French Galleries Must Remain Closed Even Though Auction Houses Are Open During the Country’s Third Lockdown, a Court Rules

The ruling shuts down a gallery association lawsuit claiming the rules created unfair competition.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran, seen here at a recent press conference, told France’s Council of State that health regulations necessitated art gallery closures during lockdown. Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran, seen here at a recent press conference, told France’s Council of State that health regulations necessitated art gallery closures during lockdown. Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images.

An administrative court has ruled that French galleries must remain closed throughout the country’s third lockdown, even though auction houses can stay open.

The judge decided the closure was justified to limit the spread of the virus, reports Le Figaro, despite protests from galleries.

The Comité Professionnel des Galeries d’Art, a gallery trade association that represents 310 of the nation’s art dealers, had sued the government for permission to continue conducting business during the four-week shutdown, which began April 4.

The galleries argued that the allowance for auction houses only to remain open created unfair competition in the art market. Their complaint also said that buying art online—a so-called “click and collect” model—was not a practical business model because a work of art is unique and collectors need to see it in person before deciding to acquire it.

Members of the Comité Professionnel des Galeries d’Art. Photo courtesy of the The Comité Professionnel des Galeries d’Art.

Members of the Comité Professionnel des Galeries d’Art. Photo courtesy of the The Comité Professionnel des Galeries d’Art.

But on Wednesday, the Council of State dismissed their complaint against France, the prime minister, and the health minister.

“The Council of State, while having recognized the serious distortion and the attack on fundamental freedoms, does nothing about it,” Marion Papillon, the trade association president, told Agence France Presse, criticizing the judge’s “unfamiliarity” with the gallery business.

Following last week’s hearing, Papillon said she was not optimistic that the ruling would favor galleries, given that the judge announced her intention to prioritize health concerns over economic ones.

Marion Papillon, president of the Comité Professionnel des Galeries d’Art. Photo courtesy of Marion Papillon.

Marion Papillon, president of the Comité Professionnel des Galeries d’Art. Photo courtesy of Marion Papillon.

Auction houses aren’t the only businesses exempt from lockdown restrictions. The government has also made exceptions for bookshops, record stores, hairdressers, and chocolate shops, among others.

The ruling comes as a blow for French art dealers, who are struggling to stay afloat after a health crisis that has lasted over a year. The pandemic has seen roughly 80 percent of French galleries lose business since early 2020.


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