INTERVIEW:Guillaume Piens, Artistic Director of ART PARIS

portrait Guillaume © Marie AmarOn the reason of ART PARIS ART FAIR 2016, we discussed with Mr. Guillaume Piens, who took over as Artistic Director of the Institution since 2011, for his vision and how he managed to renew Art Paris Art Fair, creating a connection between Modern and Contemporary Art, with tributes to the East and Galleries across Europe… He also explain us, how Paris and French artists going throw to International Contemporary Art Scene, in a different way from the London of ‘90s or the Berlin of  00’s, considering the different boundaries, and the way that the major French Collectors including Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault are functioning. ‘’Chose to create foundations to house their international collections. Neither have been active supporters of the French Scene’’.

By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Guillaume Piens Archive © Marie Amar

Mr. Guillaume Piens, as we know, you have been the Artistic Director of Art Paris since 2011, which of your goals have been achieved and which are to be implemented?                   I arrived at Art Paris Art Fair in May 2011 with my business partner Catherine Vauselle, a long-time director of communications at Reed exhibitions for FIAC and Paris Photo. The owners of Art Paris, Julien and Valentine Lecêtre, a brother-sister team, asked us to re-think the fair and give it a real identity.                                                                                                        The fair was taking place in a unique outstanding venue – the Grand Palais – and was happening in the spring, which is the second important season in the art calendar with autumn with FIAC art week which takes place in October. But the fair was lacking its own DNA. When it first started in 1999, it was an “off” fair of the FIAC. It then became a sort of “anti-FIAC,” only to turn into a copycat fair to the FIAC with the appointment in 2009 of Lorenzo Rudolf. But it never really had its own story to tell.                                                                                     When you took over Art Paris, was your vision to further connect it with Contemporary Art? How easy was it?                                                                                                                                    Taking over Art Paris, which we renamed Art Paris Art Fair, was hard because we had to turn around the reputation of a fair that had suffered badly from the fierce competition that was going on among the 200 or more fairs around the world.                                                              Very soon it seemed that the obvious thing to do was to transform it into a fair that explored the different regions of Europe, and at the same time to introduce a new theme every year focusing on the East: Russia in 2013, China in 2014, Singapore and Southeast Asia in 2015 Korea in 2016.                                                                                                                                            Art Paris Art Fair has now become the leading event for modern and contemporary art in Paris in the spring.  It is in a class of its own with a selection of 143 galleries from 22 countries making it global and local as well as international and regional.Along with having major international galleries, the fair focuses on exploring the regions of Europe and in particular the cities that are home to uncommon art scenes line Milan, Zurich or Munich.                                                                                                                                                       The thematic sections are more about discovery. The increasingly globalised “Promises” section is dedicated to emerging talents   while the “Solo Show” presents a score of personal exhibitions disseminated throughout the fair. Digital art is given pride of place with a program of monumental nighttime projections on the façade of the grand Palais.                                          Each year, increasing numbers of visitors flock to the Grand Palais for Art Paris-Art Fair, this fact confirms its huge success. Are the visitors mainly from France or Art Paris is a center of attraction for International visitors? Since in the Art Fair are participating many Internationally Galleries?                                                                                                                      We get about 50,000 visitors a year with many coming from different parts of Europe, mainly neighbouring countries like Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom. There is still a majority of French people but the fair is becoming more and more international by the year. When I first arrived only 15% of the galleries were from abroad, now we are up to 50%.                                                                                                                                                                 Paris was the Art Metropolitan Center in the past, but lost this position in Contemporary Art, from London in the ‘90s (Tate Modern, Young British Artists) and Berlin in the ’00s. However as a specialist, who closely follows the French Art Scene and Contemporary Art from 1994 until today, I think that Paris with its infrastructure, can win again the first position in the Contemporary Art Scene. If you agree, how can it happen?                                                                                                                                                         