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September 20, 2020

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Art Paris goes ahead in spite of the virus

THE coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation of the premier global art fairs since March, stymieing the main commercial artery of the multibillion-dollar industry.

But Art Paris, France’s second-biggest contemporary art fair, opened its doors to visitors on Thursday at the Grand Palais. The four-day show went ahead despite a spike in infections in the country.

Art Paris is the first major art fair to physically go ahead since coronavirus swept the world, grounding flights, triggering lockdowns and devastating commerce.

“We had this conviction that we had to do this fair because it’s so important for the galleries to meet their collectors, you know, after six months of total inactivity. And, you know, everything was shut down, so it’s really essential,” Guillaume Piens, Art Paris general curator, said.

Organizers acknowledge there’s a “risk,” and there’s a health team on-site to evacuate any potential COVID-19 clusters.

The Grand Palais is not seen as a confined space as it has a more than 45-meter-high ceiling, Piens said.

Nonetheless, amid fears of a second wave, members of the French public have expressed dismay that such a big fair is going ahead.

“Really? I don’t think that is very prudent to have so many people together, spreading germs and bacteria. Couldn’t they just cancel it this year like everyone else?” said 26-year-old teacher Karelle Dublot.

“It’s a terrible idea. Does the French government know?” asked Marie Pierre, 31, an unemployed Paris resident.

Art Paris was originally scheduled for April, but it was decided a September 10-13 slot would be a better fit.

Visitors this year won’t only pass sellers from 112 galleries and 15 different countries, but ubiquitous bottles of hand sanitizer, and warning signs that clusters of people in small spaces won’t be permitted. Some gallery owners and operators are wearing sparkling, art-infused masks to try to create some levity despite the restrictions.

Many of this year’s cancellations, including the May edition of Frieze New York, followed the premature closure of Tefaf Maastricht in March, after an exhibitor at the Dutch fair contracted the virus on March 9. It was later revealed that at least two dozen exhibitors and visitors had also contracted the virus. Fairs such as Art Basel in Switzerland, Frieze London and Art Basel in Miami Beach were also victims of the pandemic.

“There have been no big art fairs anywhere in the world since March. Art Paris is a first. I’m quite happy it’s happening, despite the crisis, as people in the industry are just desperate,” said Ian Rosenfeld of London-based Gallery Rosenfeld.

Despite the risks of showing, many in the art industry say that there’s no other option but to start up again, including Ellen van Heijningen from Athens-based P Gallery. “They’ve taken measures. There’s a lot of space ... we can’t kind of keep life on hold forever,” she said.

Small galleries are particularly vulnerable and many are facing bankruptcy.

Art Paris has acknowledged the problem by pledging that the profit from ticket sales will be given to the youngest galleries to help them weather the storm.



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