RA Magazine Spring 2013
Issue Number: 118
A year in Provence: Putting Marseille on the map
With a new national museum and European cultural capital status, 2013 is the year that puts Marseille firmly on the art map. Ben Luke reports
Given that it is at the heart of one of France’s most alluring regions – Provence – Marseille is still a relatively unexplored city for many cultural tourists. But that seems set to change now that it is one of two European Capitals of Culture for 2013.
Ulrich Fuchs, Deputy Managing Director of the Marseille-Provence event, says that it offers a huge opportunity for the city to become a cultural hotbed. ‘The investment in culture is very important not only economically, but also for the image of the city,’ he says of the port that has long carried a somewhat insalubrious tag. Around £665 million has been spent on new buildings and the City of Culture programme.
MuCEMEM, Marseille/© Lisa Ricccciotti.
A new exhibition space, Panorama Tower, is typical of Fuchs’ and his colleagues’ ambitions. Set in La Friche Belle de Mai, a former tobacco factory in what he describes as ‘a difficult quarter… where a cultural laboratory is now developing’, this elegant, opaque white cube opened in January. Its inaugural exhibition, ‘Here, Elsewhere’, draws on contemporary art from across the Mediterranean region, including dramatic installations such as Annette Messager’s The Sea (2013) which features a tiny model ship caught in an ocean of human hair.
The year’s events take account of the fact that Marseille is one of France’s poorest cities. ‘A lot of our projects will take place outside, without entry fees,’ says Fuchs. Perhaps the most ambitious is ‘The Studios of the Euro-Mediterranean’ in which 65 artists from across the region have taken up art residencies in hospitals, private companies and local authorities. The results will be rolled out through 2013.
But the landmark project is the Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM), occupying three buildings with 40,000 sq m of exhibition space, which opens in spring, and focuses on the extraordinary history and culture of the Mediterranean. Two of its exhibitions to look out for are: ‘Black and Blue: The Mediterranean Dream’, which examines perceptions of Mediterranean culture between the 18th and 21st centuries; and a survey show exploring historical representations of women in the region. ‘To have the first national museum outside Paris located in Marseille is very important for the country and for the city itself,’ Fuchs says. ‘These investments will change the profile of Marseille’.
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