The art fair and the territory – On ART-O-RAMA 2017, fair for contemporary art at La Friche Belle de Mai, Marseille

  • 29.08.2017

Art fairs resemble the characteristics of the city that brings them to life. If you think about Marseille as a small, unpredictable, fun, friendly, effective but with a slight and careless delay, then you should expect ART-O-RAMA to be also like this. The venue of the event, La Friche Belle de Mai, is conditioned by a similar eclecticism. It unfolds as the convolute of brutalist corridors, spacey artist’s studios and recreational areas for kids, teenagers and adults. It is now a space for international players and logics of distribution of fine arts. The concentration of synergies at La Friche turns ART-O-RAMA to the heart of Marseille’s cultural organism.

2017 was for ART-O-RAMA, as they said, cooler than ever. This means not only to have for the first time air conditioner in the exhibition hall, something that the team of the fair cheered about, but also a revelation: Its makers openly pursue, ever since, improvements and changes. Cool curators like Luigi Fassi and Vincent Honoré gave tours through the booths. Cool collectors opened their homes for a considerable amount of foreign guests. Cool girls danced along the drums of the cool boys at La Friches parking lot. Cool showrooms have made of the rue Chevalier Roze the coolest street in the port.

ART-O-RAMA has established itself in the south of France as a special case, known and appreciated for it’s experimental nature, but also for it’s inclusive spirit, the fair is now standing firmly with a 10 years long career. And it may be inscribed as a meeting point for commercial purposes, but the fair does so much more than it must. ART-O-RAMA is a transition space for emerging galleries, mainly in the U.S. and Europe, to try out their persuasion skills without giving up their ideals or without putting their finances at risk. It gives every booth the possibility to be an exhibition space without the standard architectural specificities of the fair hall. Thus ART-O-RAMA works as a hub of new projects, as the reason for foundations and sponsors to place their funding budgets outside Paris, the reason for a few exhibition spaces to ever take new challenges, for institutions another chance to try a more direct connection to the present. 

Here are four cases that Reflektor M would like to highlight, before focusing on the fair itself, of exhibitions within the territory ART-O-RAMA has mapped in the last ten years.

Mark Dion at the FRAC / Musèe d’Historie Naturelle

The Longchamp Palace: The name of Marseille’s monumental with a monstrous chateau d’eau, a fountain of bulls being pulled by the goddess of the sea, but also the most popular bar of the artists. The historical palace houses the Museé de Beaux-Arts in its right wing and the Museé d’Histoire Naturelle on its left. And it is the environment of this museum for natural history, which constitutes the ideal terrain for the naturalist’s universes of Mark Dion (1961, Bedford Massachusetts). Ideal for his wooden books of wood kinds, for his elegant but playful depictions of European genealogies on serigraphs, the plastic alien-like mollusks and gigantic bacterias conserved in formal or cabinets of rarities.

Because the museum itself has a collection of 83,000 zoological specimens, 200,000 botanical specimens, 81,000 fossils, and 8,000 mineral specimens, Mark Dion seems to be just a small gesture within the preposterous fund of the Musèe d’Historie Naturelle. The exhibition is but a proposition of Paréidolie - an international ‘salon‘ for contemporary art in Marseille - a generous institutional collaboration between the museum for contemporary art FRAC PACA, the Parisian gallery In Situ of Fabienne Leclerc, the Musée Gassendi, the Cairn Centre d’Art in Digne, the Musée departamental in Arles and the NMNM in Monaco.

Departing point of Dion’s work is mostly a wide, jumping and universal reflection on the process of creation. All possible evidence is been put on display in his gloomy Wunderkammer. Although the works resemble basically the patina of the century where academics founded the academy, they are representative bodies of the practice of art as we today now know it: A patch-worked, monstrous, dense epiphany. Like Nature. And its meaning can be also sometimes multiplied lightly as the leaf of a tree.

Erik Göngrich & Boris Sieverts at La Friche Belle de Mai

It’s a vague territory, the one chosen by both Germans artists based in Marseille to place their collaborative research. This territory is called ‘air of admission‘, a ‘blurred terrain’, a ‘zone of negotiation’ or just ‘hinterland‘. It is actually the national park Calanques, used as a speculation zone for real state negotiations since the unproportional growth of the city of Marseille. The metamorphose of the national park as an ecological reserve to an industrial disfigured place of leisure, take Erik Göngrich and Boris Sieverts to a manifestation of collective discontent, inviting the habitants to upraise against the current regulations of the south-french soil and shape with them a model for a balanced distribution between natural and urban landscapes.

