Doomed Paris tower lives out last days in graffiti

PARIS, France

An entire apartment tower in eastern Paris has been turned over to 105 street artists from around the world, giving them a chance to turn each home into its own art installation during the building's final days.

The artists had seven months to tag "Tour Paris 13" - named for the district where it's located - coating apartments sometimes still filled with debris, trash and furniture. All their work will vanish by the end of the year, as the tower, which has nine stories and a basement, is demolished piece by piece after next week.

"I really wanted the artist to intervene on a whole space," said Mehdi Ben Cheikh, the gallery owner who initiated the project. "I didn't want the spectators to come and look at art. I wanted the spectators to come and enter an art work ... which means there are things everywhere - we enter a room, and have to turn around in every direction to understand the surroundings."

The result is a tower exhibiting a range of artistic styles. There's a skull-inspired mural, Arabic calligraphy, a bloody bathroom, and a glow-in-the-dark cow crawling with snakes.

Would-be visitors have lined up for up to eight hours for a one-hour visit, with signs at various points around the block estimating their wait time. Only 49 people are allowed in at one time in the apartment block, which overlooks the Seine.

A handful of people are still living in the building and refusing to leave until the bitter end.

Some of the artists of Tour Paris 13 are participating in an unprecedented international urban contemporary art auction on Friday, with pieces created spur of the moment on Thursday standing alongside works from Keith Haring and Basquiat.

"I've been following graffiti and street art for about 30 years and so this represents another step in slightly different direction," said Martha Cooper, the famous street photographer who is documenting their work in progress. "Having an auction in Paris, in a big auction house, is pretty amazing."

A 1986 Basquiat piece, "Monticello," is estimated to sell at 600,000 to 900,000 euros ($828,180 to $1.2 million), and a 1984 acrylic of Keith Haring's "Sneeze," from 500,000 to 700,000 euros.

"We are the new artists. Graffiti art is the world's biggest art movement," said Mear One, an artist from Los Angeles who was painting live outside the Drouot Auction House on Thursday. "In the 1970s, art was so elite that only the upper level people could do art or appreciate. So it got boring ... and now, we are in a situation where this is the art form.

"All that other art is cool, but it has roots in the past, and we are the here and the now."

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