In the exhibition Cartology of the Algerian Map, at MuCEM, Marseilles, one map was entitled Travels or observations relating to several parts of Barbary and the Levant (Thomas Shaw, 1738). Let this report be called Travels or observations relating to several parts of Marseille and the contemporary art scene.
Our delegation of thirteen , had been invited by the organising committee of Marseille Expo to attend Printemps de l’Art Contemporain (PAC) and meet a network of arts organisations who are members of Marseille Expo. In its eighth edition, PAC is a May festival which brings together a wide range of galleries, museums, production facilities and studios. This visit for the Scottish delegation has been a scoping one, providing the opportunity to meet with galleries, artists and arts organisations with the view to developing ideas for future projects, exchanges, exhibitions or residencies with Marseille. Future links or opportunities are by no means limited to the group on this curatorial trip. This link between Scotland and Marseille builds on established links such as the Triangle France exchange, which has been running since 2012 between Glasgow Sculpture Studios and Triangle France with previous Marseille and Glasgow-based artists including, from Marseille – Amandine Guruceaga who we met at Tank Art Space a gallery space which is part of her home, and Thomas Teurlai, whose installation Bullroarer we saw at Musée Catini through Les Ateliers d’Artistes de la Ville de Marseille programme. Marseille’s Sextant Et Plus is another organisation, (Director Veronique Collard-Bovy), which has strong links with Scotland and in particular Glasgow, most recently in 2014 working with Graham Fagen and Graham Eatough on their project ‘In Camera’. Wasps’ project The Poundshop, selling the work of Scottish-based and Marseille-based designers, ran at Southblock, Glasgow, during Merchant City Festival 2016.
In May it was timely to visit Marseille, as announcements were just coming through that France’s second largest city will host Manifesta in 2020. For further reading, Caroline Hancock, an independent curator living in Paris, and past curator of PAC (and a key person our group met on the trip), has written the excellent piece Why Manifesta makes sense in Marseille (5.6.16, Apollo Magazine). Marseille was European City of Culture in 2013. Overlooked by the Church of the Bonne Mere, this city is surrounded by mountains and is also on the Mediterranean coast, with an ancient port and beach. The island fortress in the bay inspired Alexandre Dumas’ Man in the Iron Mask Le Corbusier’s Cite Radiuese, which in July 2016 has itself been declared a UN Heritage site, is also in Marseille. PAC, as with any good festival, allowed for the exploration of diverse parts of the city, due to the location of the galleries and museums taking part.
PAC 2016 has no over-arching theme this year. However, one strand was an emphasis on cultural exchange, this year with South Korean artists. Exhibitions included The thing that you know, I do not want to know with Rohwajeong and Jihye Park, curated by Paul-Emmanuel Odin at La Compagnie, a beautiful large gallery with massive timber beams; Cody Choi at Musee d’Art Contemporain; Jin Angdoo & Mathieu Julien with Amateurs at Straat Galerie and Sam (meaning three in Korean) with artists Myung-Ok Han, Oan Kim and Peter Kim at art-cade, a gallery renovated from a former Turkish bath. Art-cade is architecturally formed in a triangular layout, with a glass corridor which surrounds a garden at its heart. A staircase in the garden leads to a roof top area. Works are exhibited in the corridor and several small rooms leading from it. Seulgi Lee playfully created the ongoing action of Soupe at Galerie Ho, offering visitors a choice of two coloured soups, cooking in the gallery, that were the exact colours she had painted the gallery walls. Galerie Ho is open to exhibition proposals from artists, and is an unique gallery that is entered through a bookshop, with a cafe area and artist residency space in the garden. One of the stand out exhibitions of PAC in terms of ambition was by South Korean Marseille-based artist Ahram Lee, with her exhibition D’incolores idees vertes dormant furieusement at Vidéochroniques. This gallery is a former cigarette factory and tobacco warehouse. Lee brought strange measures and rules to the space with her careful assemblages built from piles of contemporary products, including IKEA boxes, bottle tops and hundreds of matchboxes, forming strange, perfectionist structures in the gallery space. Next year, following on from South Korea, PAC will make links with Colombia.
