Paris Internationale Is Putting Art-World Power Back in Young Gallerists’ Hands
The second edition of Paris Internationale opened yesterday, filling the four-story mansion and former residence of Parisian art collector Calouste Gulbenkian with 54 galleries and seven project spaces—packing enough art to fit every nook and cranny, from the historic marble fireplaces to the kitchens to the toilettes.
The 1897 space marks a new home and modest update for the alternative fair, launched in 2015 in a scrappy hôtel particulier just up the street from FIAC in the Grand Palais. Five emerging Parisian galleries—High Art, Sultana, Crèvecoeur, Gregor Staiger, and Antoine Levi—joined forces to mount Paris Internationale’s inaugural edition of the fair, one that, like forebears LISTE or Independent, is more tailored to a young gallery’s needs. Based on dealer and collector feedback across this year’s opening day, the second outing for Paris Internationale maintains its foundational vibe and further cements the fledgling initiative as a mainstay of Paris’s biggest art week.
“It’s visible that galleries took more risks with their artworks this year,” said fair co-director Silvia Ammon, who, fitting for the gallerist-run fair, is the former director of Praz-Delavallade. “Last year they didn’t know if they could trust us; we were just a bunch of friends doing this thing.” According to the director, Paris Internationale offers invited galleries “carte blanche” for experimentation, rather than demanding a specific project proposal for admittance. And, thanks to the fair’s nonprofit status, booths cost only between €4,000–8,000. This means participating galleries worry less about whether they’ll break even than is currently the case at the top-tier fair circuit, with the market for emerging art down.
“We’ve totally changed the idea of an art fair,” said Paris Internationale co-founder Guillaume Sultana of the diminished pressures, standing within a presentation housed in a circular boudoir with high ceilings and ornate wooden walls. “We’re building a new generation of gallerists.” Sultana likens the fair’s energy to the early days of Basel’s pioneering young art fair LISTE some 20 years ago. Though he notes that running a gallery today is entirely different that it was two decades ago. “We have to fight in a much bigger arena; it’s more international; we have to go everywhere.” As a solution, the fair is intimate and small in scale. “We minimize everything,” he said.
One could argue that this year’s market slowdown has made alternative fair models like that of Paris Internationale even more attractive to younger galleries struggling to foot weighty overheads. “We are in a crisis. The market is not easy. We have to innovate,” said Sultana. “We have nothing to lose in a way. We want to create a new model, so we said, let’s do it and see what happens.” For Sultana, the pursuit has been successful thus fair: the dealer placed Pia Camil’s wall-hung, hand-dyed canvas Poncho (2016) with a private collection in Italy for $18,000 within the fair’s first hours; among other opening day sales, he placed Olivier Millagou’s small sculpture Langre (2014) with a collector in the south of France for €3,500, Celia Hempton’s paintings Ben (2016) and Eddie (2016) with private foundations in London for €8,000 and Paris for €6,500, respectively, and Camil’s Bust Mask (untitled) (2016) with a private collection in Los Angeles for $15,000.
New York gallerist Simone Subal, who participated in the first edition of another art fair alternative, the online-only Dream Hong Kong in March, shows at Paris Internationale for the first time this year, a move from Frieze London in 2015. “It was grown in a similar spirit,” she said. “It’s a reaction of how as a gallerist, we make fairs better for us.” For Subal, this means lower prices and a slower pace that affords more meaningful conversations with collectors.
By the afternoon of opening day, Subal had sold three works by Chicago-based artist B. Ingrid Olson as well as two paintings by Portuguese artist Sonia Almeida for undisclosed sums, to Italian, Belgian, and French collectors—reporting that American collectors had been largely absent from the fair thus far. (The resolute Michael and Susan Hort could still be found on opening day, but Americans were decidedly outnumbered by Europe’s major players.) “I do think it’s related to Paris and London being apart from each other for a week,” said Subal, referring to this year’s calendar quandary, requiring international collectors to make a choice between the Frieze or FIAC fair weeks—or spend a three-week stint abroad.
