In the wake of deconfinement, Louis de Bayser, who heads Fine Arts Paris, reveals the strategies adopted by this influential fair to adapt to the new state of play without losing an iota of its precious core values.
Louis de Bayser Pre?sident de FINE ARTS PARIS
In the context of a health crisis, Fine Arts Paris has announced a considerable increase in its size, if the fair counted 45 exhibitors in 2019, it has the goal to increase this number to 70.
The decision was made after the 2019 edition. Our exhibitors were asking the fair to incorporate more specialities to give them a broader scope of action, and only present the best with each of them. The first edition in 2017 focused solely on a fine arts offering. Then we added antiques, textiles and archaeology. This year, we are introducing bibliophily and the arts of Africa and Asia.
And then the Covid-19 crisis arrived…
With all the contingent problems in terms of logistics, finance and health! Though these aspects are not intrinsic to the central pulse of the event, which is the excellence of the works on display, they are still vital to its quality.
One of the questions raised in this singular new state of play concerns digital technology…
We are considering solutions that give visitors an overview of the fair that accurately reflects reality and is as personalised as possible. We are working on an online exhibition preview staged at the same time as the real thing. We want to set up a live configuration enabling art lovers to visit our space guided by a hostess with a digital tablet, who will accompany them to the stands they select. They can then look at works in detail and talk to dealers in total privacy.
The other big change with this fourth edition is the venue, of course: no longer the Carrousel du Louvre, but the courtyard of Les Invalides.
The place was an obvious choice, given our increase in size. It's a prestigious space providing 2,000 square metres in central Paris, and there aren't that many. This year there is also the issue of how people move around. Until now the stands were closed in, which will not be the case with this edition as it's impossible in terms of flow management. However, we are working on maintaining the intimate ambience of our event.
Talking of Paris, is the city an attractive place on the global art market map?
There's no better place to host a fine arts fair! Its architecture and atmosphere alone are a selling point for our foreign visitors. It's true that staging a fair in our capital costs much more than in Brussels or Maastricht. But fortunately we can rely on dealers, who are still a powerful force on the international scene thanks to the quality of their offer.
These dealers have been loyal to Fine Arts Paris and very much involved. Is this still true in the current situation where there's a lot of uncertainty in the short-term?
Yes, our exhibitors have remained loyal to us. We've had no cancellations so far, and we're confident we can achieve our objective in terms of exhibitor numbers.
The Paris auction market has made a spectacular recovery since lockdown ended, with splendid hammer prices and high sales rates. Does that augur well for sales at your fair?
Yes, of course. But a dealer's daily life doesn’t involve the cut-off point you get with auctions. This is why it's a big advantage to be present at fairs, and particularly the preview: a crucial moment for us, when the "hammer falls". This is when the public discovers the works. Then a kind of rivalry builds up between buyers, forcing them to make decisions quickly. And collectors talk a lot with each other at these events. Fairs are where they discover dealers' own particular selections of works, with choices that are personal right through to their presentation. What is so productive is the convergence of all these points of view and very different individuals in a single place.
You have many specialist visitors and are well-known for your close links with institutions.
Museums in Montreal and Stockholm, and of course in France, especially the Louvre, come and buy from us! In addition, it's vital to provide a series of exclusive visits outside the fair for our public of experts. For instance, it's an extraordinary moment when the curator at Fontainebleau opens the drawings department up to a small group of a dozen people, who discover works that are never on show. This is an essential service to attract foreign curators. We can also devise specific programmes for the ones visiting with the trustees of their museums. Our dealer exhibitors take an active part in all this monitoring and networking.
Connaissance des Arts bought a stake in Fine Arts Paris in 2019. What's different now?
Connaissance des Arts, a subsidiary of the Les Échos-Le Parisien group and LVMH, became a shareholder alongside the eight founding partners in December 2019. The dealers are still in control as regards the organisation and selection of galleries. However, we can now benefit from the group's expertise and networks through its Arts unit.
And lastly, how would you describe the pedigree of Fine Arts Paris?
Our fair is highly exclusive because many of the participating French galleries don't exhibit anywhere else. So you find a lot of works coming on the market for the first time. It is a dealers' fair, conceived primarily in the spirit of an art lover's cabinet: a spirit that is reflected in every stand. This multi-faceted yet intimate viewpoint usually creates quite an effect.