This autumn’s second edition of Art Basel’s Paris+ confirms the French capital’s ambition to reclaim the position as global capital of culture. Jörg Zutter reports for Arts & Collections
This fall’s second edition of the new Paris issue of Art Basel, Paris+ (18ht–22nd October) gathered 154 galleries from 34 countries in the Grand Palais Éphémère, the temporary exhibition hall. Plus, the adjacent tent extension hosted the more experimental and often younger galleries, altogether situated on the Champ-de-Mars just behind the Eiffel Tower on the left bank of the Seine. Compared to the largest edition of the different fairs organised by Art Basel, held last summer in Basel, Paris+ presents a version a little over half the size of the Swiss original fair. Of the exhibiting galleries, 138 were present in in 2022.
While many of the participants in the main hall − echoing the Grand Palais’ fascinating industrial interior space, though rather gloomy because of the grey cladding − seem to promote either better-known or more fashionable contemporary positions, the 14 booths occupied by emerging dealers located in the north part showcase mostly new media and experimental installation artists. The subsequent tent-like exhibition pavilion, or corridor projecting against the Eiffel Tower, hosts two long enfilades of booths. It was especially in this part of the fair, illuminated by natural daylight, where many visitors still experienced the atmosphere of FIAC, the ancestor of Paris+, which incorporated it last year. In this hybrid part of the fair, the rivalry became most evident between the dominating Parisian or French galleries and their international competitors (and also occasionally provoked criticism from the minority participants especially from the other European countries).
Such voices apprehended from a few galleries and collectors were all the more revealing as they uncovered a reaction to the increasing transformation and globalisation of the main hotspots of the international art market, especially in the world of the many contemporary art fairs. On the one hand, a few fairs like Frieze and especially Art Basel tend to expand and reweight their activities not only in Asia and the US, but also in Europe, whereas others like Art Cologne or Arco Madrid are eager to concentrate and consolidate their forces in one single place. Whilst the comments on London’s Frieze were perhaps mixed or at least cautiously positive, they were always marked by insecurity or fear regarding the negative impact of Brexit. Paris is currently becoming one of Europe’s first cultural hotspots, certainly for the visual arts, and eventually outstripping London.
Indeed, some fashion brands, especially in France where there is a concentration of its couture headquarters, feel that the global economy is choppy. Surprisingly enough, in the field of the museum world and especially the art market, the situation is less chequered and there are still signs of growth and expansion. Some recent examples underline this dynamic: the Swiss gallery Hauser & Wirth recently opened its 17th branch in Paris, not in the popular Marais district where Austrian, German, Italian or American colleagues have opened subsidiaries (Thaddaeus Ropac, Karsten Greve, Continua, Marian Goodman, David Zwirner), but a few steps away from the chic Avenue Montaigne close to the Champs-Elysées where all the luxury behemoths have their snazzy boutiques (as well as the affiliate of the US giant Gagosian), and no fewer than three key auction houses like Art Curial, Christie’s and Sotheby’s are operating.
Besides, the most powerful luxury conglomerates, like Bernard Arnault’s LVMH and its flagship Louis Vuitton, as well as François Pinault’s Artémis Group, both established large contemporary art collections and powerful exhibition spaces or foundations in Paris (in Pinault’s case, also in Venice) and thus exert an influence on the promotion of contemporary art, which is not to be underestimated, together with their own fashion brands. Does their influence over a large audience not only of young art aficionados but also extravagant fashionistas not blur the boundaries between the two areas? Must the fact that Hauser & Wirth is located in the 8th arrondissement, the fashion district par excellence, be seen as part of this rapprochement, as a bow to fashion? It’s definitely too early to tell, certainly in the light of the quite unfashionable opening show of the “untamed” black painter and sculptor from Los Angeles, Henry Taylor.
A tentative link, however, became evident in the previews of the neighbouring auction houses, certainly at Christie’s where the animal sculptures by the French interior designer François-Xavier Lalanne working together with his wife Claude (and gaining his first commissions typically from Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé) again fetched record prices, such as their Rhinoceros, or Rhinocrétaire I, from 1964, which sold for €18.3 million on October 20th.
