Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in On Balance, the ARTnews newsletter about the art market and beyond. Sign up here to receive it every Wednesday.
As the Paris art market prepares for its busiest season with the opening today of the second edition of Paris+ par Art Basel, the local scene is basking in the warm autumn glow of the international art world’s good favor. This, despite the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza, France’s raising its security alert to the highest level following the stabbing of a teacher in the northern part of the country this past Friday, and the Louvre and Versailles being evacuated Saturday out of precaution following bomb and security risks, respectively.
Still, art world revelers were not deterred from convening at openings over the weekend, including those at two blue-chip galleries’ new French outposts: Mendes Wood DM in the Place des Vosges and Hauser & Wirth’s 19th-century hotel particulier near the Champs Elysées. That these inaugurations—and other gallery opening receptions—took place over the weekend this year, as opposed to during the week as they did last year, is worth noting.
Dealer Nathalie Obadia, whose eponymous gallery recently expanded its Paris footprint, said, as has long been speculated and buoyed by Brexit, Paris may indeed be draining some of Frieze London’s mojo: visitors “are either ignoring Frieze, or only going for one day, and then coming to Paris right away. It shows Frieze is no longer prioritized,” she said.
While Obadia’s view may be hard to prove, Paris has become a hot destination for collectors, advisers, and others coming from outside Europe, who are attracted to the City of Light’s fast-growing roster of international art galleries, private art foundations, and experimental alternative spaces in walkable distance from its world-class museums, not to mention its luxurious hotels, coveted fashion and design, and gourmet restaurants. The Parisian contemporary art scene is blooming—and the sophomore edition of Paris+ is certainly potent fertilizer. This week will also see several satellite fairs—Paris Internationale, Asia Now, AKAA Art & Design Fair, and the inaugural Design Miami/Paris—crop up across the city.
“With Paris+ everything is more international!” Guillaume Piens, who runs the regional fair Art Paris each spring, told ARTnews in an email. With more and more galleries coming, “this is a major, historic turning point for Paris,” Piens said.
Nevertheless, the second edition of an art fair can be tricky; once the hype of the first act subsides, will the fair be able to stand on its own and have long-term impact on the city’s art scene?
“Last year there was the question of whether the first edition signaled that Paris is back,” said Paris+ director Clément Delépine, referring to the city’s former status as the world’s leading art center. “We’ll need to compare [results] over time to identify a trajectory,” he said from a fair office room on the Champs Elysées. But “if the galleries are bringing the masterpieces they plan to show, it means they’re confident in finding a Paris audience, and in selling them … This is clearly a Parisian moment that, for now, hasn’t run out of steam.”
Obadia said that several clients have confirmed they will be in Paris this week for the fair, which could itself pose a problem on the two VIP days, beginning Wednesday, given that Paris+’s temporary home, the Grand Palais Ephémère, is smaller than the iconic Grand Palais, to which it will return, post-Olympics renovations in 2024.
Despite the uptick in attention on Paris each October, locals wonder whether this recent allure will translate into real growth to the French art market, now the fourth largest globally and accounting for about half of all art transactions in the European Union. The numbers from the auction houses suggest there is still much progress to be made: French fine art auction sales still lag behind its UK neighbors. Despite consistent growth, French houses accounted for only 6 percent of the global secondary market in the first half of 2023, whereas those in the UK accounted for about 17 period in the same period, amid an average global drop in sales of 20 percent, according to Artprice. Auction sales in Paris remain “much more conservative” than those in competing cities like London, New York, or Hong Kong, according to Artprice’s head economist Jean Minguet, as the major houses generally do not auction coveted lots by blue-chip artists and rising stars in Paris.
“Galleries are coming in, and it’s great, but is the pie big enough to share?” asked dealer Magda Danysz, who has spaces in Paris, Shanghai, and London. “What financial results can we show for it, and does it benefit the French scene?”
Obadia, however, remained optimistic, saying that “the reason so many foreign galleries are coming to France, is also to go after French collectors … I’ve seen a new generation of French art enthusiasts who are really building ambitious contemporary art collections—and that’s completely new.”
But Paris+ did not arrive in the French capital without an air of controversy. Art Basel booted the longtime hometown fair, FIAC, from its Grand Palais slot. And with it, some French galleries long on the exhibitor list did not make the cut last year. Danysz’s gallery is one of them, having been waitlisted for Paris+ last year. As an alternative, she exhibited at the Asia Now fair at La Monnaie de Paris. This year, she decided against all fairs to focus on the program at the gallery and promoting French painter Rakajoo, who has an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo opening this week.
Still, like other galleries interviewed that were not selected for Paris+, Danysz was unequivocal about the clear impact of Paris+ in drawing international clients; in fact, she said her business has seen a rise in sales this year. That includes foreigners “we wouldn’t have met without this effervescence” of Paris +, she said.
Despite whispers to the contrary last year, both FIAC and Paris+ included similar percentages of French-originating galleries, between about 25 percent and 30 percent, on their exhibitor lists. Though Paris+ officially says it has closer to 40 percent French galleries, as it counts any gallery with an outpost in France, including the blue-chips that have only been operational on French soil for less than four years, like David Zwirner (opened in 2019), Hauser & Wirth, and Mendes Wood DM.
By week’s end, there will already be talk about the third edition and whether this spotlight on Paris is more than just a trend. “It’s likely to last because it’s about a whole ecosystem, which is considerably strengthened by Paris+,” Alain Quemin, an art sociologist and professor at University of Paris 8, told ARTnews.
Delépine, the Paris+ director, used a French saying—Il y a du biscuit (there’s a lot to chew on)—to sum up the range of impressive art exhibitions on view leading into the week.
Striking a more serious note concerning the ongoing crisis in Gaza, Delépine said, “It’s undeniable that our fair is taking place within the context of a humanitarian catastrophe. In moments like these, we hope that our fair can also be a space where we can unite, a vector of mutual support, comprehension, solidarity, humanity, and collective consciousness.”