Springtime in Paris during Art Paris

École des Beaux Arts
I arrived to Paris on Monday, the first thing to do when I am in the city, is to visit Le Louvre, just to be reminded of classical quality, immerse into the richness of historical art and get a break from the contemporary in order to refresh my eye. And it was invigorating to breathe the air of Nicolas Poussin, the Old Dutch Masters and frightening portraits, dark landscapes, large formates which reminded me of the time factor which classical artists had to face. No mass o momentum production like today, but complete dedication for months and months. Then a studio visit at the École de Beaux Arts with a young French artist, Mathieu Bonardet, a former fellow at Hunter College New York, who focuses the performative part of drawing in his work, creating large charcoal drawings using his entire body until the pencil breaks or  simply ends. An artistic work limited by the materially marked end of its resources. Wonderful metaphore, the materialization of time  surviving the constant destruction of the present.

In the evening, opening of the retrospective „Heaven or Hell“ by Joel-Peter Witkin at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF). Waiting nearly one hour outside the doors to be able to get in due to the limited space of the exhibition room- another aspect of limitation. The space definitely was very small and dark, the size of the room in juxtaposition to the large formates of Witkin´s photographies, the darkness in synchronicity with the content and material of the pieces. The show was carefully curated, with 81 photographies of the artist on the lateral walls and a selection of renown prints of the BNF´s Print and Photography Department from 17th to the 20th century by Andreani, Beckmann, Bellange, Boyvin, Campagnola, Carracci, Dürer, Ensor, Goya, Picasso, Rembrandt, Rops, and a monotype from the 17th century by Castiglione.

This exhibition and the included documentary about the creative process of Witkin carefully show the way the artist elaborates his works, the mise-en-scène of every work and its birth, the artist being a creator as the exhibition´s focal point. The engraving aspect of his works is highlighted by presenting the testimonies of art history in this context. The subject of nudity and religion, the juxtaposition of the dark and the light, life and death, underline the aim of representing Heaven and Hell.

The next day I started at the Jeu de Paume with exhibitions by Ai Weiwei, Berenice Abbott and Jimmy Robert. The widely acclaimed show of Ai Weiwei didn´t surprise me though and after all I am still very critical with the overwhelming echoe of the public to Ai Weiwei, specifically the powerful in the arts business, reflected in theatrical gestures of donations and public manifestations for his freedom. Of course, he is criticizing the chinese regime, the system and the destruction of nature. But why are these people, who strongly support his work, not more consequent in their attitude and stop making business with China? Why does everyone still buy cheap and intoxicating Chinese products? Why does everyone want to travel to China? Why not boycott this country and support the artist and his concerns more efficiently in this way?

It is amazing to see how the Marais has grown regarding contemporary art galleries. I literally did gallery hopping the whole afternoon and discovered Richard Nonas at Galérie Anne de Villepoix, an amazing minimal sculpturist who combines metal and wood sculptures in the context of Donald Judd, Carl André and Yannis Kounellis. The Galérie Perrotin seemed like a mass production site, a huge space in different buildings, it had a neo-imperialistic attitude in a way. The Claire Fontaine Show at Chantal Crousel was questioning the function of the author and reproduction in times of digital  technology, taking the whole gallery space and surprising the visitor with refined statements. The exhibition of the Ukrainain photographer Boris Mikhailov at Suzanne Tarasiève actually was over and they were wrapping up the 50 photographies,  which had formed the exhibition „Salt Lake“ reflecting the sweetness of life in the Ukrainian countryside confronted with exteme industrial pollution of that area in the 1980s, a perfect and irritating juxtaposition of concepts which intrigue the viewer.

The third and last day was dedicated, always accompanied by this incredible spring weather, to the art fairs: Drawing Now at the Carrousel du Louvre, which was a quite stunning mixture of, but not exceptionally, drawings. Charley Case at Aeroplastics from Brussels, Sandra Vázquez de la Horra and Clarina Bezzola at Katz Contemporary from Zurich, Hannelore van Dijck and Marcel van Eeden at Zink Gallery, Berlin, just to mention some artists´ names of works which were interesting.

Then moving to the opening of Art Paris at the Grand Palais. It was very sunny and inside the pavillion the temperatures and the sun reflections through the glass dome were impressive. Most of the booths were not particularly responding to my expectations. But the one of Galerie Stefan Röpke from Cologne was, as always, exquisite: A wonderful curatorial concept with works of Mapplethorpe, Max Neumann, George Segal and a beautiful large scale drawing of his mother by Aleksandar Duravcevic, everything in a black and white aesthetics. Ernst Hilger showed an interesting selection of works by  Mimmo Rotella, Errò, Andreas Leikauf and others. I discovered Indian vintage photography collages by Nandan Ghiya at Galérie Paris-Beijing, photographer Peter Beard and South African street artist Robin Rhode at De Primi Fine Art, Lugano with small scale works. In general most of the strongest pieces at the fair have been photography. Stunningly, the offer hasn´t been as national as I expected, with galleries coming from countries like Germany, the UK, Italy, The Netherlands and even Libanon.

The trip to Paris was definitely worthwhile since it corrected my opinion about the contemporary art scene of the city. How many strong collectors of contemporary art are actively purchasing, this though is a variable for me.

Anne-Marie Melster
Co-Founder & Co-Director Spain

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