With the Looming Possibility of a No-Deal Brexit, London’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Is Launching an Edition in Paris

The fair is testing the market in the French capital as the UK’s Brexit deadline ticks closer.

Touria El Glaoui, founding director of 154: Contemporary African Art Fair. Photo: © Victoria Birkinshaw, courtesy 154.

In year of cancellations, Paris’s art market can finally add a date to its calendar. The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which was founded in London, is expanding to the French capital, where it will stage a fair in collaboration with Christie’s in January 2021.

For the fair’s inaugural Paris edition, which will run January 20 through 23, 19 international galleries will present contemporary art by artists from Africa and its diaspora, including Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, POLARTICS, and This is Not a White Cube. It will be held in person at Christie’s Avenue Matignon headquarters, as well as online at the auction house’s website.

The decision comes ahead of the UK’s exit from the European Union at the end of this year. Negotiations on the terms of Brexit are down to the wire, and the art market is looking particularly closely at what kind of trade deal, if any, will be agreed upon. As a result, there have been whisperings about the possibilities for a renaissance of the art market in Paris, with mega-galleries including David Zwirner and White Cube moving in to set up shop.

“Everyone is talking about various post-Brexit possibilities for London and Paris, but to be honest nobody really knows what is going to happen,” 1-54’s director, Touria El Glaoui, tells Artnet News. “All the same, it is a good opportunity for us to test the market in Paris.”

Christie's Paris. Image courtesy Christie's.

Christie’s Paris. Image courtesy Christie’s.

Londoners can nevertheless rest assured that the fair is still on track for its ninth UK iteration next October.

“The idea was never to replace London with Paris,” El Glaoui says, adding that, hopefully by the time it comes to it, the rules surrounding art imports to the UK will have become clear, and in any case will only apply to European galleries (and not those that travel to the fair from Africa or the US).

The Paris fair is taking place at a time of year when the fair’s devotees would normally be thinking about heading to Morocco for the fair’s iteration on the African continent. But the 2021 Marrakech edition of the fair, which usually takes place in February, has been postponed until 2022 due to travel restrictions and public-health measures. 

The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair celebrated its second edition in Marrakesh at the Mamounia Hotel. Photo Courtesy of 1-54.

The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair celebrated its second edition in Marrakesh at the Mamounia Hotel. Photo Courtesy of 1-54.

The fair first partnered with Christie’s for this year’s London edition in October after government-mandated health measures meant that its in-person fair at Somerset House had to be scaled back. The auction house instead hosted a selection of works at its Duke Street galleries and online.

“I think it gave amazing visibility to both galleries and to 1-54,” El Glaoui says, adding that there were several sold-out booths in the main fair, and all of the works that were shown in the pop-up at Christie’s sold.

For the Paris edition, there will be 19 booths and, rather than paying for square footage, galleries will pay a flat rate for either a medium-sized booth (£10,000) or a large booth (£15,000). Christie’s is not taking any commission from sales; 1-54 is covering the cost of logistics including the partitions, handling, and security.

“We hope this collaboration will prove a meaningful platform for the vibrant African art scene and we are confident that collectors will be as enthusiastic to see the works presented, as we are,” the general director of Christie’s France, Julien Pradels, says in a statement.

Strict sanitary measures will be in place at the in-person event, including timedt ticketing, hands-free systems, and controlled capacity. For now the French initiative is a one-off, but El Glaoui has not ruled out the possibility of developing a long-term presence in the French capital. 

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