Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  
    Paris Journal
by Jeff Rian
Almine Rech in her gallery
Marcel Fleiss of
Galerie 1900-2000
James Turrell
installation shot
at Galerie Almine Rech
Nick Hoberman
at Galerie Almine Rech
Nicky Hoberman
Murmaid II
at Galerie Almine Rech
Marcel Duchamp
Apolinère Enameled
at Galerie 1900-2000
People in Paris are saying that the New York art-market boom is a replay of the 1980s. I brought this subject up in a wide-ranging discussion with two Paris dealers: Almine Rech, whose contemporary gallery on rue Louise Weiss in the 13th arrondissement is currently showing work by James Turrell, and Marcel Fleiss, the owner of Galerie 1900-2000 on the rue Bonaparte, near Saint-Germain, who specializes in Surrealism and Dada. I asked them about the market here in France.

Almine Rech: In the last year it's improved. I think that from 1989-1991 the market's growth was all dealer speculation. The dealers and collectors pay attention to that now -- I think the reality is that art passes first through the galleries.

J.R.: What are people buying?

A.R.: Paintings. Recently I had a show of young artists, including Inez van Lamsveerde, Miltos Manetas and an English painter the young Nicky Hoberman. Her paintings were fairly expensive, about $10,000 each. I sold five at the opening. I was very surprised. I would have never thought. Already she's selling for much more in New York. You can even buy a young artist at auction now, but the prices are either too high or too low. For young artists you're better off going to a dealer, who generally has more pieces available, and often at better prices. Now, too, there's a generation struggle. Artists from 30 to 35 years old are being tested. Already at 30 they have years of experience.

J.R.: Prices of '80s photography, works by artists like Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince, are setting records. Are French collectors buying photography?

A.R.: Established collectors buy paintings -- for a lot of money. They're still afraid of photography because it's not an "original" medium. Photography is also a paper medium -- maybe the last one. Collectors are wary of the size of the editions, and worry about being taken. They buy paintings because they already own paintings. They associate painting with the past, with history. Video is an even greater problem.

But photography is gradually becoming interesting. The problem is that art needs a movement for just a few new artists to stand out. But things are starting to change. Older photographs are going up in price, as are prices of works by younger photographers. The new installation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where the curators took a chance by mixing things up, older with contemporary . . . that took courage, I thought.

J.R.: Who do you like right now?

A.R.: I don't know. A lot of photography and video artists. But those are difficult media. We now know who was good in the '60s and '70s. But it's hard to know who's going to be good from this generation.

J.R.: And in France?

A.R.: The problem here is that there are a lot of galleries, but not too many artists, so the competition is tough -- for the galleries.

Across town, Marcel Fleiss said this about the market.

Marcel Fleiss: The market is better. In 1990 everything stopped. Prices had hit their limit. In the last three years it has picked up, and a lot of speculators have also been cleared out. Prices are setting new records, particularly for '80s artists. I think, too, that collectors are not just buying for resale. Maybe they'll sell in 15 years, but that's another story. But there's been another big change.

J.R.: Oh?

M.F.: Auction prices are now listed on the Internet, at the site. Anyone can subscribe for $30 a month and get a listing of all the prices, which makes it difficult for dealers, because the prices are so openly available.

J.R.: Does that mean you only buy privately now?

M.F.: There are always collectors who don't like auctions. Anyway, I specialize in Surrealism and Dada, which is not controlled by New York. Those are perhaps the only movements that sell as well or better in Europe.

J.R.: So who are your collectors?

M.F. They come from everywhere. I sell internationally. But buying patterns have also changed. For example, many collectors are now nationalistic, only buying art by their own countrymen. And there's another thing: often new collectors like to buy at public auctions, in Paris, London, New York -- which is still Mecca. Many also buy with their ears, not their eyes -- things they hear about. But only about 10 percent of all collectors are real collectors. The rest buy for different reasons.

J.R.: Speculation?

M.F.: Visibility.

J.R.: What would you recommend that a young collector buy?

M.F.: Young artists, before their prices take off, and before they're picked up by the big galleries.

J.R.: Who's going to advise them?

M.F.: They have to really want to do it. Passion is work too.

So where does that leave us? It seems that
  • painting is hot -- as it always is when the market rises

  • photography is on the rise

  • video is on hold

  • and everyone is concerned that New York is trying to control the market's surges and valleys.
  • Sounds like the '80s to me.

    JEFF RIAN is a writer living in Paris.