On the arrival night we visited the preview of Ink at Studio Fotokino, an independent gallery dedicated to artists books, independent publications, print, design, photography and illustration. Ink was a concise and elegant gathering of international alternative and independent artist book and magazine editions, including Automatic Books (Italy), Corners (Seoul), FP & CF (France) and Hato Press (UK). The next day, following an impromptu drive-by of Cite Radieuse, our first visit was to the art school, L’Ecole Supérieure d’Art et de Design Marseille-Méditerranée which is located in a spectacular setting in the hills behind Marseille. The art school has approximately 400 students, with an impressive ratio of one tutor to ten students. The architecture is intriguing, with studio units and facilities built in a stepped formation up the hill. There were very good facilities, in particular for printmaking, and a new film studio called Le Plateau recently opened, with state of the art equipment for filming and sound. The art school was, through their research wing, in the process of setting up a programme of residencies for national artists to work with research staff and students.
The art school does not have any gallery provision on site, preferring to work in partnership with organisations in the city. This included a printmaking workshop and exhibition Bois Graves XXL at La Friche Belle de Mai, where outsize prints using a steamroller were being made from large-scale woodcuts. Another of their linked projects was Biennale de Marseille Longchamp No1, curated by tutor Arnaud Deschin which, complete with map, was a tour from his live/work gallery space La GAD Marseille through different shops where students had made installations in the surrounding area. A frankly at all times confusing and often highly enjoyable tour, due to the persona of the tour leader and the fact that the art was often difficult to distinguish from its surroundings, began at La GAD with the curator wearing sunglasses at all times, keeping our group outside a closed door whilst he waited interminably for his security guards to turn up to the gallery. There was plenty of time to examine the front window, which had on it an advert for a travel agency rendering the galley frontage more like that of a quasi tanning shop. The tour took us to fridges in the local grocers, to an off-licence, Italian pasta shop and hairdressers where everyone was handed a small unique leaflet edition Aujourd’hui on va parler de ma vulve. The experience was finely balanced on the cusp of a highly ironic piss-take or is this for real, ensuring all tour participants remained polite and engaged, even when being pressed and orchestrated by Deschin at the conclusion for a group photograph amongst one of the penultimate works.
Marseille’s public institutions include MuCEM, FRAC and Musee d’art Contemporain de Marseille (MAC). MAC was hosting two exhibitions, one by South Korean artist Cody Choi called Culture Cuts, and the second, an impressive selection from their collection, including works by Dennis Oppenheim, Denis Brun, Niki de Saint Phalle, Gordon Matta Clark, Annette Messager, Dieter Roth, Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci. The gallery space itself is rather wonderful with vaulted ceilings. Nearby, installed long before David Shrigley’s Fourth Plinth, is the artist Cesar’s big bronze thumb, in the centre of a roundabout. FRAC Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur held two exhibitions of London-based Koo Jeong-A and Brussels-based artist Livien De Boeck’s work. MuCEM is an impressive network of refurbished old historical garrison buildings perched on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean and is completed with signature contemporary architecture by Rudy Ricciotti, which houses their Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisation section. Exhibitions on Jean Genet L’Echappée Belle, and on the folk influences on Picasso’s work were at MuCEM.
