France Eases Restrictions on Large Gatherings, Bolstering Hope for Art Fairs Taking Place Across Europe This Fall

Cultural events with more than 5,000 people can go ahead beginning in September.

The Paris International Contemporary Art Fair (Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain - FIAC) at the Grand Palais, in Paris. Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images.
The Paris International Contemporary Art Fair (Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain - FIAC) at the Grand Palais, in Paris. Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images.

UPDATE, August 13: While public gatherings of more than 5,000 people were due to resume at the end of August, the government announced on Wednesday that it would extend the ban until October 30 after new COVID-19 infections nearly doubled in France in recent weeks.

In a sign of optimism for the fall art season in Paris, France is green-lighting gatherings of more than 5,000 people beginning in September.

The French ministry of culture has said that the ban on cultural events drawing crowds of more than 5,000 people, which has been in place since February, will be lifted on August 31. The restriction could even be lifted sooner, as early as August 15, for some gatherings that have permission from local authorities.

The easing of restrictions mostly applies to large concerts and events, but it is also good news for fairs and exhibitions that take place in large spaces such as the Grand Palais in Paris, which is home to a number of art fairs including FIAC and Art Paris.

Art Paris, which is taking place between September 10 and 13, will be the first major art fair in Europe in six months. Featuring 112 galleries, including international heavyweight Perrotin signing on for the first time, it will provide a guinea pig run of the new normal.

But despite the lifting of the ban on large gatherings, a spokeswoman for the fair tells Artnet News that organizers are still limiting capacity in certain areas of the great glass cathedral, allowing no more than 3,000 people at once in the main T-shaped thoroughfare.

Other precautions are also being taken. “The Grand Palais, with its 45-meter-high glass roof, offers exceptional spaciousness, and the layout of the fair has been revised with wider aisles to accommodate the 112 galleries,” she said. Masks will be required as will social distancing, and in order to limit the number of people inside the fair at once, the fair has also spread its VIP opening over all five days, welcoming VIPs in the mornings from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. starting September 9.

It remains to be seen whether FIAC will also return to the Grand Palais as planned in October. In 2019, the fair welcomed 74,580 visitors across five days. The organizers of the fair are taking the summer to decide whether or not to go ahead and will reveal their plans in September. If it doesn’t take place this year, the 2019 edition of the fair will have been its last in the Grand Palais for some time, as FIAC will move to a temporary structure near the Eiffel Tower in 2021 and 2022 while the Grand Palais is renovated.

Meanwhile, the satellite fair Paris Internationale is planning to go ahead October 20 through 24 in a scaled-back version. Organizers of the emerging art fair tell Artnet News that the sixth edition of the fair will be more like a salon-style exhibition, with each of the approximately 35 participating galleries contributing one or two pieces. They have yet to find a suitable venue but say it will be an “airy yet intimate” space.

“Solidarity is a core value of Paris Internationale,” a spokeswoman tells Artnet News, explaining that exhibitors who can join in person will represent those who couldn’t travel to take part. It will also have an online viewing room. Cost of participating in the fair this year, which will include being part of the online iteration, will be between €1,500 and €2,000, a reduction from last year’s price of €4,500 to €7,000.

Elsewhere in Europe, Austria’s largest art fair, Vienna Contemporary, will be taking place as planned from September 24 to 27. Art Basel, however, has canceled its flagship fair in Switzerland in September,

Among the first major fairs in London will be 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which announced on Thursday that it will be going ahead despite the cancellation of a physical edition of London’s Frieze fairs. It will take place in Somerset House October 8 through 10 in a scaled-back version with a complementary online viewing room. Photo London will also take place at Gray’s Inn Gardens from October 7 through 11.


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