The new Fine Arts Paris and La Biennale fair started with lackluster sales, but dealers still hail the merger as the ‘beginning of a renaissance’

Fine Arts Paris & The Biennale, a new fair merging two former competitors – Fine Arts Paris and the antiques and arts fair La Biennale – opened yesterday at the Carrousel du Louvre in feverish excitement. Replacing two former rivals, this new event, which runs until November 13, capitalizes on the expertise of both.

“Last year, the two fairs took place within a few weeks of each other, so we thought it would be interesting and wise to have a fair bringing them together,” said Louis de Bayser, president of Fine Arts Paris & The Biennial, at Artnet News. “Each show had about 56 exhibitors last year; we gathered 86 of them for this event.

Bayser, who chaired Fine Arts Paris (founded in 2017), discussed the possibility of partnering with the Syndicat National des Antiquaires (SNA), the national union of French antique dealers, which founded La Biennale in 1956.

“Our vision is to establish a generalist fair, bringing together fine and decorative arts, African and Asian arts, books and manuscripts, and to develop it through the specialties of dealers,” explained Bayser.

Charles Meynier, France, in the guise of Minerva, protecting the Arts (1818–19), at Bayser’s Gallery. Image courtesy of Galerie de Bayser.

“Collectors who might come to see drawings can look at a tapestry, a sculpture, a painting or an object that they did not plan to see. Stimulating surprise is the first step towards expanding someone’s collection,” added Bayser, whose painting stand includes that of Charles Meynier. France, in the guise of Minerva, protecting the Arts (1818-1919), a preparatory drawing, priced at €60,000 ($60,700), for a painted ceiling in the Louvre.

Next year, the fair will be held at the Grand Palais Éphémère later in November, as Paris Photo has already booked the venue for the second week of November. Fine Arts Paris & La Biennale will move to the Grand Palais when the space reopens in 2024 after major renovations. “The idea is to grow step by step,” Bayser noted.

For Anisabelle Berès-Montanari, president of the SNA, the merger of the two shows was a necessity. “It was ridiculous to have two fairs practically at the same time; Paris deserved a big fair,” she said, adding: “Collectors received too many invitations and didn’t know which fair to choose; we had to adapt to people’s demands.

His gallery stand includes Georges Braque’s bird painting, Bird (California. 1957–58), priced at €320,000 ($323,760), and Simon Hantaï’s abstract works developed through a folding method, priced at €150,000-€1 million ($151,760-$1 million).

Georges Braque, Bird (circa 1957-58), at the Galerie Berès. Image courtesy of Galerie Berès.

Berès-Montanari added that the SNA “didn’t sell anything” in terms of La Biennale’s brand name: “The new fair is just an agreement between two important entities”.

Formerly an unmissable and resplendent meeting of the Parisian artistic calendar, La Biennale had lost its luster during its last editions. Mathias Ary Jan, vice-president of the SNA and former president of the SNA and La Biennale, is delighted with his association with Fine Arts Paris. “I had been dreaming about it for years,” exclaimed Ary Jan.

Referring to how the landscape of fairs has irrevocably changed over the past decades, rendering SNA ill-equipped to manage La Biennale, he said: “We gave our time benevolently to organize fairs, but we are not not event organizers, and today a fair must be organized by [fair] professionals, not resellers.

The new fair is supported by the event company Agence d’Événements Culturels, owned by nine dealers (Hervé Aaron, Bertrand Gautier, Gabriel Terrades, Sylvie Tocci-Prouté, Antoine Lorenceau, Bayser, Xavier Eeckhout, Florence Chibret-Plaussu from Galerie La Presidency and Alfred van Lelyveld) and the magazine knowledge of the arts, published by The echoes. The Cultural Events Agency is at the origin of Fine Arts Paris and also manages the Salon du Dessin.

“The Biennale was in decline but at its height, around 2012 and 2014, it was the most beautiful fair in the world, art and excellence. French-stylesaid Brussels-based African art dealer Didier Claes. “It was an internal war that put an end to La Biennale and it was a mistake to let the jewelers go because they were bringing their clientele, their glamor and their means [to present scenographic stands].”

“It’s the beginning of the renaissance,” added Claes, who has sold works from Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The highlight of its stand is a life-size Urhobo wooden sculpture from Nigeria of a seated, bejeweled, high-ranking man, priced at €750,000 ($758,800).

Indeed, Anthony Meyer, a Parisian Oceanian art dealer, is adamant that the fair is “opening a new era”. He said: “We have to pull ourselves together and our show on the road. I believe that we have passed this period of complications and various problems.

