Art-O-Rama 2015 Brings Enthused Collectors to the South of France

It may be Europe's most relaxed art fair.

Art-O-Rama 2015.
The rooftop at La Friche de la belle Mai, where Art-O-Rama takes place <br>Photo: © La Belle de Mai

The rooftop at La Friche de la belle Mai, where Art-O-Rama takes place.
Photo: © La Belle de Mai.

Art-O-Rama in Marseille, which bills itself as the only contemporary art fair in the south of France, opened its doors today at its semi-industrial location called La Friche Belle de Mai, a former cigarette factory turned cultural center.

With only 21 participating galleries, the three-day fair featuring mostly emerging positions is a congenial affair favored by collectors for its manageable size and stress-free atmosphere, and by exhibitors for the low risk on the one hand, and high quality collectors on the other.

Jérôme Pantalacci, the fair’s director, wants to keep the fair—which started with five galleries in 2007—relatively small. The strength of the fair, he told artnet News, is that it kicks off the art season in France while still taking advantage of the perks of the French Mediterranean coast.

“We’re all very relaxed, fresh from holidays,” said Paris based dealer Michèle Didier of mfc-michèle didier, who is showing at Art-O-Rama for the third time. The program of the independent art publisher strikes a chord with some of the region’s most serious collectors, and coming here is a “good opportunity to get to know them better,” she told artnet News. “These are collectors who go to all the major fairs, but they are proud to have a high-quality fair in their hometown, too.”

Didier is showing Yona Friedman, Annette Messager, and Mathieu Mercier at prices ranging from €180 ($200) for a limited edition newspaper with a series of nude photographs from Mercier’s private collection, to €5,500 ($6,100) for an edition of Mes Dessins Secrets (1972-74), Messager’s collections of 76 erotic drawings, several of which have already sold during the VIP preview.

Anette Messager, <i>Mes Dessins Secrets </i> (detail) at mfc-michele didier's booth, Art-O-Rama 2015

Anette Messager, Mes Dessins Secrets (detail) at mfc-michele didier’s booth, Art-O-Rama 2015.

“The restrained dimensions of the fair is something we appreciate,” the psychoanalysts Marc and Josée Gensollen, two of Marseille’s most venerable collectors, told artnet News. “We can engage in serious conversations with gallerists and artists here.” Mrs. Gensollen is also on the fair’s committee (as well as on FIAC’s, Art Brussels’s, and several other fairs).

Discovering emerging artists is something Art-O-Rama is well poised for, which collectors like the Gensollens appreciate. The couple began buying art in the early ’70s, when they were still students, and have a strong preference for conceptual and immaterial works (they were among the first to collect Tino Sehgal, for example).

Installation view of Neumeister Bar-Am gallery at Art-o-Rama

Installation view of Neumeister Bar-Am gallery at Art-O-Rama 2015.

Among the fair’s best new discoveries was the presentation by first-time exhibitors, Berlin-based gallery Neumeister Bar-Am, who brought works by Rachel de Joode, Kate Steciw, Zvi Hecker, Daragh Reeves, Harm van den Dorpel, and Henrik Strömberg, ranging from €1,200 ($1,300) to €6,800 ($7,600).

Van den Dorpel, who has a background in tech, wrote an algorithm that resulted in several groups of works hanging on the wall in a sequence that seemed random at best. The eclectic presentation made for a statement nonetheless, on the ways digital technology is affecting our habits, and also on our dependency on categorizations.

Spanish gallery L21 showed a solo booth by Cristina Garrido, who also tackled the tendency to organize the nature of the art objects according to digitally analyzable visual traits (think the Art Genome Project project) in a video work titled #JWIITMTESDSA? (Just what is it that makes today’s exhibitions so different, so appealing), valued at €5,000 ($5,600).

The visual journey through 21 formal categories (Circles and spheres; Cardboard boxes; Folded things on the floor; Monoliths) is both a hilarious survey of recent trends and a mirror turned at everyone who’s ever searched for images online. (Guilty as charged, your honor.)

Davide Bertocchi and Egon Van Herrenweghe, installation view at Hopstreet Gallery at Art-O-Rama

Davide Bertocchi and Egon Van Herrenweghe, installation view at Hopstreet Gallery at Art-O-Rama 2015.

Brussels-based Hopstreet Gallery is showing works by Davide Bertocchi and Egon Van Herrenweghe, who stage an unlikely encounter between church interiors and listening rooms built for testing super high-end, high fidelity stereo systems.

Other striking sculptural offerings came from Berlin dealer Daniel Marzona, showing works by Nina Canell and young Georgian artist Vajiko Chachkhiani, who installed a wall of tree twigs and branches collected in Abkhazia, the disputed territory and site of wars between Russia and Georgia.

Works by Lucas Simoes installed at Space in Between, Art-O-Rama 2015

Works by Lucas Simoes installed at Space in Between, Art-O-Rama 2015.

Space in Between, a London based gallery, is showing a brightly colored booth with works by Christian Newby, concrete and paper sculptures by Lucas Simoes, and mixed-media reliefs by Sandy Smith, ranging from €550 ($615) for Newby’s painted ceramic bowls made in collaboration with his wife, Ana Martina Fernandez, to €5,300 ($5,900) for works by Simoes.

Installation view of Saâdane Afif, <i>Fountain Archive</i> at Art-O-Rama 2015

Installation view of Saâdane Afif, Fountain Archive at Art-O-Rama 2015

The fair also showcases exhibitions on site in collaboration with local institutions, and one of the highlights in this non-commercial part of the program is “The Fountain Archive” by Saâdane Afif.

In 2008, Afif started collecting printed publications depicting Marcel Duchamp‘s famous 1917 urinal. Amassing a sizable archive, Afif reveals the ongoing questioning of the art object through the inexhaustible diversity of issues raised by Duchamp’s Fountain. Afif is only showing the latest additions to this collection, which will culminate in 2017, on the occasion of the work’s centennial.

ART-O-RAMA, Marseille, runs from August 28-30.

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