This 22nd edition will go down as a red-letter day, when the event's weak point, in being essentially a French affair, became a strength in the context of the health crisis – with sales into the bargain.
Cancelled in April because of the coronavirus, then reinvented in June in a digital version, Art Paris came back to life physically in early September, thanks to the tenacity of its director, Guillaume Piens. Taking advantage of a niche vacated at the Grand Palais by the Biennale Paris, in the middle of the summer Art Paris repositioned the show in the diary for the new autumn season, while Art Basel, Art Basel Miami and Frieze London threw in the towel and there was a big question mark over the FIAC in October. It must be said that, unlike these huge events, which attract an international clientele, 80% of the Art Paris public comes from France: a weakness that has become an asset in the current context of reduced mobility. And this is how the Paris event became the first post-lockdown art fair in the world since the Armory Show held in New York in March, and was both a laboratory and a test for the future of the market.
Guillaume Piens constructed a "special Covid-19" fair. To prevent crowds, the Wednesday evening preview was spread over five mornings. And to be on the safe side, the limit of 5,000 simultaneous visitors allowed into the Grand Palais was lowered to 3,000. The number of stands inevitably fell, from the 150 initially planned to 112. Some of the early participants refused to sign up again in protest against the refund conditions for the April edition; others abandoned the event for fear of the health and economic environment. However, even though several foreign galleries did not make the trip, Art Paris still had 24 of the 50 announced, including three from Korea, one from Canada and one from Peru. And some dealers still came despite the quarantine imposed by their countries on their return. "Since the fairs were cancelled everywhere else, it was absolutely vital to come here, to Paris," said Pieter Sanders of Amsterdam's Flatland Gallery.
A small miracle
On the French side, the loyal included Nathalie Obadia, Daniel Templon and Paris Beijing. Compensating for a few defections, other players jumped in at the last moment, including some who were totally unexpected, like Jean-François Cazeau and Emmanuel Perrotin. The former, a secondary market gallery owner specialising in modern art, decided to apply to make up for the cancellation of the Paris Biennale; the latter, used to the trendy spheres of the international jet-set, wanted to "show his solidarity with the Paris scene". Neither regretted it.
For in the end, under the glass roof of the Grand Palais, a small miracle took place. Though the quality of the stands was uneven, some delightful encounters were on the cards, from Thomas Devaux's hypnotic mirror images at Bertrand Grimont to the disquieting photos of American photographer Roger Ballen at Karsten Grave, who joined forces on this occasion with Caroline Smulders. Not to mention the "Promises" section, which, with fifteen-odd galleries less than six years old, proved particularly invigorating. As expected, the public was more French than ever, apart from a few Swiss and Belgians. 56,931 visitors were registered: a figure down 10% compared to 2019, but not by that much, given the circumstances. Meanwhile, the attendance of collectors and institution managers rose by 25%, accounting for around 23,000 professionals and VIPs. In any case, many dealers had broad smiles, because a lot of transactions were concluded, probably because the prices charged at Art Paris stands (from €1,500 to €30,000) are generally more attractive than at the FIAC. For example, the solo show on Xiao Guo Hui staged by the Canadian Christopher Cutts was an out-and-out success. The Chinese painter's six strange paintings went quickly, for between €15,000 and €40,000. Some works had higher prices, like this glass bead necklace by Jean-Michel Othoniel, sold for €120,000 by Emmanuel Perrotin. In a similar range, Jean-François Cazeau sold a drawing by Giacometti and a sculpture by Chaissac. Nathalie Obadia said she achieved a better turnover than last year, thanks to some twenty sales ranging from €10,000 to €200,000 (for a Shirley Jaffe of 1970). Art Paris thus closed on September 13 on a hopeful note – somewhat flattened the next day with the announcement of the FIAC's cancellation, but then boosted again by Paris Photo's confirmation that its November event would still go ahead. The way is well and truly open...