Parisian Galleries Bet Big on a New Art Destination
Komunuma site, 2019. Photo © Axelle Poisson. Courtesy Fondation FIMINCO.
Paris’s tony Marais neighborhood has long been the epicenter of France’s contemporary art scene. For decades, gallerists set up shop in the shadow of the Centre Pompidou, which houses the national collection of modern and contemporary art. But this year, a handful of dealers pulled up stakes to set up shop in a new home on the city’s outskirts.
Romainville, an area just beyond the official city limits, is a patchwork of industrial buildings, office complexes, and a few residential clusters. Large swaths of it are also under construction, as a wave of residential and commercial developments is slated to remake the neighborhood. Among these construction sites sits Komunuma (the word means “community” in Esperanto), a complex that currently houses four galleries and the nonprofit artists’ association Jeune Création.
Installation view of ”Group Show 70.001,“ at Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, 2019. Courtesy of Galerie Jocelyn Wolff.
The galleries—Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, Galerie Sator, Air de Paris, and In Situ-Fabienne Leclerc—opened in October, as the art world’s cognoscenti descended on Paris for FIAC. The 118,000 square feet of former industrial space at Komunuma, spread over four buildings, represented a rare opportunity to show work in the types of large, white cube galleries that are hard to come by in Paris.
Air de Paris, In Situ-Fabienne Leclerc, and Jocelyn Wolff occupy multiple floors at Komunuma, affording them ample, flexible galleries to present multiple large projects simultaneously. The three galleries inaugurated their spaces with group exhibitions showcasing their artists: “More,” at Air de Paris, includes works by irreverent Pop artist Rob Pruitt, maximalist sculptor Sarah Pucci, and the French conceptual art collective Claire Fontaine, among others; “Stop” at In Situ-Fabienne Leclerc includes large-scale works by Mark Dion, Otobong Nkanga, and a vast video installation by Gary Hill; at Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, the group show “70.001” is titled after a hypnotic video piece by Clemens von Wedemeyer showing a mass protest taking place in a virtual city. While Galerie Sator christened its ground-floor space with an exhibition of resplendent ceramic, aluminium, and bronze sculptures by Swiss artist Christian Gonzenbach.
Christian Gonzenbach, Pieta , 201. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Sator.
Christian Gonzenbach, Hanabi, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Sator.
“For numerous years, three of the four galleries were looking for new spaces that were larger and more functional in the Paris suburbs, where prices are more affordable and the spaces larger,” wrote two of the dealers at Komunuma, Fabienne Leclerc and Vincent Sator, over email.
Soon, they’ll be joined by an exhibition and residency program run by the private Fiminco Foundation, which funded the renovation of the four-building campus. One of the foundation’s founders, Gérald Azancot, is the president of Groupe Fiminco; a real estate company involved in major commercial and residential projects in Romainville.
The Fiminco Foundation’s marquee exhibition space, a former industrial boiler room with a towering interior, is slated to open in January. The complex’s only new building, a storage and conservation facility for the local branch of France’s national network of contemporary art spaces (known as FRAC), will launch in the fall of 2020.
Collectively, the dealers hope, Komunuma’s mix of programs will make it a destination, especially as the greater Paris region seeks to shore up activity in the capital’s suburbs. They foresee “a plurality of centers with multiple, distinct identities,” as Leclerc and Sator wrote in an email. “The development of Grand Paris will lead to a redistribution of the geography of contemporary art.”
Installation view of “Stop- Exposition collective des Artistes de la Galerie,” at In Situ-Fabienne Leclerc Gallery, 2019. Courtesy of In Situ-Fabienne Leclerc Gallery.
Grand Paris is a vast scheme to better unify central Paris and its suburbs by overhauling transit infrastructure and spurring new development beyond the Boulevard Périphérique, the circular highway that forms the city’s official boundary. It was first conceived in 2007 under then-president Nicolas Sarkozy and recently given a shot in the arm as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Olympic Games. The Komunuma complex seems to be precisely the type of public-private partnership envisioned in the early years of Grand Paris. It’s “the first time such an alliance is forged between a public institution (FRAC) and private organizations (galleries, the foundation),” Leclerc and Sator wrote.
A fifth gallery, Galerie Imane Farès, was originally signed on, but ultimately decided to stick to its space in the 6th arrondissement. A rep for the gallery declined to comment on the reasons it decided not to move to Komunuma, but it’s not hard to imagine why. Leaving the bustling streets of Paris for quiet Romainville is a gamble. Walk-ins don’t necessarily lead to gallery sales often, but moving further afield could be a barrier to entry for collectors who might be reluctant to trek three Metro stops beyond the city limits.
According to Leclerc and Sator, that is all changing. “We can no longer speak of a single center of art in Paris that would be a single, specific neighborhood in the historical arrondissements,” they wrote.
It remains to be seen if Romainville will become a must-visit hub on the same level as the Marais’s cluster of mega-galleries—the opening of the Fiminco Foundation and FRAC facility will undoubtedly help. But as development intensifies at the edges of Paris, projects like Komunuma seem destined to play more vital roles in the city’s cultural life.