For Giovanni Sarti, the director of the Galerie G. Sarti specializing in works from the Italian Renaissance, the French fairs should have merged years ago. “When Paris Table [a precursor to Fine Arts Paris, with some of the same founding galleries], was taking place, I had the idea that it could have been presented as part of La Biennale at the Grand Palais,” he said. “But the two identities didn’t blend together.” When asked if Sarti had expressed his thoughts to the organizers of the fair, he replied: “I am a voice in the desert.

Exhibitors are enthusiastic about the new fair. “It’s a great idea because it means that La Biennale, a long-standing fair, receives input from a younger fair,” said Daisy Prevost-Marcilhacy, director of the De Jonckheere gallery in Geneva, which presents the pair of Jan Brueghel the Younger paintings, Allegory of Taste and allegory of hearing, priced at €950,000 ($961,150). Highlighting how the fair needs to grow, Prevost-Marcilhacy remarked, “It’s like a movie, you need great actors and a good cast. We must have the best of the best of each specialty.

Yup’ik shamanic mask from northern Alaska (19th century) at the Flak Gallery. Photo: Danielle Voirin. Image courtesy of Galerie Flak, Paris.

Didier Aaron’s French dealer Hervé Aaron, who sold a 19th-century painting by Théodore Gudin of sailboats on the Garonne in Bordeaux, for €20,000 ($20,230), during the preview of the show , said: “Now we have to work together to become even better and attract bigger and more international dealers who will bring their international clientele to Paris. Next year we will have 20 more stands. He added: [TEFAF in] Maastricht was not created in a year.

Meanwhile, tribal art dealer Edith Flak was more concise about her first impressions of the fair. “It’s an interesting synergy,” said Flak, who sold seven African, Oceanic and North American works at the preview. On its stand is a 19th century Yup’ik shamanic mask from northern Alaska with a bird on its forehead and feathers and dreamcatchers to attract protective spirits. The piece is priced at €120,000 ($121,410).

Florence de Voldère, presenting Flemish painter Abel Grimmer’s captivating, large-scale landscape depicting people of different social classes ice-skating on a Dutch river, praised the overall quality of the works presented at the fair: “Each brings the best of its traditions.”

Many dealers have expressed their wish for the new fair to gain prestige. “The objective is to give Paris, which is a paradise for collectors, a historic art fair at the height it deserves, not necessarily like TEFAF or BRAFA because our fair is above all Parisian,” said 19th-century art dealer Bertrand Gautier, who sold Victor de Grailly’s tree study (€8,800; $8,900) and a landscape by François Bonvin (€15,000; $15,180) during the opening.

Also on display at Talabardon & Gautier’s booth is August Kopisch’s beautiful dark red sunset, priced at €385,000 ($389,520), which will be included in an exhibit at Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany in 2023.

August Kopisch, Sunset (1845) at the Talabardon & Gautier Gallery. Photo: Guillaume Benoit. Image courtesy: Galerie Talabardon & Gautier, Paris.

It remains to be seen how the fair will develop. The Biennale showcased a wide range of areas, including contemporary art, fine jewelry and design, but these areas have been narrowed down to this new fair. Although Fine Arts Paris & La Biennale has several modern art dealers, such as the Galerie de la Beraudière with its exhibition inspired by Germaine Richer’s sculpture studio, two contemporary art dealers and a few jewelers, there are no galleries specializing in design.

Will the design return? “Maybe we’ll discuss it,” says Sylvie Tocci-Prouté of the Paul Prouté gallery, which sold two Goya prints.

Although sales at the preview were subdued, with one dealer saying they were “happy rather than very happy”, exhibitors remained buoyant. “Paris has a huge card to play for this to be a major event internationally,” said contemporary art dealer Christophe Gaillard, who sold an abstract wooden sculpture by Richard Nonas for €48,000 ($48). $560) and two paintings by the Roma artist. Ceija Stojka, at the price of €10,000 to €15,000 ($10,120 to $15,180).

His contemporary art dealer colleague Éric Dereumaux of RX would like to see “five or six contemporary art galleries” next year. “There’s a lot of competition this week,” he said, noting that Luxembourg Art Week, Paris Photo and Art Dubai are all taking place this week and how galleries such as La Patinoire Royale—former exhibitor Valérie Bach at La Biennale, have opted to participate in the other fairs.

Next year, with a later slot in November for Fine Arts Paris & La Biennale, this shock should be avoided.

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