Paris dealers take on Manhattan

“We meet a broader range of collectors here”

NEW YORK. A growing number of French dealers are opening galleries in New York, as the weak dollar brings overseas visitors to the US—and keeps Americans at home.

“This new influx is growing not only in number but in stature. It’s the new Franco-American alliance,” says Olivier Belot, director and partner of Yvon Lambert, one of 16 Parisian dealers with outposts in Manhattan.

“This proves two things: New York is still the world capital of the visual arts market, and French art companies are among the most dynamic and innovative of this market,” says Jérôme Neutres, cultural attaché of the French Embassy. He reports that many of them have skipped across the Atlantic in the past two years alone.

The latest newcomer is Galerie Zürcher from Paris, which opens a 3,000 sq. ft space this month in sculptor Joel Shapiro’s former studio in Greenwich Village. “I wanted to have a presence here for my European artists and meet a broader range of collectors,” says Gwénolée Zürcher, who operates the gallery alongside her husband Bernard.

Former Paris dealer Valérie Cueto believed so strongly that New York was the centre of the market that she closed her gallery in the French capital to relocate. “With all my collectors gravitating towards New York on a regular basis, I saw no need to keep my gallery open in Paris,” she says. The deciding moment, she says, was in 2006 when she ran into more than 15 of her Paris collectors as well as many others from Europe during the Armory Show art fair. “I saw more of my European collectors here than in an entire year in Paris,” says Ms Cueto, adding that her New York space is flourishing.

Sales volumes seem to support such a move. “For the first time last year, the Paris and New York galleries have shared just about the same percentage of sales,” says Mr Belot. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Europeans make up only a small proportion of their sales in New York. “These sales represent about 30% of all sales made in New York. American and South American sales make up about 70%,” he says.

At the same time, the growth in the contemporary art market has led to increased sale prices. For example, when Mr Belot opened in New York to show video artist Joan Jonas, who was not represented there at the time, her videos went for $25,000. “Now, her installations go for up to $400,000,” he says.

But while a New York presence can be lucrative, the capital investment required can be huge. For example, when Yvon Lambert upgraded his Chelsea space last year, the gallery (which will open a space in London next month, see p48) spent upwards of $1m for its 7,000 sq. ft space, designed by architect Richard Gluckman.

Historically this shift is not new at all. “In the earlier 20th century European dealers often had branches in New York, but they mostly dealt with old and modern masters or fine French and English furniture,” says Norman Kleeblatt, chief curator of New York’s Jewish Museum. “What is different today is that the galleries and their branches are dealing with art of the moment.”

Frenchmen in New York:

Valérie Cueto, Galerie Mourlot, Sous Les Etoiles Gallery, D’Amelio Terras, Virgil de Voldère, L’Arc en Seine, Twenty First/Twenty First, Opera Gallery New York, Jose Martos Gallery, Josée Bienvenu Gallery, Haim Chanin Fine Arts, Monkdogz Urban Art Gallery, G&O Art with Odile Gorse

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