L’Odyssée Marseille-Provence 2013: preview.

Marseille, Aubagne, Aix-en-Provence


The “great clamour” launched Marseille-Provence 2013 under the immaculate azure of the Provençal sky. On the eve of the inaugural weekend, Saywho had the honour of visiting in preview some of the flagship programmes of the Capital Year, scattered in the brand new structures erected by the Phocaean city with the help of major international signatures.

After 660 million euros of works, some masterpieces of architecture see the light of day along the Joliette: The J1 (great advance in the air of a port warehouse), the Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM), flanked by its Chrysalidian moucharabieh, and the inexplicable advance of the Villa Méditerranée, a technical feat of floating geometry. A real transformation of the Marseillais coastline – more precisely of the quays of the port, and an urban rehab supposed to revitalise the whole life of a district until then dedicated to motorway traffic, and to its cathedral with its Florentine curves.

Another major work: the Belle de Mai wasteland and its Panoramic Tower, where contemporary artists will be invited to hang original works as soon as the Mediterranean basin has given birth to them. Sublime, the inaugural exhibition “Ici, AIlleurs” brings together 39 major artists, including Annette Messager, Orlan, Wael Shawky, Fayçal Baghriche… Video arts are widely represented, symptomatic of the organization’s desire to open culture in all its forms to the general public.

More widely and as its title suggests, Marseille-Provence invites itself in other “hotspot” of the Côte d’Azur region with the support of the FRAC (Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain), notably Aubagne and Aix-en-Provence. Our odyssey stops in the little chapel of the Black Penitents of this premiere, where the inaugural monograph of Mona Hatoum contrasts with the secularity of the place. Once again, we find the legion themes of the Mediterranean basin: travel, exile, displacement, memory.

Last stage of our Provençal peregrinations, the city of Aix-en-Provence, which sees itself pigmented with urban works of plastic artists, international this time : Yayoi Kusama’s peas cover the trees of the Mirabeau courtyard, Xavier Veilhan squats the Town Hall, and Rachel Feinstein baths in the Rotonde fountain, usually better known for its lions of the 18th century than for its mysterious Burtonian sculpture. A journey through the sunny streets of the city, which ends with an immense “Cadavre Exquis”, the last contingent of Mediterranean artists for whom the Granet Museum has significantly expanded.

Beyond the commercial designs, all these projects show the will to establish Mediterranean cultures as a whole and to draw up an exhaustive list in a breathless historical frieze, from the great ancient civilizations to the men of today (such as the subtitle of the exhibition “Mediterranean”, perched at the top of the J1). Established logically as a pillar of this global program, during this exceptional year Ulysses will be at the centre of cultural experimentations, whether it appears explicitly through treasures from the Rhone excavations, or through contemporary iconographies, which suggest to the visitor all the strength that emanates from a History torn between power and decay. More than a program, Marseille-Provence 2013 is an odyssey. Portrait of those who do it. B.B.

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