As the FIAC leaves the stage on the left side, the Underdog Fair Art Paris finally gets its big break

A few years ago, few people outside of France had heard of Art Paris. But that is quickly changing for the spring fair, which closed its last edition on April 10.

After being among the first European art fairs to open face-to-face during the pandemic in autumn 2020, and the first to inaugurate the ephemeral Grand Palace Ephemeral taking place in 2021, the fair has found an additional boost thanks to other major changes in the Parisian art ecosystem.

As an influx of international galleries continued to take hold of the French capital’s burgeoning art scene, art fair titan Art Basel announced in January that it would also move inin the form of a new event that it has since nicknamed Paris+. A victim of the war, FIAC, a historic contemporary art fair, was ousted by Art Basel from its contract with the Grand Palais.

Once considered an ‘outsider’ event by some French commentators, Art Paris is now on its way to filling the void left by its former rival, known for championing the French scene (although in recent years there have been complaints about the American galleries began to replace French dealers at the FIAC), and to play a leading role in a booming Parisian art sector.

View of the kamel mennour stand, Stand D7, Art Paris, Grand Palais Éphémère, Paris, 2022. Photo: kamel mennour archives. © Mohamed Bourouissa, Adagp, Paris, 2022.

“Art Paris is a great opportunity to come together and see art as the landscape of the fair is completely changing,” gallerist Kamel Mennour, who is attending the fair for the second time, told Artnet News. Travel restrictions and canceled events prompted him, along with several other major galleries adding luster to the fair, to attend last year, but he was pleasantly surprised by the results. “There is a new distribution of trade shows around the world and in Paris… and this trade show helps us to take [the art market’s] pulse,” he noted.

This year, other major galleries have also returned to Art Paris, including Perrotin, Massimo De Carlo, Galerie Lelong & Co. and Galleria Continua. Important newcomers to the 130 exhibitor event included Max Hetzler, gb agency, Denise Rene, Bernier Eliades and Rodolphe Janssen. Fair director Guillaume Piens said that since the announcement of the FIAC/Basel redesign, several more have applied for a place in next year’s edition, and only a few major galleries who have tried the fair l Last year amid the pandemic reshuffle (Almine Rech and Thaddaeus Ropac) pulled out this time.

Cosmopolitan regionalism

For years, “the difficulty for Art Paris was to find its position, because it was a challenger of the FIAC, which no longer exists”, specifies Piens. Along with jumping at the chance to return to in-person events during the pandemic, for the past five years Piens has focused on promoting the local arts scene.

Being a small regional event does not mean without influence, notes the director. “We have an important regional position, which is our solid base, and that was our weapon during the pandemic, but we are also not completely french-french, and we have always had a foreign presence,” he said. The trick is to find a balance, what Piens calls “cosmopolitan regionalism”. It is a persuasive position that does not seek to compete with the globalized one of the big international brands like Art Basel.

“There are galleries that want art fairs to have the whole world present,” agrees Emmanuel Perrotin, one of the first top galleries to join Art Paris in 2020. “But when I’m in Korea, I am happy to talk to Koreans… In Paris + I will be happy to talk to the whole world, but here in [Art Paris] we are very happy to talk to the French,” he said.

Loevenbruck booth at Art Paris.  ©Photo by Fabrice Gousset.

Loevenbruck booth at Art Paris. Photo ©Fabrice Gousset.

The French market is also “more diverse than you might think”, said Solene Guiller, co-founder of gb agency, who said her team spoke “in all languages” at their first Art Paris stand. Highlight of the fair, the gallery presented works by Dove Allouche, Tirdad Hashemi in collaboration with Soufia Erfanian, studies of embroidered soaps by Majd Abdel Hamid, among other artists.

