Collectors flock to Paris for four fairs in one week

Serious buyers came out in force for Spring Art Week—a relief for dealers after a chilly winter


Can the French market digest four fairs simultaneously in March? It appears so, given the healthy level of sales reported overall from the Salon du Dessin (25-30 March, Palais de la Bourse), Drawing Now (25-29 March, Carreau du Temple), the Art Paris Art Fair (26-29 March, the Grand Palais) and PAD, Paris (24-29 March, the Tuileries).

The verdict was not, however, conclusive: many dealers admitted that all was relative, given that business had cooled since the beginning of 2015. Guillaume Piens, the director of the Art Paris Art Fair, said: “March is always a lively month in Paris. The city shakes off the apathy of the winter and the Spring Art Week attracts French and foreign visitors because the events on offer are complementary; they don’t compete with each other.”

Collectors in France now rarely make the arguably irrelevant comparison between the Art Paris Art Fair and the venerable Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (Fiac). The two events are simply not in the same league. However, both are for Modern and contemporary art, and they often have visitors in common. “We sell to the same level of collectors here as we do at Fiac,” said the Paris- and Brussels-based dealer Nathalie Obadia.

Ilan Engel, whose gallery is in Paris, says that “99% of people do not differentiate between fairs. What they remember is that [the Art Paris Art Fair] takes place at the Grand Palais.” Engel was one of many dealers who reported good sales at the fair. Christine Ollier, from Paris, sold ten paintings by the Chilean-born artist Paz Corona, each in the range of €1,800 to €12,000.

The 24th edition of the Salon du Dessin, which featured Old Masters and 20th-century drawings, attracted a good number of visitors from overseas, particularly the US. The Modern art dealers seemed to experience a drop-off in trade, however. “It’s less thunderous than usual,” said the Paris-based dealer Michel Zlotowski, who nevertheless sold a still life (1925) by the French Cubist Amédée Ozenfant for €150,000.

New exhibitors at the fair were pleased with their first outings. Representatives of Aktis Gallery, London, sold a 1996 drawing by Zao Wou-ki for €500,000. “People don’t just buy for fun or to decorate here,” said Iana Kobeleva, the director of the gallery.

Antoine Tarantino, a Paris-based dealer showing at the Salon for the first time, had a similar experience. “The French [people] I’ve seen are here to buy. They’re not here to show off, or to speculate,” he said. Tarantino had every reason to be pleased: at the fair’s opening, he sold a study of a weeping woman by the Italian Baroque artist Simon Vouet to a European museum for “under €300,000”.

Business was also good at the 19th edition of the PAD design fair, where sales included a pair of 1970s chairs by Pierre Paulin. These were sold by Paris’s Jousse gallery to a contemporary art enthusiast for around €100,000.

“The French collectors whom we thought had deserted us came back,” said Jacques Lacoste, another Paris-based dealer. His compatriot Franck Laigneau sold five pieces of furniture for around €20,000 each, including a bureau by the early 20th-century designer Felix Kayser.

Sales were particularly swift at the Drawing Now fair (the contemporary foil to the Salon du Dessin), which offered works priced at less than €5,000. But the city’s newest fair, Paris Beaux-Arts (1-5 April, Carrousel du Louvre), which launched the following week and extended into the long Easter weekend, was less popular, despite the generally good quality of works presented by its 52 exhibitors.

“The dates were chosen by the previous president of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires [Christian Deydier]. Either we cancelled, and immediately lost €350,000, or we did it,” said Olivier Delvaille, an exhibitor at the fair.

For the galleries that had participated in a fair the previous week, the difference was marked. The Paris-based dealer Hélène Bailly said: “I clearly sold better at Art Paris. Here, I have made back my costs, but it isn’t spectacular.” Nevertheless, the exhibitors wanted to give the fair a second chance, provided that the dates prove more amenable next year.