Christie’s most stellar contemporary sale was the one of the Austrian-French collector’s couple Anne and Wolfgang Titze at Christie’s on October 19th and included paintings by Yayoi Kusama, Sean Scully, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter. But especially noteworthy was the high price of €3.7 million paid for a painting by the young Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie. A painting by Ethiopian-American painter Julie Mehretu reached almost €4 million and the other works all sold for reasonable prices of between €1–3 million, the Richter included. The total result for this contemporary sale (of 39 lots, all but one sold) of €27.7 million is remarkable, certainly at a time when in Hong Kong and in London buyers manifest reluctance. Also, the modern sale held the following day at Christie’s was successful, including 61 works (with 10 returns, achieving a total of €62.3 million) and confirmed the solidity of the Parisian modern and contemporary art market: paintings by Joan Miro, Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana and Joan Michell each sold for €20.7, 2.8, 2.2 and respectively 5.8 million.
Sotheby’s October 19th sale, “Modernités”, a few steps away from the Élysée Palais, including 46 lots (7 returns) with a turnover of €37.5 million was equally remarkable, whereby the result for the iconic painting by René Magritte, La valse hésitation of €11.2 million was a bit disappointing (given an estimate of €10.5–15.5 million). The London evening sale of 20th and 21st century art held on October 13th, including 52 lots (7 returns) instead achieved an overall result of £44.7 million, with the top lots including paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas and Paolo Rego, which each sold for £10.4 million, respectively between £6.3 and £3 million.
Particularly exciting too, in the third October week in Paris, were the different parallel art fairs: among them Asia Now and Paris Internationale, both highly eclectic events (whereas the first one perhaps more dynamic) which ideally complemented and balanced the more prestigious Paris+ and attracted an audience, albeit a little less fancy, often of emerging art collectors. One event stood out in contrast, namely, the rather restrained fair of modern and contemporary furnishing, Design Miami/Paris. There were numerous official offshoots of Paris+ in town, mostly engaging sculptures and installations (sponsored by participant galleries of the fair), like Urs Fischer at Place Vandôme (see top of page), and a bunch of artists in the Jardin des Tuileries, including Julien Berthier, Tony Cragg, Kathleen Ryan and Oscar Tuazon.
The ambition and desire of the fair’s organiser to dialogue on different levels with the city, its inhabitants and visitors became furthermore evident in a few institutional collaborations, for example, with the Asian museum Palais d’Iéna at the Trocadéro where the two sculptors Daniel Buren and Michelangelo Pistoletto, respectively their works, were artfully put in conversation with each other. Alternatively, with the Institut de France where the American textile artist Sheila Hicks erected a colourful column, an accumulation of hundreds of fibre yarns, in front of the pompous neoclassical column entrance of this prestigious French academy founded by Napoleon. Furthermore the Musée Picasso had invited – on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the eponym’s death – the installation and photo artist Sophie Calle to create a site-specific exhibition in its collection spaces.
Noteworthy were also the many exhibitions, which directly or indirectly responded to the artists displayed at Paris+ (or represented by them): the Louvre exhibited a group of paintings by the British celebrity painter Peter Doig; the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris honoured two modern, respectively contemporary painters, that is, the important exponent of the so-called École de Paris, Russian-born French artist Nicolas de Staël and Dana Schutz a neo-expressionist artist based in Brooklyn – the latter in stark contrast to Staël because of her brutalist, rather offending style (she was also present at Paris+ at the booth of David Zwirner). The Musée Rodin invited the British sculptor Anthony Gormley (who was also present at the fair at Thaddaeus Ropac) to display his sculptures.
The Palais de Tokyo museum presented a show by the French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar: challenging video projections or to be more precise, installations or reconstructions of master bedrooms whose actual inhabitants divulged their intimate personal stories on large red-coloured TV-screens; the artist is represented at Paris+ by Layr (Vienna) and Clearing (New York, Brussels). Whereas in the Bourse de Commerce the Pinault collection was showing the American installation artist Mike Kelley. The futuristic architecture of Fondation Louis Vuitton (conceived by Frank Gehry) presented a marvellous exhibition of the American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, whose sublime colourful canvasses after WWII introduced a pronounced sublime abstract style. The glass pavilion at Boulvard Raspail of Fondation Cartier, designed by Jean Nouvelle, instead showed touching realistic human sculptures by the Australian-born artist Ron Mueck.
