When it opened on June 10, 2020, the Bassins de Lumières in France became the largest digital art gallery in the world. But history buffs may be more interested in the site's background than the art it contains: Before it became an art gallery, the concrete space held a fleet of Nazi submarines during World War II, Smithsonian reports.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bassins de Lumières's spring 2020 opening date was delayed to June. Now guests can visit and see the works of painters Gustav Klimt, Paul Klee, and Egon Schiele digitally projected over the concrete structures. U-boat pens, reaching up to 300 feet long and 36 feet high, are now canvases for colorful portraits, landscapes, and abstract scenes. The water filling the space's four basins reflects the artwork from below, while visitors look down from walkways woven throughout the 130,000-square-foot space.
The base looked very different in the 1940s. Nazi Germany constructed it off the coast of Bordeaux as a place to keep its submarines safe from enemy attacks during repairs. The site was abandoned in 1944, but because it's so enormous, the city of Bordeaux decided it would be cheaper to keep it than to tear it down.
Several decades later, the defunct bunker has been given new life. Culturespaces, the organization behind the project, spent more than $15 million transforming the base into a multimedia art gallery. After showcasing the current roster of painters for the rest of the year, the space will feature new artists in 2021.