European Dutch Biennal
Manifesta is a Europe-wide contemporary art biennial that takes place each time in a different city, having originally been Dutch and directed by Hedwig Fijen. After having seen the edition held this year in Marseille and which invaded Palermo in 2018 (See the report about it), there is one clear conclusion to be drawn.
The best thing about the project is that it facilitates the discovery of fascinating places in fascinating cities. A series of exhibitions were taking place until 29 November 2020 with the ambition to “bridge the gap between a local reality and a global reality”, alongside a whole host of peripheral shows.
Let’s be clear. The 13th edition of Manifesta is not exceptional at all, despite being particularly highly anticipated. The city is buzzing with individual initiatives, new fascinating and creative inhabitants, and a variety of art galleries and exhibition venues in a chaotic multicultural environment, against the backdrop of the impoverishment of the city centre culminating in the collapse of a housing block in November 2018 on the Rue d’Aubagne. We could have dreamt of a rich artistic scene that would have prolonged this unique commingling of local enthusiasm and challenges. With very few exceptions, it is nowhere to be found.
Manifesta 13 closed following the impact of the lockdown in France on 29 October 2020, one month before the official end of the show.
(He talks from a terrace in Marseille) the curator of Manifesta, is also head of the ICA in London. He explains that Manifesta has experienced numerous challenges, the first being of a political nature. On 28 June this year the city changed mayor to elect a female ecologist, Michèle Rubirola, after the longstanding rule of rightwing mayor Jean Claude Gaudin since 1995. The programme was therefore put in place while he was still in office.
Labels in Arabic
Kalmar explains that he wanted to install exhibition labels translated into Arabic, in keeping so he says with the origin of the majority of the inhabitants, but that the municipality, which was the main funding body, refused. He also reveals, in a fairly nihilistic vision, that certain impossible-to-realize exhibitions, like that of Marc-Camille Chaimowicz, retained their semi-empty space and that the boredom induced in response was deliberate.
A museum in a shopping mall
The show was fairly disappointing overall because it scattered often poor quality displays in a very widespread way around the city. However, this coincidentally also led us to discover works that we would never have gone to see otherwise if we weren’t looking for contemporary art. You have to be very motivated to seek out, in the city centre, the commercial hub of the Centre Bourse, which also houses Marseille’s historical museum, given its unattractive appearance. But not far from a hermetic installation by Sara Ouhaddou (born in 1983) you can find an architectural gem: a double-headed bust of Hermes from the 3rd century BC.
The Musée Cantini was hosting the ghostly exhibition by the excellent Marc Camille Chaimowicz (born in 1947), known for working with the idea of decoration in art, and mined their permanent collections to display original tarot card drawings made by the surrealists, from Victor Brauner to Max Ernst, who took refuge in Marseille at the Villa Air Belle in 1940 while waiting to flee to America. At the Musée de la Vieille Charité we also found extraordinary drawings from the same source by the author Georges Bataille.
Conservatoire de Musique
The most accomplished exhibition at Manifesta 13 was located at the Conservatoire de Musique, an architecturally ambitious building that first opened in 1874 and has now almost fallen into ruin. The visit was punctuated by a series of interesting video works, such as the large-scale projection of a film by Tuan Andrew Nguyen, which addresses what is known in France as the “crime of solidarity”, or illegally aiding migrants.
Amid the faded grandeur of a once wealthy Marseille, these are proof of a more difficult present reality.
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