It is not only the general collision between city and nature, but also the places in between which brought them to sketch 35 propositions for the interpretation of the national park and it’s negotiation zone, which is called “aire d’ahésion“. The project, is an exhibition as part of an architectural residence of the Goethe-Institut in Marseille. Göngrich and Sieverts call themselves tour guides and architects and are based in Marseille as artists since a few years. They present a series of drawings that are meant to re-orientate the construction plans into artistic planes for the Calanques.

The question of shifting the purposes from a building into a work of art is the kind of negotiation both Göngrich and Sieverts ask themselves. While the Calanques is still being treated by the french government as national property, the artists demand a new understanding of a protected conversation area, inviting visitors at La Friche Belle de Mai, to shape the humid clay in the middle of the room as they remember the Calanques and which future form could it take if the negotiation is based on a democratic process. The model by Göngrich and Sievert looks rather as a dystopian confusion.

Vincent Lamoraux at the panorama tower of the Ricard Foundation

To build a landing strip in the middle of the desert between California and Mexico is like telling the current administration of the USA that no matter how high their wall is expected to be, there will be always ways for people to cross the border. That is nice but also somehow unrealistic. Like to build an opera house in the middle of the jungle. Fitzcarraldo did at least transport a steamship over a steep hill in order to access the rich rubber territory in the Amazon Basin.

Vincent Lamouroux (1974, Saint-German-en-Laye) seems as indomitable as Klaus Kinski, but is as soft as the dusty wind caressing the white screen that shows the landing of a yellow biplane. The poetic narrative reminds of classic pieces of the Land Art artists such as Christo & Jeanne-Claude’s wrapped islands and coasts, umbrellas and curtains in valleys or Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. But while the wrapping of the land costs a fortune and a well organized company behind it, and while the Spiral Jetty is still at the Salt lake in Utah, Lamouroux adapts his work to a video documentation of something that existed just for the filming hours the artist spend at the pacific coast. 

The landing strip washed away after a day of filming, showing at the panorama town of the Foundation d'Enterprise Ricard at La Friche Belle de Mai in dimensions similar to the landscape it depicted. Ricard has him carte blanche for this project. Lamouroux didn’t ask for permissions and flew over to do his work. The chosen field is a military land and he didn’t want to wait to intervene, unfolding the desert as a flat place, with no hierarchies, overwhelmingly empty and at the same time, a place where supreme spirits where called for the first time. ‘New Runway‘ may look like the perfect stage of advertisements - as everything looks bright and beautiful in the desert - yet Lamouroux reveals the simplicity of the desire for accomplishment, even when this adventure of ‘being‘ may be only of going away.

Martin Soto Climent at Atlantis

While everyone seats outside, melting at the 30 degrees of a Marseillaise summer night, the spaces at the Rue Chevalier Roze seem also half naked, letting the material which the buildings are made of be the open veins of the metamorphose of the city’s heart. Chevalier Roze, the street at the old port district that has awaken as an artistic hub dedicated to the youngest art, splits into 7 separate units and specially renovated for the purpose will host international artists and make the street a benchmark in contemporary creation.

The monographic show of Martin Soto Climent (1977, Mexico D.F.) at the end of the street seems to have grown within this construction site. Are there artworks in the room or is it the room artwork itself? For it’s first show, the collectors group LUMIÈRE invited curator and author Chris Sharp, who invited Martin Soto Climent, with whom Sharp runs the independent exhibition show in Mexico D.F. called Lulu. The fragility of the chosen surfaces in blue, beige, rosé, question not only the endurance of certain materials (the decaying and transcendental meaning of nylon for eroticism since industrial times), but also the subtle beauty found in everyday objects (as if he hadn’t chosen them but they chose Martin). 

The use of materials and images yielded from metropolitan streets or urban suburbs, are elegantly placed photographs, sculptures and installations hardly modified. They come as they are, like they were. As Martin Solo Climent wants them to be. He hides a shell in the cotton of the columns, turns used nylon tights into canvas and to leftovers of experiences past, adorned with traces of them, erotically and casually made.

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