With High Quality Displays, Art Genève Plays it Safe But Gets Off to a Slow Start

Zero and Post-War Italian art are still en vogue.

Blain|Southern, London. Photo: Blain|Southern, London

Since its inaugural edition five years ago, Art Genève has built a solid reputation as a boutique fair with a small, intimate format that represents a welcome alternative to the mega-fairs taking place in Basel, Miami, and Hong Kong or the Frieze fairs in London and New York.

Visitors actually have a chance to see all the art on offer, and collectors can take more time with their buying decisions without having to race to other booths in fear of missing out on a better deal.

This year, director Thomas Hug put together a group of 80 international participants characterized by a decidedly Western European flavor, with participants keen to attract the strong collector base in Switzerland and the surrounding Benelux countries.

Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris. Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris.
Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Over half of the exhibitors come from either Switzerland or nearby France. Some eight German galleries made the trip across the border, and eight UK participants—all from London—made the short trip to Geneva. Five New York galleries sought to get in on the action while only one Asian representative made the trip.

Speaking matter-of-factly, Peter Krobath of Krobath, Vienna told artnet News, “In and around Geneva you have a lot of wealthy people […] and I hope to sell a lot of works.”

“The atmosphere is more relaxed,” said Jason Cori, director of Almine Rech, London. He added that the collector base at the fair was “mainly local, but we expect more Italians and Germans over the weekend.”

Given the easy-going vibe at Art Genève, Catherine Caratsch of Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zurich commented, “I imagine the fair must be nice for collectors.” The gallery showed a much photographed solo presentation by Swiss star-artist John Armleder as well as works by Damien Hirst, Betty Tompkins, and others.

John Armleder solo presentation at Galerie Andrea Caratsch. Photo: Henri Neuendorf

John Armleder solo presentation at Galerie Andrea Caratsch.
Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Meanwhile, gallerist Ursula Casamonti of Tornabuoni Art noted “We already saw important clients from London, Paris and Belgium.”

The quality of works throughout the fair was of a consistently high standard, with very few risk takers. Galleries banked on easily recognizable, branded artists, with works by Italian postwar artists popping up over and over again.

This was underlined by solo presentations of Julian Opie at Krobath, Vienna; Damien Hirst by print specialists The Paragon Press; and a ZERO group-themed double presentation by Almine Rech, Paris featuring works by the Swiss Christian Megert and Italian artist Turi Simeti.

“Its not an art fair to discover emerging, young artists,” Robbie Greif, director at Christine König Galerie, Vienna noted. “There are more established and mid career artists.”

The conservative approach possibly backfired as things got off to a lethargic start with galleries reporting slow sales on the first day of the fair.

Bernard Aubertin solo presentation at Galerie Jean Brolly, Paris. Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Bernard Aubertin solo presentation at Galerie Jean Brolly, Paris.
Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Many galleries were reluctant to comment after only a few hours into the VIP preview, stressing that it was too early. Some reported sales of two or three works, while others sheepishly admitted they hadn’t done any business at all. However, many exhibitors reported high levels of interest.

Galerie Nathalie Obadia were amongst the more successful exhibitors, reporting the sale of three works including a bronze, silver, and glass sculpture by the Belgian sculptor Thomas Lerooy for €30,000; a Meuser wall piece for between €30,000 to €45,000; and a Valerie Belin photograph for €30,000.

Galerie Lelong, who made the trip to Geneva from Paris, said they sold one David Hockney print, one Etel Adnan painting, one small wood sculpture by David Nash, and a photograph by Jean-Baptiste Huynh—but did not disclose prices.

Thomas Lerooy at Galerie Nathalie Obadia. Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Thomas Lerooy at Galerie Nathalie Obadia.
Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Blain Southern, London sold three large hand-sewn textile works by the Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté for an undisclosed amount, and reported strong interest in the Lynn Chadwick works they brought to the fair, including some sales.

Meanwhile, Marlborough Gallery—who were showing a selection of their Spanish artists—reported the sale of two works by Juan Genovés to a Swiss collector within the first two hours, but also declined to name a price. “It’s an interesting fair” director Anne Barthe told artnet News. “[Art Genève director] Thomas Hug has done a great job.”

Almine Rech, Paris said they had sold “a few small works,” by Megert, but didn’t reveal which ones, the nationality of the buyer, or the price.

Krobath, Vienna. Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Krobath, Vienna.
Photo: Henri Neuendorf

Elsewhere, Bartha Contemporary, London reported they sold a large series of works by Stefana McClure to an important private collection in Geneva for between 50,000 CHF and 100,000 CHF. The gallery also said it sold a work by Swiss artist Beat Zoderer to the corporate collection of a Swiss pharmaceutical company for between 20,000 CHF and 30,000 CHF.

Nearby, Cortesi Gallery was showing works by Italian stalwarts including, again, Turi Simeti, Agostino Bonalumi, Alighiero Boetti, Enrico Castellani and others. Andrea Cortesi told artnet News, “The quality has improved compared to last year. We already sold one work and have received strong interest in others.” The work in question was a rare large Boetti airplane triptych which was bought by a Geneva-based collector for between €700,000 and €800,000.

Alighiero Betti Aerei</i (1983) Photo: Cortesi Gallery

Alighiero Betti Aerei
Photo: Cortesi Gallery

Gagosian—who have a space in Geneva—brought works by John Chamberlain, Blair Thurman, Giuseppe Penone, Helen Frankenthaler, Richard Serra, and Ed Ruscha. The booth was well-visited throughout the fair preview, but the gallery declined to discuss sales.

One of the few exhibitors to bring more emerging artists to Geneva was Peres Projects from Berlin, who participated for the first time. They showed works by Brent Wadden, Blair Thurman, Dan Attoe, Mike Bouchet, Melike Kara and Donna Huanca. Director Nick Koenigsknecht said “We heard great things about the fair, and we work with a lot of Swiss collectors and institutions.”

Dan Attoe Mountain Swimming Pool (2015). Photo: Peres Projects, Berlin

Dan Attoe Mountain Swimming Pool (2015).
Photo: Peres Projects, Berlin

All in all, the first day of the fair was perfectly summed up by Jean Bernier of Athens gallery Bernier Eliades. The gallerist said sales were “slower than last year,” before adding “we need to wait until dinner, give the collectors time to take in what they saw and come back tomorrow.”

Away from the sales floor, the fair also included a curated sculpture show at the “Pool Bar” featuring sculptural works selected by participating galleries.

Art Genève also hosted an exciting hors-les-murs program along the banks of Lake Geneva where sculptures by Yue Minjun, Tony Cragg, and Dan Colen will remain on display through March.

Art Genève runs from January 28 – 31 at Palexpo, Geneva. 

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