Art Paris 2020 May Have Been Postponed Due to Coronavirus, But Guillaume Piens, the Fair’s Director, Is Maintaining a Positive Outlook

Piens says there will be a lot to look forward to when the fair does take place.

Guillaume Piens, Director of Art Paris. Photo by Chiara Santarelli.
Guillaume Piens, Director of Art Paris. Photo by Chiara Santarelli.

Art Paris, usually held at the Grand Palais at the end of every April, is just one among a seemingly endless of spate of art fair cancellations over the past few weeks as governments worldwide attempt to slow the rate of coronavirus transmission. Amid the flurry of worrying news, Art Paris director Guillaume Piens sat down with Artnet News to discuss his thoughts about France’s economic future, the effects of coronavirus on the art world, Brexit, and why he is still keeping a positive attitude. 

Let’s start with the question that’s on everyone’s mind at the moment: how serious is coronavirus when it comes to  ripple effects on the art market?
We have decided to postpone the fair, but I really didn’t think it would get this far. People were honestly relieved to hear that the fair had been postponed, too. I do think that the virus is a serious threat. But I think that there is a real media hysteria about it too. We know that this virus has low death rate — but it’s still affecting people of all ages. However, it’s not anything like Ebola or SARS. It’s much less dangerous.  

The way it is presented can be really bad —biased by the media towards the worst news, and not, for example, the survival rate. I’m not sure if there will be a real effect on the art market. I believe that the social life of the art world will be stopped temporarily so, of course, this will affect gallery exhibitions and fairs and thus, opportunities to view and collect art. 

But I also believe that by May, most of the world will have returned to normal. It’s important to stay positive. 

Art Paris, 2019. Photography by Marc Domage.

Art Paris, 2019. Photography by Marc Domage.

Do you think that crisis surrounding the coronavirus will lead the art world to look more to online art purchases as a ways and means to continue pursuing their passion while safeguarding their health?

Yes, absolutely! Art is life! I think that passionate collectors will definitely turn to the online art market in order to stay informed, involved, and even to purchase art from the safety of their homes. But for me, I still think that it’s very important to see and experience art, especially works by new and young artists. Blue chip pieces, which are known and seen, are probably easier to buy online, as you more or less know what you are purchasing. 

How are you exploring the online vs offline experience at Art Paris?
Every gallery has a micro-site on Art Paris website, which is super user friendly and intuitive. So the fair stays alive all year around. We are offering a real visibility on our site and also connecting with our collectors and visitors via social media. Viewing our exhibitors online and starting a conversation with social media platforms is really the best way to seep the momentum going throughout the year. 

Art Paris, 2019. Photography by Marc Domage.

Art Paris, 2019. Photography by Marc Domage.

This year’s fair will have a special section focused on art from Spain. What drew you to explore the Iberian peninsula?
I lived in Spain, in Madrid, in the 1990s, and speak fluent Spanish. I know much about Spain and Portugal. To be honest, the decisions was a personal choice because I lived there for a long time and really saw the booming years after the integration into the EU. I feel that, over the last few years, that there has been a profound rebirth and renewed energy and creativity in Spain and Portugal.  

Spain has also been influential to arts and culture, especially the modern era — for art history we think of Velázquez Picasso, and Juan Gris, among others. But contemporary artists are lacking real visibility because the cultural budget is quite small and in need of a spotlight we can hopefully provide at the fair. 

What is the most popular collecting category at the fair?
Art Paris is very classical and well-rounded fair. École de Paris works are doing superbly, as well as contemporary art. We’re more accessible, price-wise, than FIAC, too. Many collectors have mentioned that they visit FIAC, but buy at Art Paris. It’s also excellent for young and first-time collectors. We are really working very hard to reach them and inspire them. Art Paris is meant to be a fair for passion. We’re not very interested in catering to speculative purchases. We would always rather create a space for collectors to buy what they love. 

How do you think Brexit will affect the art market in France?
It’s a real opportunity for France. Paris is going to be the main European capital for arts and culture. There are so many exhibitions and events happening, it’s hard to see everything. 

Art Paris 2019 vernissage. Photography by Marc Domage.

Art Paris 2019 Vernissage. Photography by Marc Domage.

France has seen its fair share of ups and downs over the past year. What is the overall mood at the moment?
Galleries have been struggling in Paris. We had Yellow Vest protestors, transport strikes, Brexit, and now coronavirus. Over the next few weeks Paris will be a dead city due to the pandemic.  

But at the same time, it’s a very interesting, vibrant, and hopeful place. The city is transforming already for the Olympic Games in 2024. More and more galleries and private collections and foundations are coming to the city,  especially since Brexit. 

If you could have dinner with any three artists, which would they be?
That’s a tricky question! Maybe Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon, and Kiki Smith. A woman artist has to be part of the dinner — even in an imaginary scenario it’s important to support the many incredible female artists I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. 

You have been collecting for many years now. What is your advice for young collectors?
I’m inspired by many different things… African artists, Japanese artists. I am always exploring and I go very deep into the scenes I am passionate about to try to understand them completely. 

But I always buy at galleries. Galleries are incredibly important. The dialogue between the artist and the gallery is essential! 

Last words?
We will survive.

Art Paris has been postponed to May 28–31, 2020.

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