“MARSEILLE WAS BUILT ON A HISTORY OF FAILURES,” curator Cédric Aurelle gushed. Our friendly little group—which included Véronique Collard Bovy, the chic producer of the city’s flagship event Art-O-Rama—stood sipping white wine and philosophizing about the decline of French civilization outside M-Arc/Le Box, the space that collectors Marie-Hélène and Marc Féraud were opening with an homage exhibition to artists Pierre Bertrand et Francois Morellet. That evening, the former coastal slaughterhouse turned art hangar hosted a bizarre mix of fellow travelers from Berlin, Warsaw, Lisbon, Paris, Mexico City, and Los Angeles, a mélange of rough warmth on the eve of Marseille’s close-enough-to-international art fair.
The tiny boutique fair opened the next day at La Cartonnerie within La Friche Belle de Mai, a former Seita cigarettes factory. Sumesh Sharma from Clark House Bombay joined us at Camille Hunt’s booth, regaling us with tales of elephants, gifts from India to the Prague zoo. More exotic things were to be found at the booth of book-specialist Nathalie Daviet-Thery: “This is the only fair we do,” she told us. From there we hopped the tram to Marseille’s natural history museum, where Mark Dion’s solo show, in partnership with the Paréidolie drawing fair, flaunted his signature bioparaphernalia.
“The rosé is warm,” moaned a lady at the self-service tables lodged between the magnificent pillared outdoor galleries of the palace built by Henry Espérandieu, while we sampled Lillet framed by Antoine Louis Barye’s majestic animal sculptures. “Check out Mounir Fatmi’s Exile Pavilion,” the artist Orlan told us at sunset, before we headed back to La Friche for the fair’s dinner. The complex was barely letting anyone in—Art-O-Rama wasn’t the only game in town. The grounds were also taken over by concerts, outdoor ball games, and skateboarders. Art-O-Rama director Jérôme Pantalacci greeted guests at Les Grandes Tables, and although things moved quickly, by dinner’s end we had missed the party on the rooftop. And so we followed dealers Nerina Ciaccia and Antoine Levi and curators Cristiano Raimondi and Sarah Cosulich, who recently joined Manifesta from Artissima, for a nightcap at the other Longchamp Palace—an über-popular Art Deco bar attracting people from all walks of life.
The next morning I (not so gracefully) jumped in a shuttle with Olivier Millagou (one of the two artists on the board of Art-O-Rama with Davide Bertocchi) toward Littledancer, a studio hosting Amandine Simonet’s solo show, sponsored by Isabelle and Roland Carta. The non-French speakers soon moved to the next stop, the Alain Xoual collection, located in the former mansion of a barrel-maker. (“His descendants live downstairs,” claimed our host.) Dealers Jean-Pierre Neumeister and Silvia Bonsiepein updated me on all the Berlin gossip in front of Xoual’s textual portrait by Anne-James Chaton before heading to the eight-month-old Double V Gallery, the Bobo shop/popup gallery space Chez Jogging, and the Cantini Museum for the excellent exhibition from the collection of the International Center of Glass and Plastic Arts (Cirva).
If I’d made time for a quick jump in the Mediterranean, delicious but for the occasional pink jellyfish, at the Prophet Beach prior to Luigi Fassi’s tour of the fair, I would have mentioned the filming of the fifth installment of the Taxi movies’ cruising black racing cars—and a bride—on the John Fitzgerald Kennedy corniche, but that’s not my style. From the fair, our shuttle to the rue du Chevalier Roze (a string of galleries sponsored by real estate investment firm d’ANF Immobilier to revitalize the area between the Vieux Port and the picturesque Panier district) was halted because of street protests—“welcome to France!” said our driver, laughing. The stroll was worth it, the beat on the street was “similar to that of 1990s rue Louise Weiss,” said curator Lorenzo Benedetti, with the opening of a group show at galerie Crèvecoeur, Sébastien Reuzé at Galerie Catherine Bastide, and a Martin Soto Climent show curated by Chris Sharp at Atlantis.
More popups in temporary spaces opened in the parallel rue de la République. A poetic show of sounds and objects by Julien Creuset in a forthcoming H&M made it hard to leave for Triangle France’s gala. The party’s special draw was its location: the seventeenth-century Fort Ganteaume, overlooking Marseille’s harbor. (There were also harsh floodlights and tombola-like entertainment, but it was all for a good cause.) We retreated to the soiree organized by Paradise / Maison de ventes Leclere, where a self-absorbed Nicolas Bourriaud DJed for an empty space. “Here,” said Nicolas Veidig-Favarel as he handed me a cold beer from his bag. “I am from Marseille—I always come prepared.” A cool attitude to hold on to as the September’s back-to-school trepidation dawns.