Would a Provencal marquis have imagined that his home in Marseille would become a major exhibition space for New York graffiti legends like Dondi White or Futura 2000? For the past few days, this improbable story has been taking shape at the Château de Forbin.
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At the end of an alley in the second largest city in France, in a district that resembles a Provençal village, the curious, previously registered for a guided tour, enter a park shaded by large plane trees and olive trees.
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In the center, an elegant building, the Château de Forbin, with its turrets, the foundation stone of which was laid in the 15th century by a wealthy Provencal family. Here lived Claude de Forbin, famous sailor at the time of Louis XIV, Palamède de Forbin, marquis d'Oppède, and his wife Roselyne, one of the first historians, who was published in England.
Today are displayed in lounges, the library, along the stairs, in large format on canvas, in drawing or in photo, the pioneers of American street art, this movement of graffiti artists exercising their talent on metros or palisades but also on canvas and in the galleries of a New York won by hip-hop fever.
They were the friends of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, painters now sold at record prices worldwide, evolved with rappers like Afrika Bambaataa or Fab 5 Freddy who made Europe vibrate in the Rap City Tour.
"We present a movement, post-graffiti and the scene of the East village in New York, focused on the years 1980-1990" , tells AFP one of the co-founders of this new cultural place, Caroline Pozzo di Borgo, one of the most important collectors of this art in the world.
"They are the masters of graffiti and the majority of the works that you will see here were created with aerosol bomb, without preparatory drawing" , adds this graduate of history who, after the hieroglyphs and other Greek or Roman inscriptions - these graffiti antiques, was passionate about more contemporary forms. " The story of an aristocratic family from Provence and American graffiti, we say it is an impossible meeting and despite everything this place allows this meeting ", she still laughs.
Street art in a backdrop
The collector and two other partners have chosen the area to exhibit these American artists elsewhere than in wasteland, disused factories or urban galleries. Among the 130 creations exhibited, we find those of Dondi White (1961-1998), the youngest of a family of five children from Brooklyn, who began to tag on the subway trains. One of his paintings shows the letters "PRE" , one of his aliases in bomb colors - red, gray, orange -, which no longer exist now.
Further on, a simple drawing on a page of notepads, lets glimpse a subway train, a skull, a B-Boy (person dancing the station wagon), recurrent figures of the work of this artist who died of AIDS in 1998 and considered by his peers as the " Style master general ".
The visitor will also discover the bright colors of Lady Pink, one of the women of the movement, the maximum distortion of letters by Phase 2, the figurative and abstract canvases of Lee Quinones.
A special cabinet is dedicated to RAMMELZ ZZ, a graffiti artist very inspired by esotericism, accumulator of multiple objects in his Manhattan loft. In a corner, a leather jacket is tagged by Keith Haring and other famous graffiti artists of that time. Photos of Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant allow you to review the ephemeral creations on the subway trains, group portraits, the atmosphere of this particular era in the East Village.
In addition to being the setting for this exceptional collection, the Château de Forbin will also be an artists' residence. The American Rick Prol, figure of the East Village, will be the first to live in this Mediterranean place in the fall. " We want a place to share, " insists Caroline Pozzo di Borgo, recalling that Marseille, a mixed city and port " has always welcomed artists " and maintained "a relationship with the United States".
An implicit Wink to Varian Fry, the " American Schindler " who landed in Marseille in 1940 and saved some 2,000 people, including the painters Marc Chagall and Max Ernst.
In Marseille, a castle offers its walls to the pioneers of street art