Galerie Lelong & Co. confirms “the strength of collectors and the French market here”, with Belgian, Swiss and French buyers. In the middle of the first day of the fair, the gallery had sold a Fabienne Verdier for 110,000 ($120,000), a Barthélémy Toguo for 60,000 ($65,000) and several paintings by David Nash at 6,000 ($6,500), while Galerie Suzanne Tarasiève parts ways with an installation of cardboard temples by Eva Jospin for more than 100,000 ($109,000) to a French collector.

During this time, Anne de Villepoix sold her entire stand at least twice, at the price 3,000–45,000 ($3,200 to $49,000). “All our French collectors came, but also many foreign collectors and a few Americans. We didn’t stop,” she said. Another newcomer, the Rodolphe Janssen gallery in Brussels sold works by Gert & Uwe Tobias for 5,000 – 45,000 ($5,400 to $49,000), and by Thomas Lerooy for approx. 32,000 ($35,000) to European and American collectors, plus Roger-Edgar Gillet for approximately 35,000 ($38,000). The young French gallery Pauline Pavec also toasted an “exceptional first day” at the fair, selling works at 30,000 to 35,000 ($33,000-$38,000) by Jacqueline Lamba, Jacques Prévert and Mathilde Denize, and Adam Boges to mainly French and European clients.

Stand of the Richard Taittinger Gallery at Art Paris 2022.

Stand of the Richard Taittinger Gallery at Art Paris 2022.

Parisian Renaissance

For his first fair in Paris, the New York dealer Richard Frerejean Taittinger presented works in dialogue between Paris and New York since the 1960s, completing the modern art offer. He sold a Keith Haring ($180,000/196,000), a Warhol print to a Los Angeles-based collector for 89,000 ($97,000) and a 95,000 ($103,000) Painting by Nassos Daphnis. After struggling to build a career in Paris, Taittinger left the city 15 years ago to get his start in the art world in New York. Now he hopes to join the growing artistic movement towards his native country. “The Paris art scene has changed enormously since 2007. It is more global than ever,” he said.

The arrival of Art Basel has further bolstered Paris’ growing appeal after years of being snubbed – not unfairly – as an introverted museum city stuck in the past. But reflections on the eviction of the FIAC often included concerns: “Paris is no longer in a position to produce a fair as important as the others. It’s a shame because it doesn’t make sense. We have everything here,” said French collector Véronique Clavière. She curiously awaits what Paris+ will entail, but like others, was struck by the overthrow of FIAC, a Claviere fair attended as a child. “We are forced to import something new to restart,” she said.

“It’s almost as if we were orphans,” admitted French collector Sophie Safar, who feared that Art Basel was “monopolizing” the space at the fair. “The FIAC was our French fair. It was very specific,” she explained. Still, she and others felt the change could bode well for Paris, which has better accommodation than Basel, where “fighting” to book a hotel has become a headache, Safar said. Largely for this reason, she may occasionally skip the Basel Fair in the future. Clavière was also eager to see if the pandemic would force real change to patterns of global art fairs, where visitors saw “the same pieces, in the exact same galleries,” she said. “But we go back to the beginning,” she said.

Art Paris 2021 © Marc Domage.

Art Paris 2021 © Marc Domage.

Art Paris, at least, hopes to offer something different, as the Parisian scene takes off internationally. In fact, Paris+ and the more accessible Art Paris “are very complementary,” said longtime Art Paris attendee Nathalie Obadia, who has sold works by Laure Prouvost, Wang Keping, Fiona Rae, Shirley Jaffe and Guillaume Bresson for 10,000 to 100,000 ($11,000 to $109,000). Art Paris has “found its position, which is not like Basel or Frieze, but with a strong French identity, where there are artists and galleries that we are not used to seeing in other fairs. For this reason, it has educational value,” she said.

“Paris is the most important art city in Europe right now,” said Laura Ravelli, senior director of Massimo De Carlo, citing the combination of museums, galleries, fashion and restaurants. The gallery, which opened a space in the Marais last year, was present for the second time at Art Paris. “Since London is no longer considered Europe, there is no other comparable city.”

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