WBecause life came to a standstill during the pandemic, the French-Bulgarian artist Stefan Nikolaev decided to create still lifes of his very own kind during the time of the state of emergency. “Deadline” is written in gold letters on a piece of marble on display at the Michel Rein gallery in Paris.
“We used to be really proud of being under pressure,” says the 52-year-old Franco-Bulgarian as he set up his exhibition. But only since the pandemic changed so much did he realize “how ridiculous it really is to shimmy from one deadline to the next.” Now the term is taking on a new dimension: the line of death at the front.
In his studio in Sofia he had copper reliefs made, on which the ingredients of the classic still life appear in hand-blown neon glass tubes. In “What You See Is What You Get” the outlines of candle, skull and apple stand side by side, and you don’t need an encyclopaedic knowledge of art history to recognize the reference to paintings by Georges de la Tour.
The words “Half Life” appear on another relief: Although Nikolaev has been living in Paris for more than thirty years, the period of stagnation has brought his inner turmoil to the fore.
Anyone who roamed through some of the more than a hundred galleries that are now taking part in Paris Gallery Weekend over the past weekend must have the feeling that the pandemic has not necessarily hurt art – let alone business. The event never fell through, not even in 2020: it took place sandwiched between two lockdowns.
Gallery Weekend Paris attracts new clients
“The museums were closed,” recalls Géraldine Doger de Spéville from the Association of Parisian Gallerists, “and we sensed that our visitors were really hungry for art.” Restaurant still travel and afforded one or the other work of art when shopping online.
The ambition of the Paris Gallery Weekend is to attract a new audience to the galleries and above all to lower the inhibition threshold. Beyond the clientele that already collects or invests in art, Paris has managed to attract young people who now roam the galleries as if they were a large museum.
“Ruin” is the name of the show by Californian artist Nick Doyle, who plays with the iconography of everyday American objects and tears them out of their context as jeans-blue images and installations. It is above all the accumulation that impresses: a human-sized broken pencil, a cactus, a stained shirt, a gallon of milk. “Doyle describes the agony and one-way streets of a society in ruins,” says French art critic Mathieu Buard, explaining the title.
Thanks to the large number of participating galleries, you can also discover artists such as Eva Nielsen in Paris, whose works are still within the affordable range. After a seven-month residency in the tanning town of Romans-sur-Isère in the Drôme department, Nielsen, born in 1983, is showing small and large formats at Jousse Entreprise, which combine techniques such as photography, screen printing and painting. Serigraphs on leather, covered with semi-transparent, printed silk, invite the viewer into an uncertain world in which landscapes appear as if from behind a curtain.
Parisian galleries are concentrated in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, on the posh Avenue Matignon leading to the Élysée Palace, in the Marais and, for the last few years, in the northeastern suburbs of Pantin and Romainville. Most of the Gallery Weekend exhibitions can be seen until mid-June. Numerous new openings of museums and private foundations such as the Fondation Pinault in the old grain exchange are currently attracting many art lovers to France who want to catch up on two years of the pandemic. “Paris is booming,” says gallery owner Kamel Mennour, who now has four galleries in Paris.
city on a human scale
“Paris, once the art capital, is back at the top,” was the headline even in the New York Times at the beginning of May, noting that thanks to many new galleries with a clear international orientation, it is once again radiating the energy of old times. For decades, Paris gave the impression of being gifted with world-class museums but lacking a vibrant art scene, the American newspaper notes.
But that has changed since Brexit. Some big gallery owners have had a foothold in Paris for three or four years. This includes David Zwirner, who advocated deceleration even before the pandemic and praised the human dimension of Paris.
Shifra Shalit is new at the start this year. If you ask the Israeli gallery owner why she has now opened the Dvir Gallery in Paris’s Marais after Tel Aviv and Brussels, she replies succinctly: “Because it’s the right time.” At the moment everyone is drawn to Paris. With “Espèces d’espace” Shalit shows a kind of best-off of her program: Jonathan Monk has let the air out of the art. With his “Deflated Sculpture” made of shiny steel, he alludes to his colleague Jeff Koons. Douglas Gordon draws the viewer into his self-portrait “of You + Me”.
The Parisians can now also get a belated impression of Yudith Levin, the “purest voice of Israel” (“Ha’aretz”). In the late 1970s, Levin picked up bulky waste from the streets of Tel Aviv to turn it into art. And Polish artist Miroslaw Balka features a mini version of 480 x 10 x 10, the beaded soap scum he showed at London’s Tate Modern two decades ago. But according to Shalit, there is still no French museum that owns a single work by him.
The newcomers also include the Franco-Somali gallery owner Mariane Ibrahim, based in Chicago, who opened her branch in Paris in the autumn and presented a spectacular start with “J’ai deux amours”. The title, an allusion to Josephine Baker’s anthem to France, is the translation of her Chicago program to Paris conditions, where she wants to strengthen the “black diaspora”. “African artists are trained, they have their own character, their style, their market. It’s time for them to step into the ring and compete against the others,” says Ibrahim.
Ibrahim records an entire city palace on Avenue Matignon, in the “golden triangle”. There she finds herself in the company of galleries such as Lelong, Perrotin, Mennour, White Cube, Gagosian and Nathalie Obadia. It is Amoako Boafo in particular who draws the attention of Ibrahim. “Inside Out” shows portraits and body images of the Vienna-based shooting star from Ghana.
The fact that his prices have skyrocketed cannot only be explained by “Black Lives Matter” or the new attention paid to black artists. In any case, the 38-year-old artist fights like a heavyweight in the symbolic wrestling match of his gallery owner. Meanwhile, his works go under the hammer for several 100,000 dollars.
Boafo angers this speculation. After collector Stefan Simchowitz bought the painting “The Lemon Bathing Suit” for $22,500 in 2019, it was appraised at $65,000 a year later. It finally fetched over 800,000 euros at the auction. It’s said to be Boafo himself who bought it back to stop this “art flipping” with his work.