For its first edition in 2007 the Art-o-Rama hosted only five galleries, under skeptical observations from the Paris art scene about the chances of a fair in a poor city like Marseille. Sixteen years later, the fair has become a significant end-of-summer event with an international program, and cooperation with other institutions in and beyond the Provence. Even Parisians leave their city to enjoy art ‘by the sea’ and see what France’s second city has to offer.

The size of fair, with currently 31 galleries, is modest in comparison with the international competition. The scale, though, is becoming a distinctive quality, as it allows visitors to actually focus on art, have conversations and not get numbed by numbers. A handful of galleries employ the ‘less is more’ philosophy by presenting only one or two of their artists. At Sabot gallery, for example, a selection of sculptures by Peruvian, Bruxelles-based artist Nicolás Lamas can be seen. For Coral Metastasis he drilled little holes in a human skull and placed it in front of a photo of an ancient Roman sculpture, creating a delicate memento mori. “It produces a lot of dust, and a particular smell,” the artist recalls, reminiscing the smell not particularly fondly. The process, however, he explores with curiosity to the material of bone.

Jacqueline de Jong Gardez-vous à gauche (Série Noire), 1981 oil on canvas 140 x 160 cm Dürst Britt & Mayhew, The Hague
The Art-o-rama takes place in the huge Friche La Belle de Mai complex. A former tobacco plant that, after its closure, left the neighborhood struggling. Now it is home to dozens of cultural institutions, ateliers, a café and lively restaurant, non-profit galleries, an open-air stage and cinema. Kids use the skate area at the entrance or participate in weekend programs. La Friche seems to offer a good introduction to the complexities and diversity of cultures that Marseille has to offer. A focus that also Manifesta is interested in. The European Nomadic Biennial has chosen Marseille for its 2020 edition “with the intention to unlock the city and leave a tangible legacy.” It started off with an urban study through Winy Maas and MVRDV and presented some of its plans at La Friche.

For her installation ‘I don’t need to make sense, I just need to let it go’ (2018) Nora Turato took phrases from the internet and other sources, and presents them as a layered sound and video piece in which text is recited. The sometimes melodic, poetic, sometimes pushy flow of not-strictly-related-information is not unlike what individuals experience while going though daily life.

Nora Turato I don’t need to make sense, I just need to let it go 2018 HD video, 22’57’’ LambdaLambdaLambda, Pristina
In a focused solo presentation Althuis Hofland shows the work of Waldemar Zimbelmann. He uses his family situation as the source for paintings, offering us perspectives on and in the head of an individual. Painting seems to serve as a way to manage the continuous flow of information and express its flows of emotional intensity. The work comes from inner urgency, rather than formal or fashionable contemporary considerations.

Unconcerned by how others would do it, Art-o-rama has its own approach, suited to its situation. It is a small fair in a rough city with its own well-known obstacles; and it is a relaxed, affordable fair in a city with great energy, artists at work and people committed to create ways of living together and celebrating differences. The residence at La Friche underlines all this. Some things may look utopian; and sometimes, they can actually exist and function quite well.

Nicolás Lamas Coral Metastasis 2019 human skull, page of ‘Roman Portraits’ book Sabot, Cluj-Napoca
Nicolás Lamas Colony 2019 motor cycle helmet, wasp nest, telephone cable Sabot, Cluj-Napoca
Art-o-Rama continues as an exhibition till 15 September 2019.

Waldemar Zimbelmann Untitled, 2019 acrylic on canvas, 90 x 70 cm Althuis Hofland Fine Arts, Amsterdam
Downtown Marseille Manifesta announcing itself