Paris art fair blends classic, contemporary

The growing number of contemporary art fairs across the world may be a signal for an escalating demand for art, but it is also an indication of competition among cities, each striving to become a center in the contemporary art market. Art Basel, which is held each summer, undoubtedly still leads the pack. More recently, the relatively new London-based Frieze, held for the second time this year, has already earned respect as an art fair on the leading edge of contemporary art. Across the channel and with a week separating it from the Frieze art fair, Paris holds two contemporary events: the oldest and more established Fiac and the younger but more conservative artparis, which was held for the sixth consecutive time this year and coincided with Fiac. Paris is doing its best to claim an important segment of an international milieu of top-notch collectors and to become an obligatory stopover in the competing world of contemporary art fairs. Artparis, conveniently held at the Louvre Carrousel in the heart of Paris, counted around 90 galleries (less than a half of the 214 galleries present at the Fiac), a third of which are foreign galleries. Zoumboulakis Gallery was the only Greek participant. Having participated in Fiac several years ago and even before that in the Art Basel, Zoumboulakis Gallery has now made artparis its choice for international exposure and was present at this year’s art fair for the third consecutive time. In many ways, artparis fits the gallery’s image, with its bent for painting (mostly figurative painting) and its contemporary-classic profile. One of the oldest and best established Athens galleries, it continues to carry some of the most eminent names of Greek art. Yiannis Moralis is an example, but it has also opened up to young and emerging painters, a direction that is mostly credited to the daughter of the gallerist Peggy Zoumboulaki, Daphne, who has taken over the gallery’s management and artistic program in the past four or five years. This mix of the old and new was also apparent in the Zoumboulakis stand in the artparis fair. Yiannis Kottis, a Paris-based artist and an old collaborator of the gallery, the younger Yiannis Adamakis and Christos Kehagioglou were the three artists chosen for this international outing. In the rather cramped premises of the art fair, the Zoumboulakis Gallery stand offered a pleasant and colorful respite and gave off a sense of the Mediterranean with the paintings of landscapes and trees by the three painters. Representations of trees by the three artists were also presented in an exhibition at the Port Autonome Gallery held to mark artparis and organized by Zoumboulakis. «Although it is probably true that artparis was born as a reaction to Fiac, it has gradually developed its own character. Compared to the larger Fiac, it is perhaps less experimental and more tied to the traditional values of painting, perhaps more conservative but certainly of the same high standing. What is also important is that many of the works in artparis are moderately priced, which means that, potentially, this art fair may attract a milieu of young collectors,» Daphne Zoumboulaki told Kathimerini English Edition. The fair included a broad range of works from the 1920s right up to the present: Works by Giorgio Morandi, Wilfredo Lam, Eduardo Arroyo, Fernand Leger, Lucio Fontana and El Lissitski, to name just a few, are examples of the art fair’s bent for established values. Although lacking the nerve of its biggest rivals, artparis has grown both in the overall number of galleries as well as in foreign participation. According to the French press, director of artparis Henri Jobbe-Duval hopes to further increase the number of international galleries to equal the French ones. Can artparis actually present a new perspective on contemporary art, or is it wrong to expect an art fair to break new ground in the first place? «I think that right now there is nothing new or groundbreaking going on in art. This is a matter of the general spirit of our times rather than a trait specific to the art fairs. It is as if we are all waiting for something to happen that never quite does, perhaps because after the innovation of the past we are now going through a period of respite. Anyway, an art fair is a commercial event; it is addressed to the collectors, it is not a trend-setting event. Perhaps the art fair that mostly fits this later characteristic is London’s Frieze,» Zoumboulakis said. As with the participating galleries, most collectors that visit both Fiac and artparis are French. Zoumboulakis also said that a European, international crowd was also present but that the American collectors who visited the fair seemed fewer than in other years. «I have the impression that artparis is not where the really big collectors go. However, because the two fairs coincided this year, those who went to Fiac also visited artparis,» Zoumboulakis said. Asked about the benefits of participating in an international art fair, Zoumboulaki said that despite the high expenses, participation in an art fair is an opportunity for Greek artists to become known outside their country. «This is especially so, given that there is no state strategy aimed at the promotion of Greek artists… I really think that there are many good Greek artists that deserve a place on the international scene where, unfortunately, the Greek presence has grown weak. Having said that, I was glad to see works by an older generation of well-established Greek artists such as Takis and Pavlos came up in more than one gallery stands in artparis. What I hope for is for younger artists to gradually become better known,» says Zoumboulaki. Her faith in young artists also shows in the gallery’s program. Trained as an art restorer in the UK, Daphne Zoumboulaki has actually helped breathe new life into this gallery establishment by adding a list of younger artists’s names to the gallery’s collaborators. Achilleas Papacostas, Eleni Michalopoulou, Xenophon Bistikas and Stephanos Zannis are a few of the names. Some of these names will probably emerge at the next artparis, at which Zoumboulakis galleries will be again present (plans are actually for participation not in the forthcoming March 2005 artparis but the one after that), working toward making Greek painting better known on the Parisian art scene.