Two weeks into my holiday, reality caught up with me. Summer was coming to an end and I had to go back to the harshness of every day life: work, waking up early, crowded public transport, brokenness and other equally pleasant things. The day of my departure from the picturesque hills of the Luberon coincided with ART-O-RAMA, the art fair taking place in Marseille, only an hour away from the pristine nature I had just spent very relaxing times in. I thought this would work well as some therapeutic readjustment to contemporary art, a rather important part of both my private and professional life that I almost completely ignored for the last 14 days (between poolside lounging with rosé and conceptual performance, I chose the former, and I’m guessing most people would too). Upon leaving for Marseille though, I felt the sour tingling that comes with a lack of motivation. Did I really want to do this? Look at abstract sculpture in a stuffy hall with sweaty armpits instead of immersing myself in the oh-so-close waters of the Mediterranean? But I’d already harassed a generous gallerist for a VIP ticket and looking at abstract sculpture is sort of my job, so I convinced myself this was worth it, and I went. But then, hallelujah: to my honest surprise, this turned out to be both a fantastic idea and an unexpected proof of the subliminal power of art.
It started with an unplanned post-lunch visit of Martin Soto Climent’s exhibition “Works and Days” at Atlantis, a brand-new and pretty gorgeous exhibition space close to Marseille’s old port. I walked in by chance and found myself in the presence of work that seemed honest, emotional, and of great sensitivity. The scale of Soto Climent’s usually large wall pieces was reduced to something close to an A4 format; simple yet precise visual constructions and puns acutely conveyed layered emotionality. With very few to no materials at all – feathers, a dead butterfly, shells, stones, or the bare wall of the space – he reflected on the poetry of mundane things; black-and-white photographs, either paired with another wall piece or projected in a separate room, successfully managed to consolidate that message. All of this could have come across as student work, but precision and what I perceived as a smart refusal of sensationalism and post-internet sarcasm made it work.
After that pleasant intermezzo, I arrived at ART-O-RAMA, where the ambiance was relaxed, with tan gallerists in linen shirts sitting at their often summery-themed booths. The more I progressed through the fair, the happier it made me: instead of burdening conceptuality or tax-evasion schemes dragged up as boring painting, I saw whit, humour, optimism, cojones. Berlin’s Exile Gallery presented a booth inspired by the 1902 très French silent film “Le Voyage dans La Lune”; paintings by Paul Sochacki, vaguely representing the celestial body in different sizes and arrangements, offered a funny reflection on the concept of originality and reproduction (the film itself, shortly upon release in France, had been pirated numerously by American movie studios). At the Parisian edition gallery we do not work alone, pitchers and plates by Matthieu Cossé were decorated with coastlines and lush leaves, executed in broad strokes and referencing all the corny codes of provencal ceramics; however the artist was able to walk the fine line between mockery and homage. In a region almost plagued by the clichés attached to it (just watch 10 minutes of “A Good Year” with Russell Crowe and you’ll see what I mean), both Sochacki’s and Cossé’s works were well-placed.
Smart works were also on view at Paris’ Joseph Tang: I still think of Chloé Quenum’s colourful pieces, consisting of simple sketches executed with metallic sticks she stuck on textured glass. They reminded me of sun and sea and Jaques Tati; aside from their immediate visual appeal, they seemed an unpretentious yet efficient exploration of the sempiternal grey zone between abstraction and figuration. At Cologne’s Philipp von Rosen Gallerie, a sensational and once again pretty droll video by Rebecca Ann Tess struck a cord: In “Upper”, all you could see were static views of towers in San Gimignano, with the occasional feral pigeon hopping off of it. These Renaissance buildings were put up by the Tuscan town’s powerful families with no other aim than to show off: they couldn’t be used for defence purposes. Knowing this and seeing this succession of useless pre-skyscrapers triggered me in a good way: I had to laugh and was pleasantly surprised that for once, I felt entertained by a pissing contest rather than annoyed by it. Like a fresh oyster drizzled in lemon juice, Tess’ work was very simple, but very tasty.
It’s rarer than I’d like for me to find art that makes me laugh, and I consider it a feat worth pursuing for an artist. However, finding a gallery that achieves just that is even harder, but not impossible, as exemplified at ART-O-RAMA by another Berlin space. Known for a program that’s refined and discrete, Klemm’s went full-on 1990s Calvin Klein and painted their logo on the entire length of their booth’s wall, which seemed almost schizophrenic for them. That intervention was in fact a collaboration between artists Emilie Pitoiset and Fiona Mackay; the painting itself was covered at certain places with works on paper by Mackay, using all the colours of a meridional sunset and conveying the same feeling you’d have when biting into a pepperoncino on purpose.
By the end of my visit, I was amused and entertained, feeling oddly refreshed by what I’d seen. Upon leaving, I felt genuine emotion, simply because I hadn’t expected this almost chore-like visit to turn into such a joyful exemplification of artistic talent. ART-O-RAMA is unfortunately over now, but for sure a visit next year is inevitable, and I encourage readers to consider it. Also, for anybody not convinced, know that the most gorgeous modernist buildings, hot locals and stunning beaches are just a bus ride (or two) away from the fair grounds. Jumping into the sea filled with great impressions of good art is most definitely worth the plane ticket.
For more information please visit art-o-rama.fr