As collectors descend on Paris for the big contemporary art week – FIAC as the most remarkable event – Paris Internationale proves to be the most dynamic and exciting of the many independent alternative fairs happening over the week. Motivated to support young artists and galleries, the third edition of the fair has now paved its reputation as a serious commercial alternative but with a strong commitment to bringing back art to the centre of the equation. After the fair catharsis we talk with duo Clément Delépine and Silvia Ammon, directors of the fair’s latest edition, about fair fatigue and the experience of constructing new ways to celebrate collecting.
Dear Clément, you and Silvia Ammon are now on your third edition as the directors of Paris Internationale. What attracted you to build up the fair and out of what experience did you decide to do it?
The fair was formed three years ago by five French galleries: Antoine Levi, Crèvecoeur, High Art, Sultana and Zurich-based Gallery Gregor Staiger. By that time, the impetus of creating a fair in Paris was in the air as they felt that in the shadow of FIAC there was no proper alternative to display the work of minor generation galleries so they decided to join forces and do it together.
Why the decision of partnering up with other galleries?
Paris Internationale is really a fully independent association and the founding galleries have put together all their contacts, their money and a lot of efforts to work together to create benevolently this opportunity for other galleries to have a space to show in Paris during FIAC.
You have been compared to Liste and other satellite fairs. What makes Paris Internationale stand out from other alternative proposals?
It is really hard to say. What we really focus on is to work in good spirit and we really focus on conviviality. It is very important for us that galleries have a good time here and that the services to galleries are impeccable. We miss a few things, of course, we are such a small team! But the good will is here and what we really aim up is to keep the prices low, to be more accessible. A booth in any established fair nowadays can be a garish expense – prices go around thirty-five thousand to fifty thousand euros – and so chances are that if you are a young gallery you can’t afford it, and if you were able to afford it, it is such a huge risk! You have to make sure that you bring artworks which are going to sell, so everything that gets too risky or complicated or that takes too long to explain you might consider to skip it. By being more affordable we want to push galleries to take risks and to replace art at the very centre of the equation.
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Do you think the fact of hosting younger galleries and being a cool, edgy art fair is something galleries want to be associated with?
The fair was founded by cool galleries so they kind of inherently know what they would have or the spirit that this would embrace.
You also play with the idea of deconstructing the traditional codes of an art fair. That has a lot to say on the context in which the fair is placed. Why have you changed from the bourgeois Calouste Gulbenkian building to an industrial multi-story car park?
We had to change because the building was sold, but we would have changed anyways as migrating from a venue to another became part of the nomadic identity of Paris Internationale. Now the circumstances are very different and we have also gained a far more democratic redistribution of the stands in this venue, as the disparity between bigger spaces and smaller booths at our former venue was very obvious.
Furthermore, you are standing on the former newsroom of left-wing leading journal Libération, which is a big intellectual actor in France.
Exactly, and this is an important subject for us as they left this building because of real estate issues. So again addressing problems such as gentrification in urban areas and the daily struggles of modern journalism with fake news and attacks to freedom of speech. Also, Libération in the eighties was a sort of utopia – the CEO was earning as much money as the cleaning person – and it has obviously changed, but we like that we can embody that spirit in a different context.
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What about the public program? I have seen that you are hosting a series of talks and projects that are free and open to all.
We invited The Cheapest University, a curatorial collective based in Paris, to organize the public program of the fair. For us, this program is a huge part of Paris Internationale because we aim at attracting and putting together a local scene of emerging artists for students, intellectual actors and people framing the debate in terms of the contemporary pragmatics in art. By this means we also decided to acknowledge the contribution of non-profit spaces, and to celebrate their work we have located them in the spiral ramp, so at the very core part of the fair.
Is your spirit of inclusiveness also patent in the people that want to attend the show?
The fair is free, and ethically speaking is very important to us that the fair remains free and accessible to all, and very inclusive. Especially for art students, for instance: they often miss a great opportunity to see art because entrances to fairs can be between twenty to thirty euros, whilst Paris Internationale is free.
Is this skepticism around the fair fatigue something that you are afraid of? Is there always room for another art fair?
There is indeed a huge sentiment of fair fatigue and we would want everyone to slow down and decelerate because when the pace is too intense inevitably you end up speaking more about money and less about art, things get more tense and you visit more rapidly. We want people to take more time.
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Fairs have become much of a social event as well.
Indeed, so many fields intersect with events that far exceed the microcosms of contemporary art. I guess that in order to stay relevant you have to focus on making your offer readable.
Which is maybe one of your great achievements, the fact of having this convivial atmosphere.
It is, but it needs to be busy as well, because Paris Internationale is a commercial initiative and it needs to make sense for exhibitors to partake, so we want the fair to be a huge success sales-wise. There is always this idea that to be edgy or experimental means that in an intellectual or theoretical level you are disconnected from profit, and we don’t shy about the fact that we want galleries to sell and we want the best collectors to come. We want everyone to have good contacts, but we believe to do it in a more paced base.
And coming to this latest edition, are there any kind of new directions that you have seen in the galleries that you are showing? Any special recommendations?
Some galleries remain committed to solo presentations, which I personally appreciate, and there are many galleries that are also engaging with the architecture of the venue, which is also very interesting to be that inventive. What I will say might sound negative: it is a bit always the same, but what I mean is that galleries remain committed to a certain level of excellence and it is good to see that the fair is an upgrade from last year and we really enjoyed this last journey.
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