“It’s nice for the French collectors to have a day for themselves,” noted KOW gallerist Raphael Oberhuber, confident that international collectors, still en route for FIAC, were on their way. The Berlin gallery had just sold Michael E. Smith’s Untitled (2016) to a European collector for €10,000, and had a work on offer by his 85-year-old father, Oswald Oberhuber, The Process of Birth Stretches Till the End (2003). “This fair was missing from Paris,” he said of Paris Internationale. “FIAC is a more conservative fair than Frieze, so it is a great addition.”
Across the fair, despite the new venue and increased number of exhibitors, dealers and collectors alike applauded the fair for maintaining the vibe it launched with. “It’s the same spirit as last year,” said Philippe Joppin of High Art, one of the fair’s founding galleries. “We have more people coming in than last year. And we’re happy because mostly all the galleries that were at the fair last year asked to come back. It’s a good sign.” As for sales? “Let’s see, but it’s really early.”
Joppin was standing in a mauve bedroom with gilded molding, filled with work by Bradley Kronz, Tom Humphreys, Cooper Jacoby—even Lena Henke’s Untitled (2011) sculpture tucked into the fireplace and Valerie Keane’s stainless steel sculpture Untitled (2016; €6,000) installed in the adjoining tiled bathroom. “This kind of decor makes it easy to imagine the work in every place. A white cube is great because it’s neutral, of course, but it’s sometimes difficult for collectors to imagine the work at home because of proportion or scale. In a building like this you immediately see it on your wall,” said Joppin. In a similar vein, Proyectos Monclova had Adrien Missika’s video work installed in their fireplace, and Galerie Crèvecoeur showed Than Hussein Clark lamps in its private restroom. “When you go to a collector’s house you always see work everywhere, even in the toilette.”
“We’re not inventing a new model but adjusting to something that’s closer to our generation,” said Alix Dionot-Morani, cofounder of Galerie Crèvecoeur and Paris Internationale. Her gallery is situated in arguably one of the most stunning rooms of the fair, a circular space with ornate green wallpaper and windows overlooking one of Paris’s most notable neighborhoods. By evening of opening day, she’d sold a number of the playful sculptures by Mick Peter as well as all of the small paintings currently on view by young French painter Louise Sartor, priced around €2,000 apiece.
According to Paris Internationale co-founder Antoine Levi, it’s also an opportunity to continue to build up the city: “As galleries we travel all year round; we discover things and we meet people and we’d like to give them a chance to exhibit here,” he said. “FIAC has limited space, so not everyone can come to Paris. There are many galleries that we like very much who cannot afford it, so they don’t even apply. But we think it’s good to bring them to France, because we would like French artists to discover them.”
In a large room with wooden and fabric-covered walls and white plaster carvings over its doorways, Levi was showing work by four artists, including British artist Zoe Williams’s oil paint and pastel on silk sculpture Village Baroque (2016), an installation by Latvian artist Ola Vasiljeva, a sculpture by Los Angeles-based artist Sean Townley, and a vintage 1986 cibachrome print by late Italian artist Luigi Ghirri, on the range of €8,000–16,000. The gallerist happily recalled his long-held desire to mount a group show of his artists in a flat in Paris during FIAC, and how coincidentally the other founders, all friends and, with the exception of Gregor Staiger, neighbors in Paris’s Belleville, had wished to do the same. In a year’s time, that dream has come to fruition twice over.
Above all else, the nonprofit Paris Internationale is motivated by support of its artists and galleries—and it comes at a crucial time. The market for young galleries in Paris hasn’t only slowed because of the global emerging art slump but also due to lowered visitor numbers to the city since the November 2015 terror attacks, according to Levi. Yet the gallerist takes an optimistic tack: “Since the beginning of September, people are starting to come back to the gallery. A year after, people have forgiveness. They’re getting back to life. They’re entering the city.” It’s a resilient foundation on which to build an art fair that can support its galleries for the long haul.