President of the Professional Committee of Art Galleries since December 2019, Marion Papillon is also founder of the Paris Gallery Weekend, which will take place from 2 to 5 July. She describes the French artistic scene and reviews the current status of galleries.
What is the role of the Professional Committee of Art Galleries that you chair ?
The Professional Committee of Art Galleries is a professional organisation that has existed since 1947 and represents the profession in the broadest sense : we have 300 members, ranging from antiquarian to contemporary galleries in Paris and in the regions. We work with all players in the art market, from the Ministry for Culture to the Sales Council and the fairs. Our over-arching role is to defend the interests of artists as well as gallery owners with the aim of promoting the French scene in the broad sense, i.e. professionals engaged in the territory to defend art and creation – the heritage of tomorrow.
Contemporary art is not always perceived as an art form that is accessible to all : are you developing mediation or awareness-raising initiatives ?
This is the aim of « Un dimanche à la galerie » (« A Sunday at the Gallery »), an annual initiative launched in 2015, which in September 2019 attracted some 5,000 visitors to 100 galleries. The idea is to reach a wide audience and to make people want to come to galleries that have long suffered from a reputation of being exclusive places reserved for a certain type of audience. Many visitors to the Pompidou Centre or the Palais de Tokyo for example never come to the galleries! It is this audience that we seek to attract – this year galleries across France will open on Sunday 13 September.
How do you internationally promote artists living in France ?
When we talk about modern art and contemporary art, we are essentially talking about « promotion galleries », which engage with artists over the long term – even in modern art, where galleries promote a deceased artist by engaging with his or her right holders. Many of our members do a lot of development work internationally and engage over time with artists. Because art exports well, and galleries invest to promote their artists – up to 30% of their budget, when the national average for VSBs is 10%.
Nevertheless, for some 20 years now, exporting the French scene has been more difficult in a market where Americans or Germans are more prominent... France supports its artists less than Germany or Switzerland and French artists lack visibility even in their own country ! The committee has therefore done a lot of work to boost this scene and contribute to its export, in particular by promoting touring exhibitions.
How are galleries transforming themselves in the digital age ?
Galleries did not wait for the Covid-19 crisis to go digital : they are very present on social networks. But all this does not replace physical encounters. The aim of galleries has always been to bring people in, to open a dialogue and to encourage encounters. We can clearly see how auctions can be carried out digitally, but we are talking about a secondary market for art, works by more established and better known artists. In contemporary art, encounters are essential.
How are you approaching the easing of lockdown in galleries ? What role is the Professional Committee of Art Galleries playing in this particular context ?
Since the beginning of the crisis galleries have tried to reinvent themselves, to keep a connection with their audience at a distance. But again, many have told me that there is no question of giving up our DNA, which is based on encounters! That is why from the beginning of the easing of lockdown we restarted inviting the public to return to our physical spaces. In partnership with the Ministry for Culture, the Committee has put in place a visitor welcome charter – even though the galleries are ultimately not very restrictive places : no contact, no cash register, reasonable attendance...although the crisis has had an impact on turnover and there have been losses linked to events that had to be cancelled and which had required significant investment... It is up to us to identify levers to support the recovery, facilitate this promotional work and help revive activity.
Paris Gallery Weekend, an operation that you have launched and continue to support, was initially planned for mid-May. It will take place in early July. What will be the specific features of this 2020 edition ?
It was essential that this edition be a particularly unifying event. Paris Gallery Weekend will therefore this year invite visitors to take a journey from gallery to gallery, to make them want to come to places that they do not know or that they are not used to visiting. The participating galleries have pooled their networks. At the same time, the Gallery Weekend has created a digital tool for international audiences.
In general, how do you see contemporary French creation today ?
Today France is home to a large number of players involved in contemporary and modern art. Many small galleries are doing essential work so that tomorrow artists can be included in public collections. Private foundations are opening up in the capital and in the rest of France ; festivals such as Arles for photography, niche fairs such as Drawing Now that are now being recognised, as well as a very dense and rich programme in museums, from the Pompidou Centre to Mucem (The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations) and the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon...
This dynamic needs to be strengthened. Our weakness is perhaps sometimes inadequate coordination between the different players, and not enough shared risk-taking to defend creation and the French scene. We still have plenty of room for improvement.
The Paris Gallery Weekend will take place in about sixty Parisian galleries on July 2, 3, 4 and 5, 2020.
This seventh edition of the Paris Gallery Weekend will be an opportunity for the Institut français to be a partner of this renowned event for the very first time.
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