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Air of malaise at Paris fairs

A scheduling clash and an unfriendly tax environment slowed business at most fairs

Paris

The four fairs that took place in Paris in rapid succession in March and April opened in an unenviable context.

The PAD (Pavilion of Art and Design) fair (Tuileries, 27-31 March), the Art Paris Art Fair (Grand Palais, 27-30 March), the Drawing Now fair (Carrousel du Louvre, 11-14 April) and the Salon du Dessin (Palais de la Bourse, 10-15 April) came straight after the Parisian art dealers Jérôme and Emmanuelle de Noirmont closed their gallery, saying that the “unfavourable political, economic and social context in France today, along with the unhealthy ideological climate and stifling tax burden, compromises any prospect of a future art market in France and alters any enthusiasm as well as any entrepreneurial spirit”.

It was perhaps unsurprising, then, that business was slow and visitors largely unenthusiastic, particularly at Art Paris, which has been trying to raise its standards since the appointment of Guillaume Piens as director two years ago. But some dealers at Art Paris and PAD did very well, or at least better than when in their galleries.

“The French have been restrained for the past few months, and all of a sudden they were confronted by what seemed like a buffet, so they cracked. I’ve sold to people who haven’t bought from me in around a year,” said Pierre Dumonteil, who specialises in animal sculptures and sold ten pieces ranging from €10,000 to €100,000 at PAD.

The timing of the simultaneously organised PAD and Art Paris fairs also proved problematic. They both took place over the Easter weekend, when many of the city’s inhabitants were away. PAD also had its VIP opening on the same evening as the Jewish festival of Passover began, which further contributed to reduced visitor numbers.

The increasingly unfavourable tax environment was also felt. The dealer Bernard Zürcher, showing at Art Paris, said that half of his important French buyers had moved out of the country, adding that he now generates 30% of his business from his New York gallery, which opened in 2009. Buyers limited themselves to works priced between €5,000 and €50,000, and younger galleries such as Vincent Sator, Backslash and Bodson-Emelinckx, offering works for less than €10,000, did particularly well.

Affordable works fared well at the Drawing Now fair, particularly those priced between €1,500 and €3,000. “In one day, we made the same as in a week at Art Paris,” said Florent Paumelle from Oniris gallery.

The Salon du Dessin, which took place at the same time as Drawing Now, does not rely on the French public’s “mood” but on a strong international presence. Consequently, business was good from the start. The London-based dealer Jean-Luc Baroni sold The Destruction of Pharaoh’s Host, 1836, by John Martin, which he bought at auction for €942,256 last year, to a European collector for €1.5m. The Parisian dealer Franck Prazan rapidly sold five watercolours by Maurice Estève. “Good-quality works are selling well, even if they are expensive. Globally, it’s a little slower in the Modern art area,” said Eric Mouchet from Zlotowski gallery, who sold a study for Points of attachment, 1934, by Frantisek Kupka and a 1956 “Icon” by Le Corbusier.