r e v i e w s

SYSTEMA at Palais Carli, Marseille

by Gabriela Anco

1, 2 & 3 September 2023 

SYSTEMA in Marseille introduces a fresh approach to the established system of contemporary art. Describing itself as a “consortium of international and nonprofit art initiatives,” this year’s second edition took place at the same location as in 2022, Palais Carli, featuring a curated art exhibition and performance program. The opulent architecture of the building, now a regional music and theater conservatory, serves as a foundation for the contrast between the old and the new, symbolizing a respectful and uncompromising coexistence of the independent and traditional contemporary art scenes.

Installation view, Palais Carli, Salle Magaud, SYSTEMA 2023

SYSTEMA is neither a fair nor a group show; rather, it serves as a point of encounter, providing a place and visibility for independent spaces, artist or curator-run initiatives, and nonprofit collaborative projects. The invited participants propose the works to be exhibited, which, after careful selection, are distributed curatorial manner in the various spaces within the Palace. The entire process is infused with the principles of collaboration and cooperation, from the proposal of works and ideas to their arrangement and cohabitation in the spaces.

In contrast to the typical communication of an art fair, which primarily highlights the names of participating galleries, and unlike a conventional group show, which only presents the names of the exhibited artists, SYSTEMA clearly lists both the spaces and the artists across all their communications, both online and in print. This detail may seem small, but it makes a substantial difference, recognizing the importance, value, and commitment of all who take part in such a gathering.

Upon entering the building, one cannot help but notice the installation covering the impressive marble staircase, setting the tone for the exhibition: Adriano Costa’s “WATCH TV YOU WATCH TV WE WATCH TV,” invited by Terzo Fronte. Resembling celebratory banner ribbons, the piece displays words such as “Vandal,” “Cat Lover,” “Cowboy,” “Matador,” “Testicle Photographer,” etc. It is later revealed that the artwork’s design was inspired by the elastic strip on men’s underwear, indicating various activities dreamed of by some of the artist’s friends who work in the sex industry in his native country of Brazil.

Installation view, Palais Carli, Salle des Archives, SYSTEMA 2023

Artworks in various media, materials, and genres occupy the concert rooms, libraries with empty bookshelves, stage rooms, and offices throughout the different floors and spaces of Palais Carli. Examples range from a sculpture placed in the center of a gigantic hall depicting a screaming rat titled “An Exercise in Violence” by Guillermo Ros, presented by Pols, to tears made of wire, beads, and fabric hanging in front of a window with a breathtaking view of Marseille, named “It’s OK to Cry” by Alisa Heil, presented by Kunsthalle Freeport, or bread sculptures titled “Substitute for Bread” by Kelly Ballett, presented by Technoship. Artworks are cleverly displayed on staircases and columns – such as the paintings by Cleo Tabakian, presented by Technoship – and on the wooden balcony spaces, with paintings by Haydée Marin Lopez and Camille Besson representing the Café des Glaces.

The exhibition also includes a full film program grouped on one of the upper floors of the palace. In complete darkness, screens and projections are spread throughout the space, featuring works by Lila de Magalhaes (“It’s the Natural Vogue”), presented by Lateral Roma, and Jimmy DeSana (“Double Feature”), presented by Ampersand.

Founded in 2021 through the collaboration of three artist-run spaces in Marseille – Giselle’s, Gufo, and Voiture 14 – SYSTEMA celebrates the various forms of independence within and beyond the institutional and market aspects of the art world. Their actions fill a gap in the current order that primarily benefits galleries and gallery-represented artists, offering a platform for entities falling outside conventional roles to exhibit within the context of the international art community. The event takes place at the end of August, during the annual art assembly in Marseille, one of France’s most important international cultural destinations, home to various institutions, art fairs, and galleries, particularly after the city’s designation as the European Capital of Culture in 2013.

Installation view, Palais Carli, Salle Billioud, SYSTEMA 2023

Head image : WATCH TV YOU WATCH TV WE WATCH TV, 2021, Adriano Costa, invited by Terzo Fronte Palais Carli, Staircase, SY

Related articles