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Tour 13 Paris: The Ephemeral Nature of Street Art

by Meredith Mullins on April 9, 2014

Colorful portrait by B Toy and rubble after the first phase of demolition of the Tour 13 in Paris, proving the fleeting nature of street art. (Photo © Galerie Itinerrance)

The beginning of the demolition of B Toy’s work at the Tour 13
© Galerie Itinerrance

The Long-Awaited Demolition: The Walls Come Tumbling Down

Art is fleeting. It lives for the moment.

Sometimes the artist, like Claude Monet in his later years, punctures holes in his paintings because he doubts himself. The work is destroyed before it’s ever seen.

Sometimes the life cycle of artistic expression is determined by the whim of contemporary tastes.

Sometimes an artist, like sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, creates the work to purposefully evolve over time, with nature as a collaborator. Stones are smoothed by water. Ice melts. Wood rots. Leaves wither. Life. Decay. Death. A natural cycle.

Sometimes the act of destruction is part of the work itself.

Street art, by its very nature, is ephemeral. Graffiti artists make transience their creed. They work quickly, often stealthily.

Their art and tags get painted over in days (or even hours!) They don’t get attached. They speak to the moment and move on.

These truths were the foundation for the Tour 13 in Paris.

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

The wild stampeding rabbits by Pantonio from Portugal. 
Photo © Meredith Mullins

The Birth and Death of the Tour 13

Last year, more than 100 graffiti artists from around the world were gathered together by Mehdi Ben Cheikh of the Galerie Itinerrance in Paris and were given freedom of expression in a building targeted for demolition. OIC covered the event in its October story.

Faces inside the Tour 13 in Paris, a haven for street art and graffiti artist  Jimmy C (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The original artwork on the 8th floor of the Tour 13
© Meredith Mullins

As the artists took over the 36 multi-room apartments and a labyrinth of basements—and painted everything from closets to kitchens to toilets to radiators, to say whatever they wanted however they wanted—the last act of the story was already written. The art would not last.

A portrait by street artist Jimmy C in the Tour 13 in Paris, showing the fleeting nature of street art (Photo © Galerie Itinerrance)

What’s left after the first phase of demolition
© Galerie Itinerrance

Everyone knew the dilapidated building would be destroyed. The community of artists, who worked for free, knew it. The 25,000 visitors, who waited in line for up to 13 hours to see the amazing installation, knew it. The nearly half a million visitors to the social media sites knew it.

So, it is no surprise this week that the walls will come tumbling down, the final part of the demolition.

Side of the Tour 13 in Paris after the first phase of demolition, proving the fleeting nature of street art (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

The destruction of the building (and the art) was part of the plan.
© Meredith Mullins

The Demolition

It is not so much a “tumbling” as it is a “nibbling.” To create an experience unlike any other, a crane will snack on the remaining exterior walls little by little, revealing the interior walls, floors, and ceilings for one final look. A retrospective of the most unusual kind.

A crane destroys the Tour 13 in Paris, revealing 8 stories of street art. (Photo © Pamela Fickes-Miller)

The “nibbler”
© Pamela Fickes-Miller

The art that was once on the closets, bathtubs, radiators, sinks, and windows has already been destroyed. The windows have been knocked out. Piles of rubble inside and outside the building, with chunks of bright color, reveal hints of that progress.

An exterior wall of the Tour 13 in Paris with a pile of rubble, proving that artistic expression is fleeting in the world of street art. (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Remnants of artistic expression in the rubble
© Meredith Mullins

No Regrets

Oh I see. There is no sadness in saying goodbye. This is life, as street art.

A1one art at the Tour 13 in Paris, a street art project (Photo © Galerie Itinerrance)

The work of Iranian street artist A1one after the first phase of demolition.
© Galerie Itinerrance

For the Iranian artist A1one, the art was so fleeting, he didn’t even have time to finish his room last year when he was in Paris. Then, he lost touch with the tower’s unfolding story. Now that he has heard about the destruction, he speaks with the heart of a true street artist:

“Cool. I didn’t know it was being destroyed. I like it when my works fall down. I hope we learn from it. Huge things can easily fall down in a glance.”

Mehdi Ben Cheikh feels the same about this final stage. “I’m glad of it,” he says with no nostalgia. “It’s part of the project—the ephemeral nature of street art.”

Mehdi Ben Cheikh, founder of the Tour 13 in Paris, a project that gave voice to street art and street artists around the world. (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Mehdi Ben Cheikh—Street Art Crusader
© Meredith Mullins

However, Mehdi—always a street-art crusader—has an eye toward the future of this kind of artistic expression.

“As with any great art movement, institutions are always one step behind,” Mehdi says. “They offer so little exposure to street art, even though it surrounds us in urban life. Although this project is at an end, it opens the door to new projects about to happen.”

Out of the rubble . . . who knows what will emerge.

What we do know, however, is that long after the Tour 13 is gone, it will be remembered.

Street art near the Tour 13 in Paris, showing Pantonio's artistic expression (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

A hint of Pantonio’s rabbits (alive and well) in the neighborhood
© Meredith Mullins

The “nibbling” is taking place this week and will be shown via live camera on the Tour 13 website, on the Tour 13 Facebook page, and on French television and on YouTube.

Thank you to  Elsa Courtois and Mehdi Ben Cheikh of Galerie Itinerrance and Pamela Fickes-Miller for contributing to this story.

The Tour 13 demolition in Paris proves the fleeting nature of street art (Photo © Meredith Mullins)

Au revoir Tour 13
© Meredith Mullins

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2 thoughts on “Tour 13 Paris: The Ephemeral Nature of Street Art

  1. Meredith,

    Your story is a great tribute to this historical artistic expression. I am proud to be a small part of it. Thank you for including me.


    • Thank you, Pam. The experience has been unique from the start. And, thank you for showing the “nibbler” in all its dusty glory.

      Vive Street Art!


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