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On Avenue Matignon, art is no longer in vogue

Luxury boutiques are chasing out the galleries from their Paris addresses

It is a scene familiar to those in London’s Mayfair: small galleries being forced out of their homes as the twin forces of the international branded art businesses and the luxury goods powerhouses move in.

Now Paris’s Avenue Matignon and its surrounding streets in the city’s coveted eighth arrondissement near the Champs-Elysées, is witnessing the same effect.

In 2010, when the Belgian Modern and contemporary art dealer Guy Pieters opened a Paris space at 2 Avenue Matignon (in addition to the two others that he had in Belgium and one in Saint-Paul-de-Vence) he said: “Paris is again becoming a strong place for contemporary art, the neighbourhood is changing and becoming a dynamic marketplace.” Just before him, Tornabuoni gallery, a mega-gallery specialising in 20th-century Italian art, had opened at number 16, and the following year, Larry Gagosian opened his then ninth space (he now has 14) a hundred metres away, at 4 Rue de Ponthieu. At the same time, the management of Pace gallery, another global heavyweight, was assessing the area for its first European base (the gallery eventually chose London instead, which a spokesman enigmatically says was a more appropriate location “for various reasons”). Leading the pack, Christie’s opened its impressive Paris salerooms at 9 Avenue Matignon in 2000.

The De Noirmont effect

But now, what some saw as an Eldorado for contemporary art, is turning into a dreary district, at least as far as the art is concerned. Guy Pieters closed his Paris space in late 2011. Come March 2013, the art trade was shocked that Jérôme de Noirmont had to close his gallery at 36-38 Avenue Matignon, after nearly 20 years of business, citing the pressure of competing with international galleries. Since then, Bob Benamou has handed in the keys to 24 Rue de Penthièvre (at the top of Avenue Matignon) and moved to Rue Froissart in the third arrondissement. And on 4 March, Eric Dereumaux, the co-founder with Eric Rodrigue of RX gallery, closed his two spaces on the Avenue Delcassé (the extension of Avenue Matignon) and announced that he will move to the Marais in November.

Benamou and Dereumaux say that Noirmont’s closing accelerated a fall in drop-in visitors. “Just a short time ago, there was a real hub of contemporary art within 500 metres. Today, clothing stores have taken over,” says Dereumaux. Patrick Bongers, the director of Louis Carré gallery, which has been in the eighth arrondissement since it was founded in 1938, says: “There is the feeling that the Avenue Matignon has been taken over by the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and become another place for luxury shopping.”

With Gagosian, Hopkins, Tornabuoni and Malingue galleries—plus Christie’s—at the bottom of the street, and Lelong and Louis Carré’s galleries still in the neighbourhood, there remain some high-quality dealers. But the arrival of the big brands with significant means has also dramatically raised the price of rent—just as it has in London’s Mayfair. The truly contemporary art galleries are therefore heading to the Marais, which is proving more attractive in terms of cheaper rents and a livelier atmosphere.

With additional reporting by Melanie Gerlis