All eyes were on Paris this weekend as Art Paris kicked off its 2020 edition in the Grand Palais.
The art fair is among the first major art market events in Europe since the coronavirus shutdowns forced a slew of cancelations six months ago. As such, many are looking to it as a test of the market. With dealers reporting good sales from an energetic local market, the fair could be a positive sign for the fall art season ahead.
After TEFAF Maastricht was forced to close early due to an outbreak of the virus in March, the bigger European fairs have, understandably, been reluctant to resume in-person business. Art Basel pulled the plug on both its flagship edition in Switzerland as well as its Miami fair in December, and Frieze cancelled its London fairs. But after calling off the fair’s planned edition in Spring, Art Paris organizers were able to poach the cancelled Biennale Paris’s September slot in the Grand Palais, and decided to seize the moment.
The fair went ahead on September 10 through 13, offering a model of what a socially distanced art fair could look like, with controlled crowd flow and attendees capped at 3,000 at a time in the main thoroughfare under the cavernous glass roof. Nonetheless, it welcomed some 56,931 visitors, just 10 percent fewer than last year.
While some 38 galleries including Galerie ETC and Sator pulled out of the fair, the scaled-back iteration still included 112 participants. It also reported a 25 percent higher number of collectors and institution heads than last year, with some 30 museum groups attending. It boasted celebrity sightings including the French First Lady Brigitte Macron and the French actor Catherine Frot.
A Temperature Check For the Market
The executive director of France’s Galerie Templon, Anne-Claudie Coric, tells Artnet News that nerves were high on opening day as participating gallerists waited to see if anyone would turn up. “When we started seeing all of our collectors, everyone happy and wearing masks, it was an exhilarating experience,” Coric says. She adds that the extended VIP hours, which took place each day from 10 until noon to avoid the crowds of a single day, were “very active,” and that all visitors were disciplined when it came to using masks and hand sanitizer.
This “unexpected success” was compounded by commercial gains. The gallery sold more than a dozen works ranging between €25,000 and €80,000 (around $30,000-$90,000), including a Jitish Kallat painting for $50,000, two works by Abdelkader Benchamma in the €40,000 range (around $48,000), as well as works by Pierre et Gilles priced at €60,000 ($71,000) and Gregory Crewdson ($80,000).
“We sold mostly to our long-time French collectors, but we also met a nice group of new clients, which is very promising for the future,” Coric said, adding that the fair was proof of the strength and dynamism of the French market.
Buoyed By a Local Energy
In the past, Art Paris has been criticized for being too local. Yet its local flavor has proven to be an asset in a time when, with cases rising in France, traveling across borders is not easy. In a typical year, less than a quarter of the fair’s visitors came from outside France, so sales do not depend on visits from international collectors.
Participating galleries at the Palais reported that French collectors were hungry to buy, and several galleries reported new relationships were formed at the fair. Returning Paris galleries included Galerie Nathalie Obadia, which was offering work by Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost alongside work by Guillaume Bresson and Valérie Belin, among others.
Obadia tells Artnet News that the gallery was “very happy” with the test run, and even closed out a more profitable fair than last year. “We have learnt to work wearing a mask for 10 hours, and to recognize our collectors even if we do not see all their faces,” Obadia says. Her gallery closed more than 20 sales, mostly to French collectors, for works ranging in price from €10,000 ($12,000) to €200,000 ($238,000) for a work by Shirley Jaffe. She added that a third of sales were made to new collectors.
International heavyweight Perrotin took part in the fair for the first time this year, showing works including a new photograph by JR of an intervention the street artist made during lockdown on the streets of Paris. The gallery tells Artnet News that it sold its JR works for prices ranging between €40,000 and €50,000 ($48,000–$59,000), as well as some drawings and sculptures by the Sweden-based artist Klara Kristalova ranging between €3,000 and €35,000 ($3,500–$42,000) and sculptures by Jean-Michel Othoniel for €120,000 ($143,000).
While there remains a travel ban on those coming from the US to the European Union, there were still some international attendees. Galleries from 15 countries were represented, and 21 of them without any base in France.
Canadian dealer Christopher Cutts travelled from Toronto to be at the fair to showcase the work of Xiao Guo Hui in a solo presentation, and the gambit paid off. By the second day of the fair, the gallery had already placed five of the six paintings with collectors. Cutts closed the fair with a sold out booth.
Younger galleries taking part in the fair also reported good sales. Pauline Pavec sold around 30 works for prices between €2,900 and €3,900 ($3,400–$4,600). African art galleries also performed well, with Afikaris selling works by all of its artists, including all of its works by the Cameroonian artist Jean David Nkot, priced at €15,000 (about $18,000). The Abidjan-based Véronique Rieffel gallery also found a buyer for a “survival kit” by the Togolese artist Clay Apenouvon for €25,000 (about $30,000).
The results of the fair are largely being taken as a sign of recovery in the market—a recovery the fair is hoping to bolster by donating ticket sales, which amount to some €110,000 ($131,000), to support young French galleries that are struggling financially because of the crisis.
While the Paris market seems to be strong enough to support a local fair, it is unclear whether this energy will be enough to support a more international contemporary art fair in the French capital. News about whether FIAC will go ahead as planned in October is expected any day now.
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