Paris is taking its pole position as the heartbeat of the Art world to an entirely new level in a bold chess move made by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux – Grand Palais (RMN-GP), the French authority that oversees several museums and cultural institutions.
On Wednesday Le Grand Palais announced that Art Basel alongside its parent company MCH Group has signed a seven-year deal to host a new contemporary art fair over the Fall dates that FIAC would normally take place. RX Global, which produces both FIAC and Paris Photo, will continue to retain the Paris Photo dates. FIAC’s nearly five-decade life will continue, however, it will need to find a new home, and we look forward to hearing where it will set up shop. The more art fairs the merrier.
This takeover has caused inevitable waves, shaking up the Art industry. In the same breath, the move makes complete strategic sense and will prove to be a win-win-win situation for all: for Le Grand Palais as a venue, for RMN-GP as the keyholder of art and cultural institutions, for the city as a cultural centre, for the country and its economy, and of course for Art Basel.
Instead of focusing on the Art Basel versus FIAC conversation, let’s talk about the “why” endgame behind this pivot.
Isn’t it ironic that throughout all these years, although Paris has held its ground as the heart of the Art world, the city has not partnered with an international art fair organisation that brings a global-meets-local platform and enterprise to the table? Paris does a wonderful job at selling itself, in fact, it doesn’t even need to sell itself, everyone knows that it is one of the best cities in the world for art. But still, as a leading city in the sector, to leverage working with one of the big fair organisations makes a lot of sense.
While FIAC is a formidable, internationally celebrated fair that brings together reputable galleries from around the world, it is a single fair that is physically pigeon-holed to Paris geographically speaking. Whereas other fair organisations think, act, reach, and provide the infrastructure to operate globally and to promote their localised fairs in the same fashion.
Paris, if any city, deserves to stand alongside its peer Art cities and to be promoted and celebrated globally. With a slew of new museums, longstanding institutions, top galleries, and both established and emerging talent who call Paris and France home; combined with France’s rich history as a “tour de force” in the Art world, Paris has every excuse and reason to prominently shine on the global stage by leveraging a global platform that brings the world to Paris and Paris to the world.
Enter Art Basel, the pre-eminent global art fair powerhouse that operates like a well-oiled machine with the infrastructure, the brand power, the know-how, and the engine of support that is MCH Group to provide all of the horsepower needed to launch a Paris art fair that engages all corners of the world, and brings all corners to it.
The Art Basel organisation has had an increasingly strong and welcoming grip on our attention and interest over the past five decades since launching, and with that it has directed the eyes, the ears, and the presence of the Art world and art lovers worldwide to wherever it situates itself. “If you build it, they will come” to the major metropolises and industry centres that host its fairs: Basel, Miami, Hong Kong to be specific. (could not help but paraphrase the “Field of Dreams” quote) Frieze has supplemented the Art Basel fairs through its own art fair chapters in London, New York and Los Angeles. Both of these organisations have played a significant role in reinforcing these urban centres as Art cities, and their presence has played a noticeable role in helping to grow the respective local economies.
So, it’s about time that Paris, as one of the greatest Art capitals of the world, get its skin in the game and take the stage: to receive the local-meets-global art fair love and attention that it rightfully deserves, to have the opportunity to showcase everything that Paris has to offer in the realm of creativity via an entity that provides global infrastructure and stature, and to benefit the local economy just like its peers have.
“With its incomparable history and contemporary dynamism, Paris is uniquely positioned as a pivotal epicentre of the international cultural scene,’ says Marc Spiegler, Global Director, Art Basel. ‘We aim to build on Paris’s unparalleled standing as a global metropolis to help create a vibrant week that even further amplifies the city’s international resonance as a cultural capital.”
The opportunity for Art Basel arose in late 2021 when RMN-GP called for bids on the October dates leased by FIAC over the years, and for Paris Photo’s November dates. Art Basel and MCH Group saw a prime opportunity and swept in with a surprise bid. According to ARTnews the October slot over seven years comes with a €10.6 million price tag, and Paris Photo has been renewed for the November slot for a reported €7.5 million (both prices exclude technical costs). The bid was won on Wednesday, at which point Art Basel signed the contract and the rest is history. Now the work begins. The seven-year length of the contract was for “the long-term visibility required to ensure their positive development” as stated in the press release from Le Grand Palais.
“Art Basel Paris'' will not be the name nor the direction of the fair. Rather the organisation will be developing an identity and brand specific to the Parisian fair, where the objective will be to place Paris and France as a rich Art and cultural centre in focus and to celebrate it with the world, while bringing in international galleries to exhibit alongside their French colleagues. It will be a newly named event that marries Art Basel’s five-decade history and global platform with the cultural heritage of Paris, bringing together artists, collectors, curators and gallery owners from all over the world, and uniting Parisian cultural actors beyond the glass-enveloped Grand Palais (technically the first two years will take place in Le Grand Palais’s temporary venue Grand Palais Éphémère, then will move to Le Grand Palais in 2024 once the restoration is complete). As in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong, Art Basel will work closely with Paris’s museums, private institutions, galleries and other cultural spaces, to create an active cultural program from morning to night, all week, and throughout the city.
Le Grand Palais conveyed in their press release that Art Basel and Paris Photo “have showcased their ability to strengthen the international reputation of the events that they will be responsible for organising. They have committed to highlighting the contemporary artistic creation of the Parisian and French ecosystem—especially it’s emerging new talents—that will create further synergies with cultural and creative industries, in line with the artistic and cultural project that has been developed for the reopening of the Grand Palais.”
Art Basel and MCH Group will be adding more (wo)man power on the ground in Paris to run operations locally. “To deliver this ambitious new project for Paris, Art Basel will establish a new French entity and employ a dedicated team on the ground, as well as work closely with France’s gallery community and ensure their strong representation in the fair’s Selection Committee,” the press release states.
“This is exciting news not only for MCH Group.” says Beat Zwahlen, Group CEO. “Our Art Basel team has done a tremendous job preparing a compelling bid, and I’d like to thank the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais for their trust in us. This is another step towards our goal to ensure the long-term success of MCH Group, and it’s gratifying to see that our strategy is beginning to bear fruit.”
In 2020 James Murdoch’s private investment company Lupa Systems took a controlling stake in MCH Group, and has been a key driver behind the Paris move. Well played, James, well played.
The Paris announcement comes just two days after Art Basel’s parent company MCH Group announced that it is reclaiming a minority stake of 15% in Singapore’s new Art SG fair launching (at last) in January 2023. MCH Group had originally taken a stake in the fair in 2016 which was originally supposed to launch in 2019, then the group subsequently divested its holdings as it rejigged its fairs strategy.
As murmurs of “is the physical art fair disappearing” have been heard in recent years, Art Basel’s and MCH Group’s new investments and commitments this week is proof in the pudding that they are not just here to stay, they are expanding.
And the more that the art world expands, the happier we are.
Bring on the art.
See you in Paris.