Review: ART-O-RAMA – Artworks seen in Marseille, 'By the Sea'

  • 07.09.2018

The model of Art-O-Rama, the Mediterranean French city art fair, gives space to galleries which can, once a year, design their own booth at affordable prices. A jury selects who can be part of the small group of exhibitors. The fair’s number of visitors and participants is growing, and Europe based collectors travel to Marseille for some sunny days around the blue coast and the collateral events oft he fair, presented by institutions and collections in Arles, Hyères, Montpellier and Aix-de-Provence. The galleries remain a niche for curators, artists and gallerists to meet and exchange, able to avoid the rush and overwhelming pressure seen in fairs, where the crisis of the art market is far more present than here, in Marseille.

Everybody speaks about the crisis gallerists are now facing, but at Art-O-Rama, the struggle is treated as a matter of public interest: everyone around the city owning, running or opening an exhibition space is invited to join the network. Nowhere else but here, Manifesta’s founding director Hedwig Fijen presented her interest in joining forces with locals, after announcing the collaboration of the European Biennial with Dutch architect Winy Maas and his studio MVRDV. The news of a Dutch foundation bringing a Dutch architect to a city in which the focus should be on the man power not coming from the north, but the mediterranean, was disappointing.

Away from the opacity of personal interests, the art fair carried by Jérôme Pantalacci and his small but amazing, hands-on team, gave the opportunity for VIPs to pass by the cultural forum ‚Friche La Belle de Mai‘, and the Rue Chevalier Roze for gallery openings at night and after-parties in local clubs, with promoters like magazine Zero Deux. No other place serves free pastis for its public opening.

Booths at Art-O-Rama this year are surprisingly less daring than in previous years. However, even though the size of the art fair itself feels considerably bigger with ten more galleries participating and the larger walls complicating the parcours, the glass warehouse at the port makes the visit feel like being in a postcard of a bay where art fairs are no alien to the city any longer. Self-reflexive, playful and market critical, the artworks that caught my attention are once again the ones reflecting the fragile transition of the art market, from which artworks have to constantly reclaim their independency.

At the booth of Antoine Levi from Paris, one of the most influential young galleries at the moment, running the coolest art fair around, ‚Ahhhh Paris Internationale‘, which no one else but GUCCI found convincing enough to turn into its main sponsor. Here, the beat took me in, embraced me like fire wings of a phoenix, a feeling that keept me awake until the break of dawn. Endorphins arose, quietly, surprisingly. The sensual gestures by the hands of Zoe Williams in her film ‚Drench‘ (2012) move along to the slow techno music, while they show the sculptures and vases standing on a glowing table. These are her sculptures, and those are possibly her friends, and we don’t know what is really going on. All that is clear, is that Williams is controlling the situation. She shows you what she wants you to see and to desire, and the art fair seems to be the place to see this piece in its entire glance. Outside the booth, a drawing of two arms wearing medievalesque red sleeves, seems to long for the eyes of the right buyer.

The representation of the artist through the image of others is a task only Lorenza Boisi achieves by playing with the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Together with the Milanese gallery Ribot, they present a single long wall on which paintings and ceramic pieces incessantly refer to themselves, to Boisi herself, and herself representing the environment. Foggy, misty color appears brightly. Yet the more elements Boisi includes in the paiting, the dirtier the color becomes. There are also paintings which canvases turns completely muddy; the artist calls them ‚Black Paintings‘. Balancing the boundaries of abstraction and icons, Boisi lets the ceramic pieces on the floor, at first glance, be unrecognizable forms. However, by finally holding the pieces in your hands you can see the side on which the pieces are lying have the form of cracked walnuts, depicting, elliptically, the economy of resources Boisi possesses.

The entire performativity that departs from the wall, passes on to the canvas and ends up on the floor, is vividly reproduced by Rahel Pötsch in her experimental objects, pardon, paintings presented at Sans Titre (2016), a nomad gallery run by Marie Madec and Lucie Scotty. The space, which started with a row of shows curated in Madec's Parisian apartment, represents a very young turn, different from the model of traditional commercial galleries. And so is Pötsch, who is still studying with Amy Sillman and Monika Baer at the Städelschule in Frankfurt since 2017. As a prizewinner of the Cologne Media University, the artist breaks with the actual characteristics of her chosen media, which is, again, painting. Her interaction with the workspace is staged by the repetitive movements drawn on a canvas that Putsch insistently gives the form of furniture. In her first institutional solo exhibition at the Nassauischer Kunstverein in Wiesbaden this summer, the process was shown by Pötsch as an extensive video installation.

