Paris Internationale Shows Why Smaller, More Curated Experiences Could Be the Key to Market Success
“Aaaahhh!!!” might well be the sound you’d utter when hearing that yet another art fair has been added to the saturated annual calendar. But pleasure, not pain, is the tone of the onomatopoeia as it’s placed ahead of the name of Europe’s newest fair, Aaaahhh!!! Paris Internationale—and rightfully so.
Founded by five Parisian galleries—Antoine Levi, Galerie Crèvecoeur, Gregor Staiger, High Art, and Sultana—Paris Internationale welcomes 41 exhibitors from 13 countries in total (truly a who’s who of hip young dealers), including seven nonprofit spaces, to a disused hôtel particulier steps from the Arc de Triomphe. The building, which is typically rented out for movie shoots and events, has been left in its semi-rundown state, save gallery-style lighting installed throughout its many rooms, most of which are occupied by just a single gallery.
“It’s made by galleries for galleries,” says co-founder Guillaume Sultana of the fair, which has been the talk of both London and Paris the past two weeks. “It’s not the same mentality that goes into a typical art fair.” To an extent, Paris Internationale could be seen as a foil to FIAC’s own young gallery spinoff fair, OFFICIELLE. But the vibe at both couldn’t be more different. Of any other art fair, LISTE comes to mind as a point of comparison for Paris Internationale, though it’s half the Swiss fair’s size.
This small scale is key to its success. As opposed to the traditional mega-mart scale of aisled art fairs, at which eyes can quickly glaze over, the bijou Paris Internationale focuses solely on quality and scale of impact per dealer. Major collectors and curators—the likes of Fatima Maleki, Michael and Susan Hort, Stefan Simchowitz, Alain Servais, and Caroline Bourgeois—were seen sauntering through the fair on its opening day, and taking time to learn about new artists. “It’s so refreshing to be able to have the time to talk to these people who, at a big fair, would just run by,” said Polina Stroganova of Mexico City’s Proyectos Monclova.
As the art world turns away from frothy markets flooded with bro-painting and heads back toward content, creating such spaces for dialogue is essential. And at Paris Internationale, it wasn’t just talk that was taking place. “I’ve sold pieces to very big collections from Monaco, Switzerland, and London. And it was like this,” said Sultana, snapping his fingers. The gallerist shows Emmanuel Lagarrigue, whose wooden sculptures start at €3000, and Celia Hempton, whose large-scale, erotic paintings were selling for up to €11,000.
Stroganova sold five photographs by Martin Soto Climent on opening day. The black-and-white works see various materials folded suggestively. Three smaller works went for $2,500 apiece and two larger pieces for $10,000 each. Proyectos Monclova also shows a pair of Climent’s leather-based works, which are similarly folded and then pulled taut on a stretcher in a way that makes the bodily reference undeniable, as well as a wonderful series of works by Adrien Missika, which take found pavers of Vienna sidewalks and partially cover them in epoxy. “I regretted being here by myself,” said Stroganova of the opening fervor, which saw such demand that she had to leave her booth under the watchful eye of a collector while she went to retrieve additional pieces from storage.
“All of the collectors whose opinions I really respect have come over and said how much they were enjoying the fair,” said Room East owner Steve Pulimood. The New York gallery sold work by Dario Guccio, priced from $3,500–5,500, to a Belgian collector early on in the fair. But Pulimood said he was most impressed by the interest they had received in more difficult-to-collect and ephemeral pieces like G. William Webb’s styrofoam sculpture Ah/Un (2015), priced at $5000.
More established outfits like Berlin’s Supportico Lopez also reported being very pleased with initial results. The gallery, which sits on Frieze London’s selection committee and showed in the London fair’s main section for the first time last week, shows pieces by Niels Trannois and two artist-poets—the late Henri Chopin and the young Natalie Häusler, who, upon seeing the space, decided to scrawl a piece on the wall where the for-sale works are hung. “It feels really energetic and positive,” said gallery co-founder Stefania Palumbo. “It’s so good to get outside of the typical three white walls of an art fair and do projects like this to keep things fresh.”
Paris Internationale keeps things fresh for visitors too. Gallery staff like Emmanuel Layr’s Felix Gaudlitz took to the DJ booth (okay, an iPad) on Tuesday night to ring in the fair’s first night. And an evening of performance on Wednesday curated by Vincent Honoré saw pieces by Juliette Blightman, Adam Christensen, Mathilde Fernandez, Renaud Jerez, La Femme, and Zoe Williams course throughout the hôtel particulier’s halls and throngs until midnight.
Certainly new-kid-on-the-block buzz has buoyed this first edition. But the fair also presents an interesting case study for where other art market events could follow: smaller and more tightly knit selections of exhibitors with experiences catered to specific audience segments of collectors. That would follow from trends in retail more broadly which have, over recent years, seen mall audiences decline and split between online platforms and more curated boutique experiences. Whether or not Paris Internationale marks a foreshock to some larger art world evolution, for those interested in the forward guard of art today, this fair alone makes a trip to the French capital well worthwhile.
Paris Internationale is on view at 45 avenue d’léna, Paris from Oct. 20–24, 2015.