In December 2021, the Grand Palais operator opened bids for its October art fair dates, which Art Basel, via its umbrella company the MCH Group, acquired for a seven-year deal exceeding €10 million. This is a move that the historical Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC), which has had its home at the Grand Palais since 1975, considers abrupt and unfair. But this was welcome news for the Palais, given its costly renovations and the €630,000 that RX Global, which organizes both FIAC and Paris Photo, reportedly owes to the venue.
Unfortunately, this drama is the only excitement to come out of the transaction. From branding to appointments recently announced, “Paris+ by Art Basel” fails to generate a moving sense of originality.
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The name, which Art Basel’s head Marc Spiegler didn’t want to “take up too much space” subliminally reminds of Hong Kong-based museum of visual culture M+, which opened in November 2021. A pricey marketing undertaking then, to expand the Art Basel universe with the semantic simulacrum, adding Paris (itself an international curatorial stage) to the constellation of existing “Basel Cities.”
Spiegler clarified that his vision for Paris+ involves educating uninformed audiences and buyers, as if this were the pressing issue of the day. “You can have a generational shift that is less about the content of the art fair and more about how the content is communicated and contextualized—that is what we are looking for,” he said.
Art Basel says it will “work closely with France’s gallery community.” Defending and promoting the French art scene, its mid-sized and small galleries, and artists struggling to recover from COVID-related restrictions and economic hardships needs to be a much more explicit priority. They were already underrepresented in FIAC (unlike Art Paris for example), and given the mega-fair ambition that Paris+ brings, organizers are likely to favor large international galleries who can afford booths and bring the big sales to upstage Frieze London or New York.
The leadership of Paris+ and its 10-dealer-strong advisory board have oddly forgotten to include a single person of color, indicating an indifference to inclusivity. Gallerist Kamel Mennour or dealer and gallerist Mariane Ibrahim, for example, could have joined, since both are Paris-based and have well-established, international reputations.
The Art Basel takeover of Paris consolidates big players and franchising and it’s unfortunate that the Grand Palais missed a unique opportunity to radically rethink the fair model, something that could have made its Paris edition a true vanguard, reimagining what it means to be contemporary. Besides Paris Internationale or Galeristes, Paris+ could have taken cues from the recently established Biennale de Paname which is a free, contemporary, artist-run multidisciplinary exhibition for the public launched in 2018. Or they could bring on board members of the Décoloniser les arts collective to discuss colonial legacies during the design stage of the fair. And why not host Paris+ in a venue like Paris Tour 13 or Shakirail among other temporary spaces, in Paris’s banlieue, or even outside Paris for a real change after all?