The visit contrasted an incredibly diverse range of museums, galleries and artist-run projects bringing together an intensity of scale ranging from the enormous La Friche Belle de Mai which one of its directors referred to as a flat Le Corbusier with its living spaces, play areas and galleries, to the tiny not-for-profit spaces of Galerie Territoires Partagés or OÙ Paradis. La Friche Belle de Mai has an interesting programming structure, alternating its gallery spaces between the organisations that are based there. Sextant Et Plus at the time of PAC had curated the epic Les Possédés, over two floors, with significant works borrowed from private art collections from south of France including pieces by Jimmie Durham, Saâdane Afif, Neïl Beloufa, Roman Ondák and Anri Sala. The city of Marseille owns La Friche la Belle de Mai, with a co-operative company of organisations having it as a long term loan of 45 years. In contrast, the compact Galerie Territoires Partagés disperses its programme and ethos, focused in particular on political and social issues, through a small van that its director drives through the region, to deliver a socially engaged education programme. OÙ Paradis hosting Daphné Le Sergent’s installation Overflow in a domestic space on the top floor of flats, which the Marseille-born artist Richard Baquié (1952-1996) used as his studio. Overflow referenced Richard Baquie’s common objects series – Baquié drew a cup of coffee repeatedly throughout his life. In the same domestic apartment building, there was also access to Baquié‘s apartment on a lower floor, where his partner had continued to live in after his death. The apartment formed a kind of living monument to him, communicating clearly his implicit belief in the permeability of the boundaries between life and work – his sculptural work was often made out of recycled objects. OÙ is an intriguing format as it comprises of three separate spaces, including the domestic spaces mentioned and the final space of a contemporary gallery, with changing programme and connected artist residency, which was hosting a two person show of Paris-based Dae Jin Choi with Daphné Le Sergent. Another exhibition forming a retrospective was of Charles Dreyfus, an artist and historian of Fluxus, at Galerie Meyer. Galerie Porte Avion’s show of Alain Andrade’s and Pedro Lino’s work included an exhaustive list of all the walls built to enforce borders and control movement in the world now.
Commercial galleries make up a smaller part of the art scene in Marseille. Commercial galleries we visited during PAC included Béa-ba which is co-run by Beatrice Le Tirilly and Barbara Sartre and which staged a solo exhibition by Bernard Pages, En Regard, of drawings and sculptures from 1969-2015. Galerie Polysémie had an interesting take on the type of artist on the roster, with the director François Vertadier only selecting ‘outsider’ artists. The current exhibition was by art teacher Georges Bru, of dreamlike figurative work on paper. A number of the galleries were run by businesses which were different takes on the gallery model. TOGU was an architectural practice with a gallery, which had a roster of artists to propose to their architectural clients. Mécènes du Sud was working with Hotel Deux Pierres Deux Corps, hosting the last intake of a group of five young artists, through a residency in their hotel for a programme called Vacances Blues. The exhibition at the gallery included the work of Clémence Marin, with her videowork of a worker attempting the thankless task of sweeping a dance floor full of balloons to the side.
Marseille has a strong studio ethos, often linked with residency programmes, through Marseille City Studios, which is supported by the city. This initiative has been running for 20 years with a network of studios for French and visiting artists at Château de Servières, Astérides and Triangle France (director Céline Kopp). Astérides and Triangle France are both based at La Friche Belle de Mai. Château de Servières has had an exchange programme with other European cities including Dublin, Turin and Milan. Here we met artists in residence including Elvia Teotski who had been working on the studio floor of Château de Servières in an archaeological manner to show the traces of previous artists; Charlotte Benedittini and Robin Touchard who had been working on an installation with Tony Ceppi. All artists were being supported by the city with a one year residency. Astérides were staging an exhibition at La Friche Belle de Mai of four artist-in-residence productions by Victoire Barbot, Pierre Boggio, Julie Michel and Luca Resta.
Other studio visits our group went on included to artist Rémi Bragard, who was looking to build a planetarium projector, and took us through all his prototypes and ephemera of brochures compiled by DIY planetarium builders from all over the world, including Kovac Planetarium in the north woods of North Wisconsin. Bragge had been visiting each maker or museum, and is working on producing a book of his photographs. A second artist we met was Nicolas Pincemin, where we were introduced to his paintings on hidden and collapsing architecture including abandoned military bunkers. A key resource and website flagged up during the trip to use to research French artists is the French Network of Documents d’Artistes website.
