Paris + enters a packed art fair landscape. Is there enough business to get around?

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The announcement that Art Basel had won October’s coveted spot at the Grand Palais, edging out FIAC, shook the art world. And those who have a vested interest in the European trade fair landscape immediately perceived it as a threat.

The organizers of the FIAC called the move a “hostile eviction attempt”; long-standing French FIAC exhibitors expressed their dismay. Internationally, galleries and collectors were beginning to wonder whether Paris + par Art Basel could steal the limelight from Switzerland’s leading fair or put a damper on Frieze London, which opens this week.

Art Basel leans into anticipation and welcomes the inaugural edition of Paris+ (as it’s informally known) at the Grand Palais Éphémère October 20-23 as its ‘flagship event’.

“We certainly expect strong participation from foreign collectors for the inaugural edition of our show in Paris,” Marc Spiegler, Art Basel Global Director, told Artnet News.

Spiegler acknowledged that not all Art Basel exhibitors would have immediately welcomed the news of Paris+. “Some exhibitors expressed concerns when we announced the new show,” he said, “but I think they’re reassured by our commitment to Basel and our ambition to build a unique offering in each city…. We experienced an interesting cross-pollination at our trade fairs [in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong].”

The big question surrounding Paris+ is the same one that circulates whenever a new player enters the scene. Will there be enough shops to get around?

Art Basel in Basel, 2022. Courtesy of Art Basel.

Various suggestions

While Art Basel is unique with Unlimited, a hall for large-scale installations, Paris + is based on “dynamic dialogues” between art, design, fashion, music and film. An off-site program will place art in Place Vendôme, the Jardin des Tuileries and elsewhere in the city.

After being the epicenter of the art market in the early 20th century, Paris was later eclipsed by New York and London. It is now enjoying a renaissance, thanks in part to the inauguration of the Bourse de Commerce – Collection Pinault and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, and the increasing number of international galleries opening spaces there. Between the first half of 2021 and 2022, Paris saw art auction sales increase nearly 30 percent to $619.6 million, according to Artnet Analytics.

Chris Dercon, the outgoing president of the RMN Grand Palais, has high expectations for Paris+. Asked why MCH Group, the parent company of Art Basel, got the October order instead of FIAC owner RX, he said he concluded the former “promotes Paris and France best and it’s the ecosystem.” would allow art in France and in particular the French galleries to be strong and ambitious development platform.”

Dercon added that trade fairs would need to make “significant investments” to face the new environmental and digital development challenges. Also, the pandemic disruption put pressure on organizers to recover losses. “We did not charge RX anything, despite the extremely late decision and the financial impact it had on us, as RX decided to cancel FIAC and Paris Photo a few days before it opened,” noted Dercon.

The restrictions of the Grand Palais Éphémère, the temporary building that housed Paris+ during the renovation of the Grand Palais, will also shape the Paris+ reception. “The layout will be much smaller, so the regular stands will also be much smaller; So we have to compromise on the scope of the work, but the quality will be high,” said Zurich gallery owner Peter Kilchmann. The presentations at Paris+ are likely to become more ambitious when it moves to the Grand Palais in 2024.

Le Grand Palais Ephemere, Champs de Mars, Paris.  Wilmotte & Associates Architectes.  Photo ©Patrick Tourneboeuf/RMN_GP/Paris 2024/Tendance Floue.

Le Grand Palais Ephemere, Champs de Mars, Paris. Wilmotte & Associates Architectes. Photo ©Patrick Tourneboeuf/RMN_GP/Paris 2024/Tendance Floue.

Enough to get around?

After last year’s Art Basel, a handful of collectors bemoaned the difficulty of securing a hotel room and the inconvenience of traveling there, sparking some of the zero-sum game talk.

“Some American collectors may have to decide whether they prefer to travel to Paris or to Basel in the future, but the success of European fairs does not depend on American collectors,” said Austrian gallery owner Thaddaeus Ropac.

Meanwhile, other collectors have said they may choose to skip the frieze or just stick around for a few days towards the end in favor of Paris+. “I hope that the expertise of Art Basel will persuade foreign collectors to come to Paris rather than London, as Frieze was FIAC’s real competitor for 20 years,” said Anne-Claudie Coric, Managing Director of Templon. “It is likely that Art Basel will also have to reinvent itself in some way, even if Switzerland has unique fiscal and logistical advantages, especially the free ports, which are a key element for the fluidity of the international art market.”

However, most gallerists don’t believe that Paris+ could easily eclipse Art Basel. “Paris has become an unmissable destination for everyone in the international art world [but] Paris and Basel are distinctly different cities and I expect they will be very different fairs, each with their own unique appeal, not unlike Frieze New York and Frieze LA,” said Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace Gallery.

Or, as New York gallery owner Peter Freeman put it, Art Basel “will always have the best quality in every category [and] attract the most serious and focused collectors and institutional visitors.”

Plus, by securing a spot in Paris from a rival, Art Basel is able to call the shots. “Because Paris+ is part of Art Basel, its success could not pose a threat,” said François Dournes, director of Galerie Lelong. “On the contrary, it can only reinforce the Basel trade fair, which is so far away in the calendar that there are no competition problems.”

Several gallery owners believe that the synergies between Art Basel and Paris+ could have a negative impact on other fairs “like Frieze in London, Art Cologne or MiArt,” said French gallery owner Nathalie Obadia. “Galleries outside of Europe were reluctant to attend FIAC because Paris didn’t have the image of being a strong place in the art market and London attracted more international galleries with Frieze. But Brexit and the fact that Paris has become the European arts capital makes the difference.”

VAT is 7.9 percent at Art Basel and 20 percent in Paris and London, giving Basel a clear advantage. However, the general tax situation is complex and depends on several factors, including an artwork’s provenance and post-sale destination.

The particular market situation is of crucial importance. “Paris+ is more of a branding exercise and would only have an impact [on Art Basel] if Paris has overtaken London as the financial capital of the eurozone, then so be it [not a case of] cannibalize,” said Belgian collector Alain Servais.

Gallerists are inevitably excited to see what Paris+ will look like. “It is difficult to assess the impact of a fair before it has taken place,” mused French gallerist Kamel Mennour. “Marc Spiegler and [Paris+ director] Clément Délépine’s team does everything to become the greatest [collectors] come from all over the world [and] That a large company like Art Basel is involved in Paris is a very positive sign.”

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