The epicentre of this dense network of exhibitions and cultural activities was definitely Paris+ at the Champs de Mars where the interfaces or synergies between art, artist or dealer and collector, as well as aficionado or professional became tangible at every turn. Close to the entrance at Sadie Coles from London the apotheosis and agony of the fuel-driven motor vehicle was exposed in Sara Lucas’s yellow Limousine Six cent soixante six, 2023 (asking price £950,000). At Gagosian’s booth, a painting fascinated by the German painter and installation artist Katharina Grosse, inspired partly by the colours of the rainbow (but newly ordered and arranged by means of IT), as well as a new painting by Giuseppe Penone (an Italian sculptor from Turin working in Paris with roots in the Arte povera who has rarely handled the brush), inspired by the skin tissue of his own hands. Max Hetzler (Berlin, Paris etc.) presented a stunning painting by Albert Oehlen, Omega Man, 2021, and also a symbolist canvas of the Romanian shooting star Victor Man, Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), 2023), who had a solo show at the Paris gallery at the same time (and a museum exhibition at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt still ongoing).
Anton Kern from New York (the successful son of painter Georg Baselitz who in 1991 emigrated to the US) presented in his booth a one man show of the London-based New Zealand sculptor Francis Upritchard. The artist’s whimsical woodland spirits are highly inspiring figures of an imaginary stage design (price per piece ca. €150,000–200,000).
Thaddeus Ropac presented a monumental drawing by the Austrian artist Martha Jungwirth, Untitled, 2023 suggesting with its dominant yellowish hue an imaginary sulfuret eruption (€300,000). Pace Gallery, since 1978 representing Marko Rothko’s estate, paid tribute to the artist by assembling modern and contemporary artists under his influence, like Adolph Gottlieb, Richard Pousette-Dart, Agnes Martin, Antoni Tàpies or Hermann Nitsch. The Austrian performance artist Nitsch, whose Action Painting from 2018 was represented (€85,000), was held in high esteem in Paris during these days, since the Musée de l’Orangerie also paid tribute to his art (which is indeed stunningly close to Monet’s work) in a solo exhibition as well as Galerie RX presenting an impressive group of his Schüttbilder (Pouring Paintings) and colourful action paintings inspired by Richard Wagner’s opera The Valkyrie.
Lisson Gallery (as Pace, a global player with a long history) presented a new painting in rose and Bordeaux red hues by the sculptor Anish Kapoor, Untitled from 2023 (€800,000). The abstract-constructivist painting by the Parisian artist Bernard Piffaretti who used a similar colour scale as Kapoor, Untitled, 2023 (€54,000) fitted perfectly into this context. Marian Goodman presented a whole bunch of compelling works, for example, by the Italian Ettore Spaletti, Passagi 4, 2015 (€ 270,000) and also of Nairy Baghramian born in Iran and working in Berlin. She became famous with her hybrid sculptures assembled in her solo exhibition at the Carré d’Art museum in Nîmes last year. The price tag of her translucent wall relief (or floor sculpture) Dwindler Prone Up, 2018, was €150,000. More importantly, her work came into the spotlight very recently on the occasion of a commission of New York’s Metropolitan Museum to create sculptures for its four façade niches at Fifth Avenue.
Many exciting artists and their works could also be chased down in the corridor-pavilion and were often offered at interesting prices as, for example, at the booth of the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro-based gallery A Gentil Carioca founded two decades ago. The paintings by Arjan Martins for example unveiled a striking Brazilian artistic position addressing topics like colonialism in the Afro-Atlantic territories in the period of maritime expansions. The Warsaw-based Foksal Gallery, which has a long history in defending Polish artists, put forward one of the most successful Polish painters and filmmakers Wilhelm Sasnal, whose canvas Untitled (Anka and Rita) from 2023 was on view (€195,000). The Milan-based contemporary art gallery Kaufmann Repetto, which also opened a branch in New York in 2013, presented the black American abstract painter Cynthia Hawkins who works in Rochester and whose work Maps Necessary for a Walk in 4D from 2023 was exhibited (€75,000): a canvas full of geometric contours and poetic surfaces. An awesome oval pastel drawing, a portrait of an unknown person, by the Swiss shooting star working in New York Nicolas Patry was priced instead at a hefty €500,000.
This year’s Paris+ was certainly a most exciting and worthwhile event full of artistic statements and nuances, unveiling time and again many uncharted artistic territories full of potential discoveries. Especially the expansion of the fair across the autumnal Parisian metropole is stunning, an incursion that exposed the whole cultural versatility and dynamic multifarious quality of the French capital, from project-oriented contemporary exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo to blockbuster shows in the Musée de l’Orangerie (Amedeo Modigliani), Centre Pompidou (Pablo Picasso) or Musée d’Orsay (Vincent van Gogh). All this considered, it is a clear proof and strong evidence that Paris has become, for the time being, Europe’s undisputed cultural number one hub for 20th and 21st century art.
Jörg Zutter, October 5th, 2023
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