Marseille has a number of production facilities, including one for glass, which were presenting exhibitions or projects as part of PAC. One building housed Atelier Ni, a sculpture workshop on the ground floor, and Tchikebe, a printmaking facility on the second floor. Atelier Ni hosted Selma Lepart, winner of their open call and Julien Fargetton. Atelier Ni was set up in 2010 by two artists, Arnold Degiovanni and Maxile Gianni, and is seen as a technical resource to assist artists and designers in the technical design and production of their projects. One of Lepart’s sculptures was technically highly ambitious – a breathing asteroid, where the small metal plates of its surface appeared to inhale and exhale. Atelier Ni had worked with Fargetton to help him in the construction of a Belgian waffle maker, fully operational and made from two Belgian manhole covers – real street food as the artist himself coined it. Upstairs from Atelier Ni, was Atelier Tchikebe, an exciting printmaking studio with gallery. Tchikebe had been producing a series of new screenprints onto different surfaces including aluminium, mirror and acrylic glass, with Tania Mouraud, a multi-disciplinary artist working across performance, video and public art work. Often working in text, Mouraud declared on our visit that.. ‘one sentence will be in 7 cities’, on simultaneous billboards across Europe.
To conclude this observation of the contemporary art scene in Marseille, one of the most significant factors assimilated on this curatorial trip was the emphasis each type of organisation at any size had placed on the artist residency, in particular as a means to support the production of work for exhibition. Many included as part of their architectural framework a place for an artist to live and work. This included most picturesquely, the privately owned The American Gallery, which comprises of a gallery with artist residency above at the bottom of the garden of Marseille resident, psychoanalyst and gallery owner Pamela King. The American Gallery was hosting the Home Guard Manual of Camouflage by Cari Gonzalez-Casanova on the history of camouflage. Another example was Voyons Voir: art contemporain & territoire located in Aix-en-Provence. Also, the resourcefulness of artists and curators was apparent, in their ability to make projects within unusual site specific contexts, such as Paradise/A space for screen addiction which was a mirrored cube and cinema space installed within a working auction house Leclere Maisonnette de Ventres, curated by Charlotte Cosson & Emmanuelle Luciani. The film programme included films by Ilja Karilampi, GCC, Akina Cox and General Idea. This project was linked to CODE South Way, a publication edited by Cosson & Luciani. The dedication of those who worked with artists within Marseille’s contemporary art framework was also clear, in particular Rond-Point Projects with Director Camille Videcoq, who works on singular year-long residencies, for in depth dialogue and support with those she works with. Videcoq referred to the gallery as a tool for the residency, which again places the significance of the residency in the Marseille contemporary art scene.
With thanks to the trip organisers, to all our hosts and to Marseille Expo team.
 The group were Cheryl Connell (Stills, Edinburgh); Judith Liddle (Edinburgh Printmakers); Max Slaven (David Dale Gallery, Glasgow); Audrey Carling & Michelle Emery-Barker (WASPS); Sorcha Carey (Edinburgh Art Festival); Juliet Dean (British Council Scotland); Seonaid Daly (SCAN); Julie-Ann Delaney (National Galleries Scotland); Kirsteen Macdonald (GSA); Jenny Brownrigg (GSA); Dan Brown (Edinburgh Sculpture Studios); Kate Gray (Collective, Edinburgh).
The trip was supported by British Council Scotland and Marseille Expo.
About Marseille Expo/ Printemps de l’Art Contemporain:
Founded in 2007, the Marseille expos network was created to promote contemporary art in Marseille. Today it unites 36 visual art organisations, ranging from large institutions, to private galleries and numerous non-profit organisations. Since 1999, the network has organised the Printemps de l’Art Contemporain, among other activities. Each year in May, PAC presents a wide range of exhibitions (about 50) and events in the city of Marseille, mixing French and international venues, benefiting from the great diversity of spaces and curatorial practices of its members.
The network also supports the international development of its members (for example the partnership with the Ministry of Foreign aAfairs for 9 exhibitions in the context of the Year of France-Korea in 2016). In this dynamic, the network has developed some links with the Scottish visual art scene (with the help of the British Council), hoping that several collaborations will emerge between its members and art centers and artists from Scotland, in term of co-production or exchange of artists, curator and exhibitions. The expo team are keen to explore the possibilities for collaboration with Scottish counterparts for Printemps de l’Art Contemporain 2018.
Please feel free to contact Olivier Le Falher for any further information.