Credit: Sara Barth
'Paris is booming': New art fair attracts multi-million-dollar sales
While it is an indisputable cultural capital, Paris has long been overlooked as a place to buy and sell contemporary art. With neighbors Britain and Switzerland home to Europe's largest art market and the world's largest art fair, respectively, France has often struggled to secure its status as a hub among collectors.
But the Parisian art world, already buoyed by the potential outflow of business from London following Brexit, has been given a further boost by the inaugural Paris+ par Art Basel.
The first French edition of the high-profile fair — founded in Basel, Switzerland, and since expanded to Miami and Hong Kong — attracted some 40,000 attendees, according to a press release. More than 150 galleries from 30 countries participated in the four-day event, which concluded at the Grand Palais Éphémère on Sunday.
Organizers have reported what they described as "vigorous" sales. Although participating galleries are not obliged to disclose their figures, more than a dozen confirmed deals in excess of $1 million. Among them were artworks by major names like Alex Katz, Christopher Wool and Georg Baselitz.
German dealer David Zwirner's eponymous gallery secured at least four seven-figure sales, including Joan Mitchell's 1989 painting "Border," which went to a private collection for $4.5 million, and an untitled Robert Ryman work that fetched $3 million. Elsewhere, two new works by American painter George Condo went for $2.65 million and $1.55 million, at Hauser & Wirth and Sprüth Magers galleries, respectively.
A variety of major collectors, museum representatives and art advisors were reportedly in attendance, as were France's President and First Lady, Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron. The packed program also featured a showcase for emerging galleries, a series of talks and over 20 public artworks displayed across the French capital as part of the "Sites" program.
In a statement, the fair's director, Clément Delépine, described the event as an "inflection point" for France's art world. "The excitement in the halls and throughout Paris is testament to the city's renewed momentum and the spirit of collegiality which has made the extraordinary success of this first edition possible," he said.
Rights to host the fair were awarded to Art Basel's parent company, MCH Group, following a public competition. The seven-year agreement, announced in January, will eventually see the annual event move from its current temporary location to the historic Grand Palais once restoration work there is completed in 2024.
In securing the contract, Paris+ par Art Basel grabbed a calendar slot long held by the International Contemporary Art Fair (known locally as Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain, or FIAC). Hosted in Paris since 1974, FIAC was typically held at the Grand Palais the week after Frieze London, though it struggled to match the blockbuster sales of its UK rival or Art Basel's original edition in Switzerland.
FIAC's future now appears uncertain, though its parent company RX's photography event, Paris Photo, will return to the Grand Palais Éphémère in November.
Local gallerists hoped that Art Basel's organizational weight and art market reputation could help attract an affluent international clientele. Speaking to Reuters, gallery owner Kamel Mennour said that working with Art Basel had helped attract "a new type of public, coming from America and Asia."
"Paris already has a lot of energy, but this creates an acceleration," said Mennour, who reported selling two works by sculptor Alberto Giacometti for $2.75 million and $1.45 million, respectively. "Paris is booming."
Several major new galleries have opened in the city in recent years, with dealers speculating that France may benefit from the uncertainty cast over London's art market by Brexit. But while the UK's share of global art sales dropped from 20% in 2020 to 17% last year, it is still more than twice that of France's, according to UBS and Art Basel's annual report.
The weakened pound may also have contributed to a flurry of major sales at Frieze, which last week saw a masterpiece by 17th century Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Elder sell for $10 million, among a flurry of major deals.
Correction: A previous version of this story did not accurately describe Flemmish artist Jan Brueghel the Elder.