No Lease? No Problem! This Company Wants to Bring Your Gallery to Cities Around the World

The project is the brainchild of two auction-house veterans.

Les Gobelins, a former tapestry factory in Paris, will be the site of The WAL's first event in June. Image courtesy of Frédérique Panassac via Flickr.
Les Gobelins, a former tapestry factory in Paris, will be the site of The WAL's first event in June. Image courtesy of Frédérique Panassac via Flickr.

From pop-up spaces to gallery share programs, initiatives that seek to make the art-dealing business more sustainable have been popping up faster than smartphone cameras in a crowded bar during a celebrity’s meltdown.

But a new project joining the crowd claims it brings something new: a flexible membership-based program that allows galleries the opportunity to crop up in foreign hubs with more space, more options, and less hassle than a traditional art fair offers.

The World Art Lounge (WAL) is the brainchild of two art-fair and auction veterans who promise customized options for member galleries looking to expand to new markets while minimizing risk. Think of it as a cross between a concierge, a Soho House for art galleries, and a mini-fair.

“Galleries seeking new markets are often restricted by the destinations being offered,” Jean-Christophe Harel, a co-founder of the WAL, told artnet News. “We’ve been scouting the world and finding as many locations as possible in order to find flexible solutions.” That involves working with real estate companies to identify vacant spaces and scouting venues tailored for its members in desirable cities.

Galleries interested in becoming members must fill out an application with information about their program, number of employees, and art-fair participation. If accepted, they pay a one-time initiation fee of $1,400 (€1,200), in addition to a yearly membership fee of $1,000 (€900) or a monthly membership fee of $85 (€75). Galleries that focus on the primary contemporary art and design market will be prioritized.

The WAL might help a mid-size Chelsea gallery find a space in Paris for a one- or two-week stint or pair up two galleries looking to take a similar pop-up approach. Shows will typically not exceed one month. Think of it as a spin on the Condo model—where galleries in one city share their spaces with a roster of international visiting galleries—with even more options.

The WAL promises a menu of spaces between 2,000 and 30,000 square feet and estimates projects will cost between $5,000 and $15,000 per gallery on average (not including extra services)—a price on par with participation in a smaller, regional fair or a young gallery section at a name-brand international one. WAL can also facilitate shipping, packing, insurance, PR, security, art handling, legal advice, and even furnish temporary staff like translators. These costs will be negotiated on a project basis.

Jean-Daniel Compain, founder and chairman of The WAL. Photo by OPC

Jean-Daniel Compain, founder and chairman of The WAL. Photo by OPC

Harel has experience with more traditional art fairs, having developed the former Paris Photo Los Angeles art fair at Paramount studios, which ran from 2013 to 2015 before a fourth edition was called off in 2016. He later worked at Christie’s as head of marketing for the postwar and contemporary art department and served on the advisory board of the art program for South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2017 and 2018.

Jean-Daniel Compain, founder and chairman of the WAL, was previously senior vice president of culture and luxury at Reed Exhibitions/RELX Group. He has also held positions at fairs including FIAC, Paris Photo, and the Paris Book Fair.

Harel eventually hopes to swell the WAL’s ranks to 200 galleries. The goal is to be active in six to eight cities its first year and have a presence in 45 to 50 cities by 2022. Projects will coincide not only with major art biennials, but also fashion weeks, auctions, and music and film festivals.

It remains to be seen whether WAL can distinguish itself in a crowded field. The first collaborative exhibition opportunity is slated for June 5 through 9 in Paris at Galerie des Gobelins exhibition space in partnership with Mobilier National, a former furniture storeroom run by the French Ministry of Culture. The contemporary art show will provide 10,000 square feet of exhibition space for up to 15 member galleries.

In a statement, Cyrille Troubetzkoy, an art advisor who serves as the WAL’s artistic director, said: “We created a straightforward and creative solution for art galleries to exhibit their artists wherever, whenever, and with whomever they want.”


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