Ocean Utopia – underwater sculptures by Val at Koh Tao, Thailand, a conservation project with New Heaven Reef Conservation Program

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underwater sculpture Val conservation Koh Tao: Ocean Utopia is an underwater evolutionary sculptures project created by Valérie Goutard (Val), the renowned French contemporary sculptor. Val has installed Ocean Utopia 12 meters underwater in the south of Koh Tao in Thailand which is a world scuba diving hotspot. This artwork constitutes a fusion between art, ecology and coral reef preservation as Val has chosen coral to be one of the mediums of Ocean Utopia in addition to concrete and bronze. The vision of Val is to promote marine ecology and coral reef preservation through art and to use her notoriety to educate divers to this universal ecological cause through this unique underwater sculptures installation.
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Portrait of Valérie Goutard (Val) the renowned French sculptor. Val has created underwater evolutionary sculpture titled Ocean Utopia and installed in Koh Tao in Thailand.

Biography of Val

Valérie Goutard (VAL) was born in France in May 1967.  She spent her childhood and early teenage years in Africa.  From there she lived in Europe and South America returning to France after gaining her higher education in Venezuela. Val was strongly influenced by her time abroad and identified with humanism rather than as a citizen belonging to any country.

For ten years, her marketing career took her to London, Madrid, and eventually back to Paris. But it was in 2002 when a sculptor friend would introduce her to a more creative and alternative path. Val’s initial interaction with sculpture had ignited something deep within, and would eventually be her calling to an inner passion that once arisen, would never be diminished.

A self-taught artist

Independent. Instinctive. Intuitive; As a self-taught artist, her freedom from the shackles of academic and technical knowledge only propelled her further, as if formal knowledge would have been a brake and would have hindered her from excelling.

The simple act of modelling a piece of clay into a figurative or abstract form from nothingness was a true catalyst for Val to abandon any ties that had been holding her back. She was a true lover of freedom and revelled in exploring different mediums, sentimental values, and cultural attachments.

Expatriation to Asia

Val took a leap of faith in 2004 and moved from homeland in France to Thailand, where she set up her studio in Bangkok, the bustling Asian megalopolis where everything seemed possible. It was here where she met Frédéric Morel, who would become her husband and then her agent from 2007.

In her own words, it was the combination of the great freedom offered by Asia, the welcoming community, and discovering her soul mate, that helped her artworks gain critical acclaim within a short space of time. From Asia to Europe, her artworks were highly-lauded and praised by thousands of enthusiasts and art collectors alike.

In April 2004, it was in Bangkok where Val showed her artworks for the first time. This became a permanent place of exhibition, from where her career was launched. Since that first show, Val held solo exhibitions and participated in contemporary art fairs with her galleries, spanning three continents, from Southeast Asia, Australia, to Europe.  Represented by REDSEA Gallery, Singapore – Wellington Gallery, Hong Kong – Philippe Staib Gallery, Shanghai and Taiwan and Galerie François Giraudeau, France, Val established herself as one of Asia’s most recognised and loved sculptors.  In 2016 Val entered the American market thanks to the Galerie Simard-Bilodeau.

The revelation to the public

It was after three major exhibitions; Theatre of Life held at REDSEA Gallery in 2010 and two exhibitions at the Wellington Gallery in 2009 and 2010, that Val’s following and reputation grew exponentially. Even more so during her very noticeable participation at the Shanghai Art Fair 2010 and as part of the Jing’An International Sculpture Park Project with the presentation of her first monumental sculpture entitled Urban life. During the following years Val secured numerous solo exhibitions and public installations. She created numerous sculptures which have become synonymous with her artistic style. Among these sculptures, several have been denoted as masterpieces – Conversation au parc II and New-born child II (2010), Ville fantastique and Tango II (2011), Inle balance III and Eternal pillars (2012), Inéquilibre and Waiting III (2014), Flying lovers II and Attraction II (2015).

Highlights from Val’s career also included the installation of Finding soulmate II at the Time Square Building in Hong Kong in 2011, the installation of three of her large sculptures including Inle balance III at the Sofitel Sukhumvit in Bangkok, her solo exhibition at the Art & Arch Museum in Taiwan, 2012, and the public installation of Waiting III at the New Square Tower in Taipei in 2014.

In 2015, Val won the art section of the Trophée des Français de l’Étranger, awarded to her by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris. She also installed Inéquilibre at the Skysuite Tower in Singapore and exhibited at the Franco-Chinese foundation Yish8 in Beijing, China, with an exhibition entitled Anatomy of a creative path.  In the same year, Val was commissioned to sculpt Du chaos à la sagesse (From Chaos to Wisdom) for a private collector in Taiwan. This resulting sculpture would culminate in her most spectacular artwork ever created spanning across a length of 36-metres and a height of almost 5-metres. 

With Murano glass masters

Since her settlement in Thailand, Val had been working exclusively with bronze, fuelled by its rich and expansive history in three dimensional art. From mid-2015 however, Val discovered the ancestral art of glassmaking with the master glassmakers of Murano. The notion that voids in artworks were just as essential as the solid parts was important to Val. This balance of voids and solids is only determined through Val’s keen sense of visual rhythm. The addition of glass to her artworks was a means to provide meaning to her voids by creating a sense of sacredness through the appearance of Trompe-l’oeil. “With glass, the reality is not what it seems,” Val states. From her apprenticeship with the master glassmakers of Murano, she created the Tenth eonian initiative from 2015 to 2016, a magnificent collection of sculptures comprising of glass, bronze and light (exhibited at REDSEA Gallery, November 2016).

2016 was an immense year. The Chinese Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing (CAFA) paid Val a rare tribute as a Western artist by organising a retrospective exhibition of her work. It’s museum acquired Autoportrait and Eternal pillars for its permanent collection. With the help of her husband, she then achieved the grand feat of installing Ocean utopia on the seabed of Koh Tao in Thailand.  This introduced extinct coral reefs back into Koh Tao’s ecosystem through the addition of three monumental sculptures. The three sculptures were made up of bronze, marine concrete, and extinct coral. Later in the year, Val’s 36-metre long sculpture, From Du chaos à la sagesse, would be completed and begin its bronze casting process (it would not be installed until 2017 on the heights of Taichung, Taiwan).  On October 27th, 2016, three weeks before her Tenth eonian initiative exhibition at REDSEA Gallery, Val tragically died in a motor bike accident, between Pattaya and Bangkok.

Inner-Happiness Syndrome

Several important post-mortem installations were carried out with Val’s sculptures, including Ville fantastique II at Benjasiri Park in Bangkok in February 2017 (donation to the city was done during the lifetime of Val), a private sculpture park in Jouy-en-Josas (France) in May 2018 with six of her artworks including L’étreinte II and Attraction II and finally the acquisition of another edition of Attraction II by the Alliance Française de Bangkok in October 2019.

This biography would not be complete if it did not evoke the personality of Val. She was out of this world, her face was constantly radiating with a luminous smile and she was imbued with a strong sense of humanity and deep kindness. Val was filled with “Inner-Happiness Syndrome”, a state of being that appears so clearly in her work.