Oh, I see! moments
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Fleeting Art: A High-Rise Swan Song

by Meredith Mullins on October 17, 2013

Artistic Expression at the Tour 13

Collage of color on walls and radiator, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Work by Kruella (Portugal) at the Tour 13
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Guess what’s the hottest attraction in Paris these days? Eiffel Tower? Notre Dame? Louvre Museum? Any of these answers could be true. But, at the moment, the hottest (free) ticket in town is a visit to a bright orange dilapidated building in the 13th arrondissement.

The Tour 13 building in Paris, a venue for artistic expression of street art (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Tower of Power: The Tour 13
© Meredith Mullins

It’s 10 am. The line of hopeful visitors winds around the nine-story deserted apartment building, and it’s still two hours before opening time. They’re here to see the Tour 13—a street artists’ paradise.

The facade, covered with graffiti, hints that something’s up. (The line of people camped outside is also a clue.)

When you step inside (after your two- to six-hour wait), you are engulfed and electrified by a flood of art—floors, walls, ceilings, closets, bathtubs, toilets, radiators, kitchens, staircases, and windows are covered in an explosion of styles and a variety of media.

Painted bathroom, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The ultimate bathroom statement (work by Uno from France)
Photo © Meredith Mullins

You are standing in one of the most multi-dimensional galleries in the world and you are experiencing one of the largest collectives of street art ever assembled for one project.

The Benefits of Looking Up

Mehdi Ben Cheikh, the man with the idea for Tour 13, was always looking up in his neighborhood, always looking for surfaces where street art could be seen and supported—anything to advance the movement and encourage legitimacy for grafitti artists.

Mehdi Ben Cheikh, the inventor of artistic expression at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Mehdi Ben Cheikh, street art crusader and Tour 13 visionary
© Meredith Mullins

Any old building he saw, he would find the owner and ask if artists could use it for creative expression. His gallery, Galerie Itinerrance—dedicated to street artists—had only four walls. The street, on the other hand, was an open canvas.

The commanding building by the river Seine on rue Fulton and Quai d’Austerlitz. was perfect. It had 36 multi-room apartments and a labyrinth of basements. Plus it had visibility. It’s not hard to find, so the artists’ work could be seen.

Oriental room with pipes, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Freedom to create at the Tour 13 (work by STeW from France)
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Freedom to Create

Cheikh convinced the building owner and the mayor of the 13th to support a project never before attempted—a whole building, interior and exterior, of street art.

Then, he invited more than 100 street artists from 16 countries to the Tour 13 and gave them free reign.

  • Freedom to create
  • Freedom to paint or draw or install or sculpt or build or destroy
  • Freedom to defy edges, corners, gravity, space, and time
  • Freedom to say whatever they wanted, however they wanted
  • And freedom to detach and say goodbye to their art with no regrets.

At the end of this project, the building will be demolished. Every work of art will be destroyed. Nothing will remain except rubble.

Light spelled in paint cans, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Smashed spray paint cans shed some light (work by Nebay from France)
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Oh, I See . . . So Many Things

When you set 100+ artists free to create—with names like Stinkfish, Spazm, Add Fuel, and Jaz—there can be no single definition of the result. The diversity is awe-inspiring, with perhaps a little friendly competition entering into the picture to further heighten originality.

You have smashed spray paint cans creating a LIGHT sculpture or a message about the Syrian war.

Arabic lettering in dark room, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Work by Shoof from Tunisia
Photo © Meredith Mullins

You have a simple black room made religiously calm with graceful arabic letters defining the light—and shapes emerging (take a look) as you spend time in the room.

You have 3-D sculptures that command the space and trompe d’oeil so masterful, spikes seem to emerge from the wall.

You have ornately drawn figures in closets that are seen only if you look carefully into the dark.

demolished kitchen, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The beginning of the end (work by Katre from France)
Photo © Meredith Mullins

You have rooms where the demolition has already begun, foreshadowing the building’s inevitable future.

And you have works that integrate puzzles like “Where is the Fish” that make you step away from the beauty of the multimedia work on the wall to, in fact, see the bigger picture—the fish.

Multimedia wall with fish question, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Where’s the fish?
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Large fish collage, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Step back and you may find what you’re looking for. (Work by GILBERT of France.)
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Make Art . . . Not Money

The Make Art Not Money philosophy is present throughout the project (and is etched on the windows of one room by A1ONE).

The project is so original that Cheikh was asked by Paris Fashion Week to use the building for top designer fashion shows. But, true to his vision, he refused.

Tour 13 is strictly noncommercial. These walls are not a background, he says. They are not decoration. They are clear evidence of the extraordinary power of street art.

Running rabbits, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Don’t take acid in the stampede room. These guys are pretty scary. (Work by Pantonio from Portugal)
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Art is Fleeting

Art is fleeting. And often, when its time is limited, it gains even more importance. Graffiti artists are used to this, with tags that get painted over in days (or hours!).

The Tour 13 is open only until October 31. The one month that the tower is open to the public is a moment in history that will be remembered for the nerve of the project and the spirit of the community of artists that worked inside and outside its walls for seven months to create this extraordinary experience. Artistic expression to the nth degree.

“We wanted to bring the tower back to life before it disappeared,” Cheikh says.

We should all have life like this.

Mirrored green eyes, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Mirrored eye at the Tour 13 (work by Mosko from France)
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Doors and windows, artistic expression of street art at the Tour 13 (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Work by Sambre from France at the Tour 13
Photo © Meredith Mullins

Tour 13 is open from noon until 8 pm every day except Monday until October 31 at 5 rue Fulton, 75013. Entry is free, but the wait is long. There is also a virtual tour.

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