Paris art fair to go ahead despite virus pandemic

January 26, 2023

(9 Sep 2020) LEAD IN:
What’s thought to be the first big international art fair to go ahead physically since coronavirus swept the world, is set to open in Paris.
Gallery owners say COVID-19-related restrictions on travel and congregation is putting an unprecedented strain on their industry.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the cancellation of this year’s premiere global art fairs, stymieing the main commercial artery of the multibillion-dollar industry.
But Art Paris, which is France’s second-biggest contemporary art fair, is opening its doors to thousands of visitors from Thursday in the Grand Palais.
The four-day show is going ahead despite a spike in COVID-19 infections in the country.
Art Paris is the first big international art fair to go ahead physically since the coronavirus swept through the world, grounding flights, triggering lockdowns and devastating commerce.
In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic struck, the global art market was valued at around $64 billion (USD).
“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,” says Art Paris general curator Guillaume Piens.
Organizers acknowledge there’s a “risk,” and say a health team is on-site to evacuate any potential COVID-19 clusters from the galleries.
But they hope that proceedings won’t be marred by any fair-linked infections.  
Nonetheless, amid fears of a second wave, members of the French public have expressed dismay that such a big fair is going ahead.
Art Paris was originally scheduled for April, but it was decided that a Sept. 10-13 slot would be a better fit.
About 6,000 masked guests are set to attend the Paris fair’s staggered opening – down from 17,000 invitees from last year.
Guests this year won’t only pass sellers from 112 galleries, 15 different countries and their art, but ubiquitous bottles of hand sanitizer, and warning signs that clusters of people in small spaces won’t be permitted.
Some art gallery owners and operators are wearing sparkling, art-infused masks to try to create some levity despite the restrictions.
Many of this year’s art fair 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 caught the virus.
Fairs such as Art Basel, Frieze London, and Art Basel in Miami Beach were also among victims of the pandemic.
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, who said the fair was “a very good idea.”
“They have taken measures, there is a lot of space,” she says.
“I think it’s a good idea that they went through with the fair and we are really happy to be here, and we hope that many collectors will come as well and other people, of course, to admire the art available. We can’t keep life on a hold forever.”
Others were more hyperbolic.
“It’s a sort of life and death situation for galleries, and for artists, for businesses,” says Hélianthe Bourdeaux-Maurin, H Gallery director, who is exhibiting at the fair.
COVID-19-related restrictions on travel and congregation have made going to many fairs impossible – especially for jet-setting art collectors who regularly fly thousands of miles to buy art.

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