For many, 2020 has been a year of firsts. For Guillaume Piens, director of Art Paris, it’s been something like Groundhog Day. Arrangements for the city’s springtime contemporary art fair at the Grand Palais were almost complete when coronavirus struck. A digital edition was duly arranged for May. Now, Piens is busy preparing the fair for a third time; he calls it the ‘everlasting 2020 edition’. But with Art Paris looking likely to be the first art fair to take place in Europe since the continent was locked down, he also acknowledges that there is a great opportunity.
One of the reasons that the fair committee has been able to press ahead – filling a gap in the calendar vacated by La Biennale Paris and the postponed, and later cancelled, Art Basel – is that Art Paris is predominantly a local and regional fair. ‘Eighty per cent of the visitors who come to the fair are from France,’ Piens says. The expansive public vernissage, which usually draws tens of thousands, is unviable this year – hand-sanitiser, rather than canapés, is the order of the day. ‘In place of the hustle and bustle,’ Piens says, ‘the focus is on reacquainting collectors with the art scene.’
The majority of the galleries – just under 90 of 112 – also come from France; among them are some big-name first-time exhibitors, including Perrotin, Jeanne Bucher Jaeger and Karsten Greve. Perrotin brings a recent work by the self-professed ‘photograffeur’ JR, showing a flyposter on a Paris street depicting an eye peeking out from a zebra crossing – a zany comment on life under lockdown. The fair’s stalwarts are also attending – Galerie Nathalie Obadia offers an embroidered tapestry by Laure Prouvost, showing a marching band on a bridge that appears to be suspended between a bank of fog and an inferno. ‘Let’s follow the light,’ their banner rather caustically reads.
The fair again includes a focused display of contemporary French art. ‘Common and Uncommon Stories’, curated by Gaël Charbau, explores how 19 artists, including Sophie Calle (Perrotin) and Hervé Télémaque (Rabouan Moussion), have made use of narrative strategies in their work. There’s also a spotlight on art from the Iberian peninsula, ranging from Miró to Miguel Branco, while 20 of the galleries are hosting solo shows; look out for the Senegalese painter Soly Cissé at Galerie Chauvy.
There was a moment in lockdown when, in Piens’ words, French galleries were ‘facing the void’. We’re not out of the woods yet, but there is cause for optimism. Later in the month, the Grand Palais also plays host to some 194 exhibitors for the International Rare Book & Fine Art Fair (18–20 September), while the wider Parisian art scene continues to shake off the effects of hibernation. Gladys Chenel, of Galerie Chenel on the Quai Voltaire, says that ‘collectors didn’t lose their passion for art because of Covid – they’ve actually been feeling frustrated’. Alongside a group of Roman marble sculptures, the gallery is displaying two series of François Halard’s evocative Polaroids, of the temple of Baalbek in Lebanon and Michelangelo Antonioni’s modernist villa in Sardinia (25 September–21 November). Windows on forgotten and imagined worlds, they’re a reminder of what only art can give us – and what we’ve all been missing.
Art Paris takes place at the Grand Palais from 10–13 September.
From the September 2020 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.