London against Paris: the story of two artistic poles. We know how this historic rivalry supposedly played out. London has the relocated billionaires and the high-priced auctions, Paris the artistic pedigree. London is the city of cutting-edge contemporary art, Paris of classic contemporary. London is cool, Paris chic. Etc.
But a lot has happened in the past six years to shake up those assumptions. Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union, ending the free flow of goods between the UK and the world’s largest trading bloc, hurt London’s art market. Last year, the UK’s share of global auctions fell to 13%, from 18% in 2019, according to the latest Art Basel/UBS Art Market report. Equivalent auctions in France in 2021 jumped 6% to 9%.
There are many small auction houses that give vitality to the Parisian art scene
Cécile Verdier, Christie’s France
Once London-based dealers were burdened with new tariffs, bureaucracy and Brexit-related shipping costs, Paris became the logical alternative for international galleries. David Zwirner, Skarstedt, Mariane Ibrahim, Galleria Continua, White Cube and Gagosian have all opened new branches in the French capital, and Hauser & Wirth will open there next year.
At least during the October fair season, London still has Frieze, Europe’s coolest contemporary art mall under a tent. But now the venerable, albeit less commercial, Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (Fiac) in Paris has been replaced (for now, also under a tent) by the highly anticipated Paris+, organized by Art Basel, the biggest and the most elegant art fair franchise in the world. .
In the 2010s, there was a week-long hiatus between these prestigious London and Paris fairs, making it difficult for long-haul visitors to attend both events. Frieze London and Paris+ are held back-to-back. Equally important, the US dollar reached its highest value in decades against the pound and the euro.
“I go to both Frieze London and Paris+ because I’ll probably be buying art for clients from both fairs,” says Wendy Cromwell, a New York-based art consultant. “The exchange rate makes it even more appealing to Americans.”
There is a greater concentration of galleries I want to deal with in London
Candace Worth, Artistic Advisor, New York
But, for Cromwell, Frieze, now majority-owned by California-based entertainment giant Endeavour, has lost the edge that has made London in October a go-to date for so many American collectors and advisers.
“Frieze has a strong brand, but already last year it was clear that the energy had shifted from their original location in the UK to Los Angeles, and now to Seoul,” says Cromwell. “Paris+ is not going to be a big fair, but it is [Art] Basel, so the quality will be there, plus it’s the city of light, which is even more sparkling these days. After Brexit, Paris is the city.
“Paris is a brand”
The opening of the Fondation Louis Vuitton and the Bourse de Commerce, two exceptional private museums founded respectively by mega-collectors Bernard Arnault and François Pinault, gave an additional dimension to the Parisian art scene. The same goes for the arrival of so many prestigious international dealers in the city, according to Cécile Verdier, president of Christie’s France.
“It encouraged collectors to spend more time in Paris,” she says, which in turn increased demand at auctions in the city. In June, Christie’s live sale of the opulent Hubert de Givenchy collection of 20th-century art and 18th-century furniture fetched 114.4 million euros, more than double the low pre-sale estimate. . Twenty lots sold for more than €1 million, many of which were bought by Asian customers. “Asians like to shop in Paris,” says Verdier. “Paris is a brand in itself for them.
Next year Sotheby’s is moving into an expanded Parisian headquarters of 3,500 m² at 83 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The company expects this month’s sale of the opulent contents of Hotel Lambert, home of Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, to raise at least 50 million euros. Bonhams has also expanded into Paris, having recently acquired French auction house Cornette de Saint-Cyr.
“There is a special ecosystem here,” says Verdier. “There are a lot of small auction houses that give vitality to the Parisian art scene.” Artprice, an art market information specialist, reports that Parisian auction houses recorded “outstanding performances” in the first half of 2022, with sales at Artcurial up 42% and Aguttes up 154%. %.
But despite all this cultural and commercial resurgence, Paris, for now at least, still lacks London’s deep strength of highly regarded contemporary dealers who recognize and nurture serious artistic talent. A branch of Gagosian or David Zwirner is one thing, but finding Parisian equivalents of Sadie Coles, Thomas Dane, Josh Lilley, Stuart Shave and Carlos Ishikawa is another.
“There are a lot more activities and galleries to visit in London,” says Candace Worth, a New York-based art consultant who specializes in the “primary” market of new works purchased directly from dealers. “Paris has never been so transactional for me. There is a greater concentration of galleries I want to deal with in London.
But does London’s contemporary art scene still have its gritty mojo now that the YBAs are now middle-aged, Frieze is owned by an American conglomerate, and the onerous cost of attending the Kingdom’s prestigious art schools -Uni deters gifted students from less affluent backgrounds?
“There’s always talent coming from Britain,” Worth points out. “People choose British artists from art schools.”
It remains to be seen how long this will continue, however. The new culture secretary in Britain’s last Conservative government is Michelle Donelan, who in January, as university minister, pledged to ‘eliminate’ so-called ‘low quality’ courses which did not offer progression to well-paying graduate jobs. In 2018, research from the UK government-funded Institute of Fiscal Studies concluded that studying the creative arts appeared to result in “lower earnings at age 29 than not going to university at all”. Public funding for art and design degrees in the UK was cut by 50% last year. The recent massive bailout by the UK government of UK energy companies is likely to put further pressure on arts education and the cultural sector in general.
From culture to culture wars
The French government, on the other hand, sees social and economic value in the creative arts. Last October, during the week of what turned out to be FIAC’s farewell fair, President Emmanuel Macron invited 200 merchants and artists to a reception at the Élysée Palace to thank them for making Paris the “nerve center of the art world”.
It’s hard to imagine Prime Minister Liz Truss hosting a similar event during Frieze week. Today, when real British Conservatives think of culture, they think of the culture wars.
London and Paris are two great cities with extraordinarily rich art scenes. But is post-Brexit Britain, with its declining economy driven by a ruthlessly extractive form of neoliberal capitalism, which scorns liberal values and the creativity they foster, is it the kind of place people who care about art want to visit?
“Times have changed. London has become a distant city, supported by merchant curators,” says André Gordts, a Belgian collector who had an apartment in London and regularly visited the Frieze fair. He is now based in Brussels.
“The incentive to enter this vampiric bastion is not very great,” he adds, noting that he will be visiting Paris+, but not Frieze. Gordts doesn’t think the European balance of power in the art world has shifted to Paris yet, but he doesn’t want to visit London anymore. “I don’t feel welcome in the UK, and it will take forever to get over that feeling,” he says.
A case long live differencemaybe?