‘It’s an Enormous Level of Excitement’: In Paris, a Second Wave of Gallery Arrivals Is Under Way as International Dealers Flock to the City
“When I used to visit Paris in the '90s, it was more provincial,” said Hauser & Wirth's Marc Payot.
The title of Henry Taylor’s exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s inaugural Paris space can be read in all caps on the elegant, 13-feet-high arched windows decorating the gallery’s neoclassical facade. Prim luxury clothing stores line nearby streets, a hop away from auction houses and the Champs Elysées, in the new gallery district known as Matignon.
The Los Angeles-based artist’s unfiltered voice is not likely to go unnoticed here, with his first major solo exhibition in the city opening just prior to the second edition of Art Basel’s Paris+, featuring expressive works as deeply engaged with art history as with his powerful depictions of contemporary life. The most anticipated gallery exhibition in a packed, city-wide calendar this year, the show also illustrates to what extent the French capital has changed.
A diverse range of international galleries has been flocking to the city in a wave that has opened the contemporary art landscape to more global audiences, and with it, more pluralistic art forms. In addition to Hauser & Wirth, there’s Mendes Wood DM, Thomas Zander, Stuart Shave’s Modern Art, Moretti Gallery, and Friedman Benda. All are inaugurating spaces this fall through early 2024. Not to be forgotten, the list of recent arriving dealers since 2022 is long: Dvir, Esther Schipper, and Peter Kilchmann are a few examples, along with expanded locations by the likes of Gagosian.
The transformation has been fed by new private foundations over the last decade, along with steady market growth and larger galleries attracting more of their peers. In addition, last year’s inaugural Paris+, which replaced the less international fair Fiac, now coincides with the first edition of Design Miami/Paris this month, followed in November by Paris Photo (founded in 1997), all helping tip the scales towards Paris.
“When I used to visit Paris in the ’90s, it was more provincial,” said Marc Payot, president and partner at Hauser & Wirth, over Zoom. “Today it is more and more part of an international dialogue.” He largely attributes this to foundations, which “moved the needle in terms of contemporary art, and what can be shown.” For decades before the early 2000s, contemporary painting was sidelined, according to art academics and dealers. Still, Payot said the mega-gallery from Zurich has wanted to open a Paris space for years.
“We should have been in Paris for a long time,” Payot said, noting the French receptiveness to the gallery’s program and its European DNA. “France, with its sophistication for culture, really understands well what we are doing in terms of artists. For us, it’s a kind of homecoming.” Also, the move is “not at all in that conflict” with London, where he said the gallery is expanding.
The old London-Paris rivalry has reached a new pitch, with Paris benefiting from Brexit fallout. But France’s fine art sales, even if increasing in recent years, still don’t compare to the UK’s, whose reported global art auction results are about 2.5 times that of France (18 percent versus 7 percent), according to Art Basel’s Global Art Market Report. Nevertheless, the report cited “positive, low growth of 4 percent year-on-year” in US dollars for France in 2022. That share has dipped to 5.9 percent for the first half of 2023, amid a general global market downturn, reports Art Price. Whether that changes hinges on the forthcoming busiest art weeks in the Paris.
“Paris has always been an important city for the art market,” said Old Masters dealer Fabrizio Moretti, who opened a space across from the Louvre in September. The gallery features a traveling, single-owner, curated collection of Picasso works in time for Paris +. Nevertheless, despite the “prominence” of Paris, “the center for the art world is London,” Moretti said, who also has a gallery on London’s Duke Street. Nevertheless, having a Paris footprint also ameliorates some transportation costs because of “difficulties” linked to Brexit, he explained.
Dealers acknowledge a new, rising generation of young French collectors, but they are especially struck by the influx of international art world figures to Paris, including Americans, who make up the world’s top market.
In over 20 years of working here, “I’ve never seen so many foreigners and influential people from the art world transiting through Paris,” said Nicolas Nahab, newly appointed director of the Mendes Wood DM Paris gallery, and formerly the director of Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris. He said blockbuster shows at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, for instance, drew travelers who feel more welcome in the walkable, relatively affordable city, where English is now more commonly spoken.
Whether the French market can absorb the slew of incoming galleries is not the question, explained Felipe Dmab, co-founder of Mendes Wood DM, which started in São Paulo and now has six international locations. “It’s not just about the French market, it’s also about the potential and the vocation of a city as a meeting point,” he said.
The gallery’s new Paris location in the Place des Vosges is an unlikely location for locals, who know the square for its tourist-oriented cafés and boutiques selling fake Kaws. But the Place is just “a cigarette away” from the Marais district’s main gallery drag, Dmab remarked. Plus, through October 23, Chris Sharp Gallery from Los Angeles will test Parisian waters with a pop-up space in the same square, featuring painter Adam Higgins, with the goal of opening a location here in future. The Approach from London will also join with a concurrent pop-up exhibition of paintings by John Maclean.
Locals have criticized incoming major international galleries for tending to bypass French artists, or appearing to invest little in their Paris outposts.
“We want to be here in a strong way, but in a respectful way, and are not here to [just] make business. We’re here to do amazing exhibitions… and interact more with the local scene,” said Dmab. That includes collaborating with galleries and adding more French artists to its roster.
Payot also takes the concerns voiced by the local scene “very seriously.”
“We really want to add more French artists, to emphasize the importance of creation in France,” he said. Not in the spirit of “stealing artists,” but by working with other galleries. French artist, Hélène Delprat, is an example. She recently joined Hauser & Wirth and will have a solo at the Paris space next. Additionally, in an effort to be “the opposite of a satellite” or mere “brand,” Payot said Séverine Waelchli was chosen to direct the Paris gallery thanks to her extensive local experience. She directed Thaddaeus Ropac just prior.
In addition to working with French artists, the gallery’s existing artists were the other driver behind the Paris move. Several had never had significant shows in Paris and were eager to have exposure in the historic art capital—perhaps too eager.
“Every single living artist [on our roster] wants to have a show [in Paris]. So I have no idea how we are going to do that, but it’s an enormous level of excitement,” Payot said. “If the artists feel comfortable, and want to be in that place, they will do incredible shows, and the clients will follow.”
That was the case for Taylor, who was drawn to the city’s layered art history. The artist, whose “B Side” exhibition at the Whitney Museum runs through January 28, 2024, spent two months in Paris last summer, making many of the works for the show. In fact, in a preview nearly two weeks from opening, paintings were still unfinished. An ironing board-turned-paint-pallet, covered in large globs of mostly unmixed acrylic stood poised in front of a large painting of the artist’s brothers dressed sharp and posing in black shades. In another, medium-sized work, three shirtless, Black individuals lounged on grass amid a forest, as in Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe. Behind them, is a crouching, quietly busy silhouette of a woman.
“As raw as it seems,” said Payot of Taylor’s work, his “references to art history are very profound, and he loves thinking of himself in the middle of the city, in that context.”
His arrival doesn’t come a moment too soon.
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