The Circus has more horses prancing than ever – and Larry’s lovin’ it! … or, A Quick Timeline Overview of Paris’s Contemporary Art Scene

The art market may have peaked in 2007 (or was it 2008 with Damien Hirst’s infamous Sotheby’s sale marking the end of art money as we know it?) but in Paris the party is in full swing. Some would even say that it’s just getting started.

The dawn of the new age harks back to 1997 and the creation of the Louise Weiss gallery district which since then – contemporary history moves so quickly – has become part of the relics of the past. (99% of them packed up their bags and migrated to more glamourous locations in the Marais).
Two years later, in 1999, Ricard (they’re the ones who make Pastis, that anise seed liqueur) started awarding its Fondation Ricard Art Award or Prix Ricard pour l’art contemporain, to young talents of the French scene. Awarded every year, round about this time in fact, it is now in its 12th year and even though it isn’t known internationally it does attract the attention of a certain artsy crowd.

Then, Happy Hour really got started :

in 2002 the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art center opened its doors under the co-directed by Nicolas Bourriaud and Jérôme Sans (now directed by Marc-Olivier Wahler) and has remained open six days a week until midnight ever since

– the same year, so also in 2002, the freshly created French auction house Artcurial moved into its impressive Champs-Elysées location and has been growing ever since

in 2004 collector Antoine de Galbert opened his foundation, La Maison Rouge in the Bastille district, ie slightly off the beaten track but not too far from the then still happening 13th arrondissement gallery district. By now it has become a destination in itself.

in 2005 Guillaume Houzé the greatgreat-grandson of Théophile Bader, the founder of the Galeries Lafayette department store, inaugurated the first group show in the “galerie des Galéries” on the first floor of their main store that he called “Antidote“. This group show has become an annual event with it’s sixth edition currently on show until January 2011. Yes, it is called Antidote 6. I don’t think this has anything to do with a lack of imagination. I presume it’s more of a marketing ploy which makes sense since those group shows have made a small name for themselves and given that Paris has dozens of exhibitions going it’s just easier to get some headspace that way.

in 2006 collectors Florence and Daniel Guerlain (the latter being the famous perfume-maker’s grandson) started the Prix Guerlain du dessin contemporain (Guerlain Art Prize For Contemporary Drawing) contributing to the increasing interest in current-day draughtsmanship. This trend has since been confirmed and amplified with the creation in 2007 of the Salon du dessin contemporain (Fair for contemporary drawing) in 2007 .… By the way, can I just say as an aside that somebody really should have the courage to tell the darling Guerlains that their website is embarassingly tacky!

Also, in 2006: Louis Vuitton inaugurated l’Espace Louis Vuitton an art space at the top of it’s totally gorgeous Champs-Elysées flagship store where it shows well-curated emerging art exhibitions and Bernard Arnault, president of luxury group LVMH announced the creation of a Louis-Vuitton foundation space to be built by Frank Gehry in the 16th arrondissement in Paris near the garden called Jardin de l’Acclimatation (to be opened in 2011? Maybe?) where he’s to show extracts of his private collection (and other things too? Not sure whether I’m just ill-informed or whether a certain amount of mystery does indeed shroud this enterprise). So he’ll open up approximately five years after Pinault’s Venetian sidestep which left Parisians a bit embarassed – was it me? was it him? or was it simply not working?

Sensing the atmosphere, more big players join the game

in 2007 Italian gallery Continua co-directed by Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi and Maurizio Rigillo since its beginnings in San Gimignano, Italy, in 1990, invested in some 10000 m2 (then thousand square meters!!) of warehouse space more or less in the middle of nowhere an hour’s drive from Paris. They turned into a major attraction worth the detour with further plans for development up their sleeve.

