Anticipating EX.Paris, the New Parisian Art Fair

Le 14 mai 2021, par Alexandre Crochet

Co-organized with the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, the ambitious event planned for November aims to mix traders, high-end jewelry and "haute facture". But all remains to be built, in a particularly complicated context.

The Grand Palais Ephémère (Temporary Grand Palais)
© Wilmotte & Associés

Has the Syndicat national des Antiquaires (SNA) converted to Hinduism? There was indeed a touch of "Shiva"—destruction then rebirth—in the announcement, last March, to discontinue the Biennale Paris, ex-Biennale des Antiquaires, in order to launch a new fair. The revered showcase created in 1956, served for a long time as a prestigious event for major French dealers before its recent decline. The new show will bring together antique dealers, merchants and "players in the luxury and high-end market", including fine jewelry and watches. It is scheduled from November 27 to December 5, in the Ephemeral Grand Palais, the structure designed by Wilmotte & Associates and situated on the Champ-de-Mars, which will serve as an exhibition space during the renovation of the historic Parisian edifice. " Indeed, there are a number of events planned for the fall, so it is too early to say whether these dates will be permanent," admits Alexis Cassin. The SNA is no longer the direct organizer of the Bienniale, despite previously holding the reins of the event. Ex.Paris will take place under the aegis of the Arts and Fine Crafts Foundation, an ad hoc endowment fund directed by Alexis Cassin, former Decoral designer and scenographer of the Bienniale. The architect and scenographer Patrick Bazanan, former director of the company, is part of the new team, which includes Henri Jobbé-Duval, co-founder of the FIAC, Art Paris and Révélations; Fabienne Lupo, former director of the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie de Genève; and Mathias Ary Jan, vice-president of the SNA.

For the latter, the new structure will help avoid the age-old disputes within the Parisian art market. "Some will see in this show as a continuation of the Biennale, and others as a brand-new event," he says. "It's not the Biennale des Antiquaires, it's brand-new," says Alexis Cassin. However, the format is reminiscent of the heyday of the Biennale, when, particularly under the presidency of Christian Deydier, the high-end jewelry houses were also present alongside antique dealers. What appears truly novel, however, is the idea of associating "haute facture" (high quality) with the event. "The idea is to put art objects and exceptional savoir-faire on the same level," explains Fabienne Lupo. Hence the somewhat peculiar name of EX.Paris, which at first glance evokes in France the song by Serge Gainsbourg and Françoise Hardy "Comment te dire adieu" ("How to Say Goodbye"), with its ambiguous syllable standing for "Expression, Exigence, Extraordinaire", as the press release assures.

For Henri Jobbé-Duval, "Paris still occupies a very important place for the applied arts which have reached high levels of inventiveness. And moreover, the image of our capital is undiminished among foreigners and continues to shine." Will EX.Paris be a beacon of the French luxury industry? "Today, the word luxury is everywhere. I prefer to talk about the excellence of French creativity," answers Fabienne Lupo.

A Real Question Mark
The organizers are expecting "about a hundred exhibitors all together", since, says Alexis Cassin, "the Ephemeral Grand Palais is 30% smaller than the building designed for the 1900 World's Fair in terms of booth space", but for the time being no names of participants have been revealed, neither on the dealers' side nor on that of the jewelers. Of course, there are still more than six months to go before the show opens.

In the meantime, this ambiguity fosters a certain amount of speculation. "We are not going to criticize this fair with its ambitious proposal, like any new event, it must prove itself and develop. There is room for everyone even if the market is restricted. Perhaps they will be able to create a new business model or establish a new style of trade show," commented one market player. He continued: "In what proportions will this fair be balanced in terms of luxury goods and art dealers? The concept is reminiscent of some other fairs that mix genres, between luxury goods and antiques, in the manner of Masterpiece in London, which nevertheless remains a fair dedicated primarily to art. "To what extent will Parisians and others be sensitive to this principle of mixing genres by offering luxury objects and art objects? "Where is the border between the two? It is something that is not yet well defined," points out an observer.

Some question the timing of EX.Paris, which is planned for directly after Fine Arts Paris, due to take place from November 17 to 21 in a tent in the courtyard of the Dôme des Invalides. It is impossible to see this as a coincidence... Because even more than with niche fairs, such as the PAD or the Salon du Dessin, it is with this event, which is "both a competitor and a complement," notes one dealer, that there is a risk of collision.

"There is currently a real question mark among the dealers of the former Biennale, with the temptation to switch to Fine Arts Paris, which already benefits from a spirit and an attitude corresponding to what is expected of an art fair," confides a professional.

Not without ulterior motives, Fine Arts Paris communicated at the end of April some of the names of participants in its 2021 edition, including that of Georges de Jonckheere, the short-lived president of the biennial who resigned this fall after the failure of the "special Biennial" auction in association with Christie's, but also no doubt because of recent developments... After having nurtured the hope of founding his own fair—Sublime—Christian Deydier will also join its ranks. According to our information, even Mathias Ary Jan had thought of joining, a choice that is impossible to keep once he becomes one of the curators of EX.Paris.

Battle for the Grand Palais
As its president Louis de Bayser confirms, when Fine Arts Paris learned that the date of the Biennial had been changed to November, it tried to form an alliance with the SNA, which declined. And for good reason: the union was already preparing a new show! In reality, even if all this is taking place in a hushed manner, Fine Arts Paris was hoping to get a foothold in the Grand Palais, even if only for a short time, when the end of the Biennale was announced. Today, there are not fifty places in Paris to host a large-scale event," notes a specialist. The SNA has access to the Grand Palais through its history, and at the same time, Fine Arts Paris is trying to evolve. There is a struggle to establish itself as a fine arts fair in Paris and to get a venue that is up to par. Thus, EX.Paris has decided to relocate to the Grand Palais, which ensures the most prestigious setting in the capital and maximum visibility even before we know the details of the show. A tremendous opportunity!

Faced with the SNA, which derived its income from the Biennale and lost a lot of money in the absence of an event in 2020, Fine Arts Paris is pushing its pawns. In 2019, LVMH, via its press group, took a 48% stake in this hitherto medium-sized fair – about 40 exhibitors – positioned on the middle market and focused on sculpture, painting and drawing. Since then, thanks to this "sound" support, Fine Arts Paris has grown in size and this year will trade the Carrousel du Louvre for the Invalides, while expanding its offer. With a shareholder who owns Vuitton or Bulgari, it is not impossible to imagine one day seeing jewelry or high-end craftsmanship there... In a French and global context made even more complicated by the pandemic and its consequences, will each create a distinct identity, or will one absorb the other? "We are at a turning point in the composition and realization of art fairs," summarizes Henri Jobbé-Duval. In "EX", isn't there also experimentation?

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