I really believe that Paris is coming into its own again when it comes to contemporary art. This is in part thanks to several outstanding private initiatives, with a number of foundations such as La Maison Rouge-Antoine de Galbert, Kadist Art foundation, Luis Vuitton, Cartier, Ricard, Galeries Lafayette and also several prizes and artists’ residences (SAM Project, la bourse Révélations Emerige..). There are also several collectors’ associations like the ADIAF (Association pour la Diffusion Internationale de l’Art Français – the Association for the International Promotion of French Art) that promotes French art internationally. In addition, from an institutional point of view, some amazing things have happened recently like the new Picasso museum, the Monnaie de Paris, the BAL and just lately the opening of Villa Vassilief. This is is a new sort of space in Paris which will be open to foreign artists and curators. All of these are essential elements that contribute to reinstating Paris as a centre of contemporary creation.                                                                                                                                                        There is or can be a coordinated cultural policy, as happened in London in the ’90s, is it possible for Paris to emerge a new generation of French Artists with international recognition, like Young British Artists?                                                                                               The French cultural policy is very different to what is done Britain. From the 1980s onwards, the French state institutionalized contemporary art and claimed what it called “the French cultural exception.” This marginalized a lot of French artists because they were perceived as official artists in the Anglo-Saxon world.  However, in the early 2000s, a new generation of artists like Philippe Parreno, Pierre Huyghe and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster revolutionized the notion of “authorship” and the exhibition model. They are now internationally recognised.                                                                                                                                                     What is the role of French Collectors in the respective case? We don’t forgot the role or Charles Saatchi.                                                                                                                                        There is no-one like Charles Saatchi in France. The two wealthiest French collectors, Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault, chose to create foundations to house their international collections. Neither have been active supporters of the French scene. The ADIAF (the Association for the International Promotion of French Art) which was established in 2000 has played this role and promotes the emerging French scene though the Marcel Duchamp prize it created.                                                                                                                                                              The Collectors are following, visiting and buying in the Art Fairs, boosting this way the interest of galleries, artists and art people?                                                                                   Yes, collectors gather at art fairs. These are key events in the calendar when all the players of the art world come together.                                                                                                                  As we can see from the program of Art Paris 2016, there are 20 solo shows of modern, contemporary or emerging artists, what is their aim?                                                                 The solo shows that are scattered throughout the fair provide clarity among stands that show a wide diversity of work and are sometimes overloaded with too many artworks. The personal exhibitions also allow visitors to gain an in-depth understanding of the work of a given artist. In Art Paris 2016 Korea is the guest of honour within the framework of France-Korea year. You would like to explain us the cultural relations between the two countries?                   The relationship between France and Korea goes back a long way. This year’s France-Korea celebrations mark 130 years of diplomatic and cultural relations.                                                    A lot of Korean artists came and continue to come and train in France as was evident in the beautiful exhibition called Paris-Seoul-Paris organized recently at the Cernuschi Museum in Paris.                                                                                                                                                         The two countries have an excellent relationship. And the Koreans and the French both have a veneration for culture and gastronomy.                                                                                             Finally, what are your new plans for Art Paris 2017 and which country will be guest of honour?                                                                                                                                                     We are going to have a new theme in 2017. This time it will be not just a country but a continent as guest of honour. The Africa  Guest of Honour project will be curated by Marie Ann Yemsi who was curator of the exhibition Odyssées Africaines (African Odysseys) in Brussels in 2015.

Info: Art Paris Art Fair 2016,Artistic Director: Guillaume Piens, Grand Palais, Avenue Winston Churchill, Paris, Days & Hours: Wed 30/3/16 Preview (by invitation only), Thu 31/3/16 11:30-20:00, Fri 1/4/16 11:30-21:00, Sat 2/4/16 11:30-20:00, Sun 3/4/16 11:30-19:00, Entrance fee: Adults and children over age 10: €25, Students and groups of 10 or more: €12, Free admission for children under age 10,


First Publication:

© Interview – Efi Michalarou


José Manuel Ballester, Galería de Arte 2 (Xippas Paris), 2010, Courtesy Galerie Pascal Vanhoecke, ART PARIS ART FAIR 2016 Archive
José Manuel Ballester, Galería de Arte 2 (Xippas Paris), 2010, Courtesy Galerie Pascal Vanhoecke, ART PARIS ART FAIR 2016 Archive