Museum. A lot of things are very wrong with our way of life and more people understand that.” This process of self-discovery has continued: last year Behnam- Bakhtiar opened his third eye, which entirely changed his take on life.

Artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar sitting face to face with a colourful sculpture of a man in a garden

Back at Villa Santo Sospir, another element of the new exhibition is a sound installation, a literal dialogue between the two artists, as they will be talking to one another, their voices echoing through the beautiful building covered with the work of Cocteau. Behnam-Bakhtiar sounds as excited as a child when he talks about it. “I thought a sound installation was a very interesting idea,” he says. “Cocteau was residing here for years so he had a huge connection to the place. When I started to research his work, how he lived and what he did, this huge connection came about. The owners of the museum said, ‘This is too good a match.’ I’m very proud to be able to continue in his footsteps.”

Read more: Luxury swiss watch brand Hublot opens London flagship boutique

This is especially significant because Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar will be the last artist to exhibit in the Villa Santo Sospir as it is in its current state. After the exhibition the villa will be closing down for restoration by the interior designer Jacques Grange, while the grounds will also be renovated by landscape architect Madison Cox.

Artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar standing on a stone path in a garden with two colourful sculptures of men

But this exhibition, as with all his work these days, is informed with a mission to change the very way in which people think. “One of the biggest issues is for us as humans to understand that we are so much more than we think we are,” he says. “When I realised this, I changed as a human being. My DNA changed. We need to move forward, to be different, to live lives in a different way, to reach different levels of life. When you look at the world today, it’s very easy to get depressed, but you still need to live day after day with love and I apply that even to the people who hurt me. I used to be very angry with people who hurt and mistreated me, but you have to realise you must treat people with love. Things have been created to divide races and countries whereas we are all brothers and sisters really. Life is not about conflict.”

Behnam-Bakhtiar’s own health issues have had a huge bearing on this, of course. “I have been given a gift to live with a purpose,” he says. “Don’t forget the beauty of life. If you’ve had big health issues, you realise it’s silly not to walk on the beach and enjoy it. Anyone can be wise but you have to trigger that. My ultimate message from this exhibition is that you have to transcend as a human being. Understand you have to change life for the better. Stop being zombies. It is a spiritual revolution we are looking for now.”

Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau runs until 30 September at Villa Santo Sospir

To view more artwork by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar visit or follow the artist on Instagram @sassanbehnambakhtiar

Villa Santo Sospir

The Villa Santo Sospir is placed, appropriately enough, on the avenue Jean Cocteau in Saint- Jean-Cap-Ferrat. This is where, according to local lore, Cocteau was invited to spend a week’s holiday by its owner, the socialite Francine Weisweiller, in 1950 and ended up staying for more than a decade. It was a wise move on her part: previously the interior was all whitewashed walls, but Cocteau asked whether he could draw the head of Apollo above the fireplace in the living room, and went on to cover the entire house with his art. For most of his frescoes, Cocteau was inspired by Greek gods and mythical creatures, but he also referenced images of the Riviera, such as fishermen and their nets. Cocteau called it the “tattooed villa” and later said: “When I was working at Santo Sospir, I became myself a wall and these walls spoke for me.”

Famous artists of the Riviera

With its beautiful scenery, extraordinary light and pleasant climate, the French Riviera has long been a draw for famous artists. Cézanne was the first to arrive in the 1880s, but many others soon followed: Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Edvard Munch and poor, haunted Vincent van Gogh, who was based in Arles. Pierre-Auguste Renoir moved there for the light and bought a home in Cagnes-sur-Mer, which he turned into a studio for his Impressionist paintings. Chagall lived in Saint-Paul de Vence, as, briefly, did Picasso: it is said that he stayed at the Colombe D’Or hotel and traded paintings for meals.

Watch Jean Cocteau Speaks to the Year 2000, the short film that inspired exhibition:

Reading time: 10 min