Three questions for Mehdi Ben Cheikh

On 01 September 2018, by Stéphanie Pioda
Mehdi Ben Cheikh
© CORINNE VACHON

How do you see the development of the street art market since you opened your gallery, Itinerrance, in 2004 in Paris?
It's definitely alive, but it is important first of all to appreciate how this movement came about, through significant events like Tour 13 (when a hundred-odd artists moved into a nine-floor building in the 13th arrondissement before it was demolished – Ed.). The market comes afterwards: that's not the force that should influence creation.

You believe street art will enable Paris to find a new glory…
Yes. We need to recreate the dynamic energy of the Roaring Twenties. Man Ray, Picasso, Mondrian and Peggy Guggenheim weren't French, yet they turned Paris into a dazzling focal point. To do that, it's vital to encourage the world's leading artists to come and work here (…) because today, between Brexit and Trump's presidency, something significant can be achieved. Firstly, because all the artists who were active in New York in the 1980s, like JonOne, had to leave because of the prohibitive fines, and they now live in Paris. Secondly, because a market has developed here like nowhere else. All the world's street art galleries base their sales on Digard Auction and Artcurial hammer prices. These are the points of reference that dictate the life of this small market.

Many galleries consider auctions as competitors, but you see them as allies …
Paris has the most efficient tools in the world, and Drouot should become a timeless brand. We mustn't forget that Jacques Doucet's fabulous collection was sold there in 1912, as was the incredible collection of the dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler between 1921 and 1923. A movement becomes established through a country's upper middle class, not through three people who call the shots. The driving force comes from notaries, lawyers, doctors – all those professions.

Mehdi Ben Cheikh is the artistic director of the first edition
of the District 13 Art Fair focused on street art:
27 to 30 September at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris.
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