The only room that offered a disconnection from the surroundings of the fair, was the booth of Lambdalambdalambda based in Pristina with its directors Isabella Ritter and Katharina Schendl living abroad. In a darkened room, the work of Hanne Lippard greets the viewer, by calling from the different corners of the space ‚No Answer is Also an Answer‘ (2017). The recorded voice of Lippard, played from speakers, poetically lists fragments of politeness, usually inscribed to a feminine language. Yet Lippard, an explorer of social forces governed through language, plays with these verbal expressions to confine a place where restrictions are experienced as such, and where the female is taken from the cliches fashioned by the unconscious desire within a patriarchal society. Lippard’s criticism is special, as her bold, almost artificial voice retains the rhythm that activates desire. Using solely her voice, and three bulbs (blue, green and red) as its stage, Lippard presents an easy and yet deep work that re-defines meaning, content and form as something to posses.

The extension of the artwork can also be understood as the construction of the self (in most of the cases, the artist) in the conflicted space of representation. Conflicted, as the space is between the imagination and the real. Sophie Thun’s multi-layered photographic objects at the booth of Sophie Tappeiner resemble the form and dimensions of the gallery space Tappeiner’s in Vienna. Trained as a painter, Thun quotes art-historical references that go beyond the layers she uses to covert the photograph in the space itself. Man Ray’s photograms - photographic images made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive paper - is the departing point for Thun to juxtapose herself as depicted and abstract presence, as well as for the many layers of paper enacting spatiality.

‚Proto’ by Gabriel Chaile supposes to be a film about a future where creatures inherit no traces of humanity but emotional behavior. The props and paintings shown by Chertlüdde show a thing that is long, skinny, with mosquito-like legs and a brick as a body, an egg as a head. Under a pink sky, this thing adopts the walk of dinosaurs, the posture of a philosopher and the sadness of an child. But what is this ‚Proto‘, this pre-form of an imagined futuristic form, and what does it want to present? The mechanical vagabond looks for a general desire: the promise of a life within a society of equals. And we are witness of a behavior that reflects the current state of global migrations. ‚Proto‘ turns into an adventure through the world, being actually a film that will never be produced. The group of works draws Chaile’s interest in anthropology, seen through stereotypes of the arcadian, the colonial and the technological transformations. The work awakes even more interest in his intervention during Art Basel Cities, where re-appropiation and use of cultural heritage is experiencing a new chapter through a brand of luxury from Switzerland, not necessarily clear if its attempt to transform urban development is different to what people have been doing so far.

Will the future be still defined by the struggle between colonials and indigenous cultures? Migrants versus patriots? Slaves versus soldiers? ‚Ceramic versus Coffee‘ by Claude Closky is the ultimate artist edition ever made, circulating with We Do Not Work Alone, a special guest in the editions section of Art-O-Rama: a mug. On its surface, two photographs of statistics taken from internet pages are placed in the way generic mugs are given for mother’s days. On the one side, the first JPEG shows the curve of revenues generated by the auctions of Picasso's ceramics, reaching millionaire chaffers, and on the other that of the price of coffee, sunken to create an exorbitant contrast between the two curves rising and descending. These pyramidal and specular images are a statement about the container and the contents of our global economy. For art and coffee lovers, this mug turns out to ONLY cost twenty euros, a detail that is worth mentioning to enclose the critic Closky brilliantly delivers for We Do Not Work Alone, an amazing powerhouse of young people for independent publishing and collective production in the arts, initiated by Louise Grislain, Anna Klossowski and Charlotte Morel.

The parcours through the booths at the glass warehouse, admiring the Marseillaise Cathedral on the left, and the open sea on the right, ends up with the sunsets painted by Italian artist SALVO (Salvatore Mangione, 1947 - 2015), seen at the space his daughter Norma Mangione shared with Galerie Crèvecoeur. SALVO, known mainly for his work around the Arte Povera movement, experienced an artistic turn through his friendship with Alighiero Boetti, in 1973, and returned to painting through the recovery of traditional techniques and divorces from the conceptual and performative practices he carried until then. He may have been underestimated for this, and for the apparently naiv, expressive, shiny happy colors and intentionally simplistic series of landscapes of places around Italy, Afghanistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Architectural ruins, churches and mosques are depicted by SALVO between dawn and dusk, washed from every recognizable feature of nationalistic differentiations, subsequently opening a certain universalism worth to explore.

Proof-read by Alina Kolar.