Up to eight hours of waiting in a line so long that it snaked around one entire block of this quiet district hugging the Left Bank of the River Seine in Paris. If all this enthusiasm was indeed about art, it wasn’t about some star exhibition. Instead, the point of attraction was a soon-to-be-demolished derelict apartment building, Tour 13, that had been opened up as a canvas to hundreds of street artists. While the idea was good, the scale of its success was rather unexpected.
Behind the project, which grew into the biggest street art exhibition ever staged in France, was Mehdi Ben Cheikh, director of the Itinerrance Gallery. For years he worked hard to develop the practice and visibility of street art in his neighborhood, the 13th arrondissement, where the tower is located, by placing the area’s huge number of available monumental walls into the creative hands of various street art artists. “I managed to convince the mayor that we could bring a very strong artistic dimension to his arrondissement.”
Over time, this activism in the field helped to reinforce the bonds between street art, institutions and the locals. That’s how Ben Cheikh heard about the tower and eventually got access to its nine floors, after starting working on the outside. Creating a shock contrast with the building’s drab gray façade, nobody could miss the giant neon orange drops of paint glooping down the structure’s exterior, from nearby pedestrians to employees of the Ministry of Finance on the opposite bank of the river.
The building is destined to be destroyed, so the tower remained open to the public for one month only from in October. As the project was entirely non-commercial, entrance was free, and security restrictions left the gallery with a tricky equation to deal with: only 49 people could enter at one time for 9 floors. In spite of these limits, word of mouth and media coverage turned this little project into a must-see event with endless lines of people waiting.
The apartments provided the artists with great playgrounds such as bathroom pipes, old curtains or patterned vintage wallpaper, and nothing has been left untouched: the art pieces spread out from the floor to the ceiling, giving the visitor a unique experience. Although these high-quality and extremely diverse works of art will be destroyed in the process, the TOUR PARIS 13 project will still survive thanks to a documentary and website that were created for the event. Google itself took part in the project by shooting every single room of the tower for its Street View project.
Blouin ARTINFO took a tour, including a quick Q&A session with Ben Cheikh, who, despite these crazy 30 days in the spotlight, will keep on doing what he has always been doing: promoting street art in one way or another.