– also in 2007, Emmanuel Perrotin and his team’s success story took a new leap as they left behind their rue Louise Weiss location in the 13th arrondissement (Perrotin had been one of the first to open there ten years earlier). Gallery Emmanuel Perrotin in the Marais has since then  jumped from L (700 meters in 2007) to XL (1200 meters in 2008 or 2009) to XXL (1500 meters today, 2010) in just THREE years. Currently the whole of its 1500 square meters of exhibition space are dedicated to a group show of 19 (!) of the gallery’s artists’ paintings. Meanwhile his artist Takashi Murakami is causing a buzz in Versailles, in the very château where another one of Emmanuel’s ducklings gone controversial superstar, Maurizio Cattelan, is scheduled to show in 2012.

in 2008 actor, producer, art collector Claude Berri (who has since deceased) opened his art space in the Marais and several (two dozen maybe? any guesses anyone?) galleries have done so too …

Even more recently:
– on October 21st, 2010, Chiara and Steve Rosenblum inaugurated their art space in the 13th district opening up their private collection to public viewing.

And finally, following the spectacular sale of Giacometti‘s Homme qui marche for close to 75 million euros at Sotheby’s, London, and the Louvre’s unveiling of Cy Twombly‘s Ceiling just a few months ago. While the Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective is on at Paris’s Museum of Modern Art and Murakami‘s colorfully controversial gig is on at Versailles, the man who’s intimately linked to all of these artists and, more to the point, to their market, opens his sixth (sixth!) international gallery space after L.A., New York, London, Rome and Athens just around the corner from Christie’s…. Enter Larry Gagosian, stage center.


And with the adults’ party going on upstairs, the kids are going wild

– a total of 7 satellite or “off” art fairs are on during the main modern and contemporary art fair, the Fiac. Slick, Chic, Access & Paradox, Cutlog, VIP, Show Off and Art Elysées are all vying for visitors and, more importantly, buyers along with other makers and shakers of the art world (journalists, art advisors, curators, institutions, etc.)

– the hot Belleville district galeries like Balice Hertling, Jocelyn Wolff, Bugada & Cargnel and Gaudel del Stampa are attracting attention. If want a quick idea of what France’s young “scene” is all about this is where you head. They are also actively exchanging ideas and contacts with Berlin’s upcoming galeries in initiatives such as the Paris-Berlin gallery exchange programme earlier this year made possible largely thanks to the patronage of Bernard de Montferrand, the French Ambassador in Berlin and President of Bordeaux’ FRAC (the official, state-sponsored regional art collection).

– Furthermore, some galleries from this district are behind the Biennale de Belleville, an initiative made in partnership with the ever-active Palais de Tokyo – which, however, aside from a successful opening night has been a bit of a flop as far as I can tell (I for one wasted an entire Saturday afternoon walking from one closed venue to another closed venue trying to get my head around the cryptic maps that were distributed, trying not to worry about wearing the soles off of my fave’ shoes and all the while telling myself, “Well, at least I’m finally locating these new and upcoming galleries…” but inwardly thinking “What a bloody waste of time! Can’t someone step in and organise this cakesale so that even the un-initiated be rewarded with a glimpse of art?!”)


On top of all of this creative energy combined with a great deal of business acumen and general chutzpah that can only be admired, in a few days time the Month of Photography, le Mois de la Photo opens in Paris. Initiated in 1980 and an inter-European event since 2004, it’s the impetus for over 50 photography exhibitions. The fair Paris Photo represents its mercantile pinnacle. Indeed, Paris not only has excellent galeries entirely dedicated to photography (galerie Françoise Paviot and galerie 1900-2000 stand out in this speciality) but hosts the most important fair at which exclusively photography is shown and traded. And, it’s not just any kind of photography, but really high- level, good quality, sought-after stuff (well, 80% of the time which is a pretty high ratio of good stuff for any fair).


Yes, Paris is buzzing.

And not just Larry is lovin’ it!


One Response to “The Circus has more horses prancing than ever – and Larry’s lovin’ it! … or, A Quick Timeline Overview of Paris’s Contemporary Art Scene”

  1. Kako Says:

    And Monumenta at Grand Palais!
    This is a great blog.

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