A year ago, the artist Idem decorated a tower block along the Seine with giant paintdrops. It brought a grim condemned building instant recognition. The site is in an eastern Paris the city longs to make desirable – across the street from their pet project, Les Docks En Seine.
The Docks has bright green glass and exhibition spaces, a coffee shop and nightclubs, as well as a rooftop terrace. The tower is old, ugly and out-of-date. However, the Mairie could take a tip from artists like Idem. Since April, a hundred of them have transformed the tower into 4500 m ² of art. Now, with the exception of four apartments (still occupied), its interior has become their showcase.
This art attack was the idea of Mehdi Ben Cheikh. Cheikh runs a gallery called Itinerrance in the 13th arrondisement. Backed by the mayor of this quartier, he negotiated with the building owners. Eventually, they gave permission for a pre-execution spree. (Now known as La Tour Treize or ‘Tower 13’, the structure is being demolished in November).
To Cheikh’s surprise, he found none of his artists was seeking publicity. As he told Le Monde, “They’re all already famous, from Facebook and the Internet.”
Yesterday the tower opened for a month of tours, with only 49 people allowed at a time. The crowds were incredible. Yet, despite a long wait, most felt their visit was worth it. Certainly the art is best seen in person; without a fancy lens, it’s hard to really capture.
Many of the pilgrims had been drawn by the eastern wall which, this summer, accrued a flouresecent skin. Its flamboyant ‘calligraffiti’ is the work of Paris’ eL Seed. Last month when Docks En Seine hosted part of Paris Design Week, his wall managed to steal much of its thunder.
Whereas that stuffed the Docks with ambitious, manicured trendies, la Tour Treize gave off the opposite vibe. Nothing was for sale, much was on offer – especially the spirit of a community camaraderie.
• Over one hundred artists have worked on la Tour Treize, sharing 36 separate apartments. Spread over nine floors and a basement, sixteen different countries are represented in the work. Some can be seen via Le Monde’s interactive map.