Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of successful reinvention

Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation
Guillaume Piens, photo by Céline Nieszawer

We are so very pleased to partner with Art Paris on the 25th anniversary of such a majorly revered art fair. 25 years is quite the milestone, what sort of sentiments are there when contemplating this time stamp? How does the passing of time influence the evolution and establishment of Art Paris?

I took over the role of director in May 2011 tasked with giving the fair an identity of its own. Twelve years later, I am proud to say that I have reached this objective: Art Paris does indeed have its own unique character. It is a regional and cosmopolitan fair focusing on discovery that is innovative in the way it sets out to explore in depth the world of modern and contemporary art. Its very individual choice of themes also sets it apart from other art fairs. 

The other reason I feel proud is the way in which the fair stood the test of the COVID-19 pandemic and managed to reinvent itself in the process. In September 2020, Art Paris was the world’s first post-lockdown “physical” art fair and it went on to become the first event to inaugurate the Temporary Grand Palais on the Champ de Mars in September 2021. Six months later, in April 2022, it was also the first fair to adopt a sustainable, life cycle analysis-based approach to its organisation.

Art Paris has grown into a largely international event that takes place in France. What sort of lengths did it take for Art Paris to become as prolific as it did today? And how do you maintain these connections with participating nations from across the world?

The rapid growth of Art Paris as an international art fair is the result of our decision to put another country or continent’s art scene in the spotlight at each edition: Russia in 2013, China in 2014, Singapore and South-East Asia in 2015, Korea in 2016, Africa in 2017, Switzerland in 2018, Latin America in 2019 and the Iberian Peninsula in 2020. 

Taking a closer look at other countries and the visits this choice entails for members of the Art Paris team has lead to strong ties being forged with foreign galleries.

Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation
Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation

The chosen themes that Art Paris is elevating this year are Art & Commitment, then contrastingly, Exile: Dispossession & Resistance. Both of which are spearheaded by two excellent exhibitors curators, Marc Donnadieu & Amanda Abi Khalil, respectively. Could you tell us a little bit about how their perspectives became a perfect fit for constructing this year’s themes? 

Let me start by saying that the two themes, “commitment” and “exile”, are obviously connected. As part of his focus on the French scene, Marc Donnadieu has selected artists who live and work in France, some of whom, like Afghan artist Kubra Khadem, are refugees. Other artists in his selection, for example Duncan Wylie who is originally from Zimbabwe, have experienced exile.

Guest curator Amanda Abi Khalil in charge of “Exile: Dispossession and Resistance” is herself no stranger to the question and her life is torn between Rio de Janeiro, Beirut and Paris. In 2014, she founded the curatorial platform TAP (Temporary Art Platform), which runs artist-in-residence programmes and manages public art commissions and research projects on art in the public space, while focusing on mediation between the art world, geographic regions and society in general.

Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation
Nabil El Makhloufi, La foule X, 2016, Acrylique et huile sur toile, 130 x 170 cm, L’Atelier 21 Art Gallery
Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation
Leyla Cardenas, Irreversible, 2018, Technique mixte, 100 x 70 x 24 cm, Galerie Dix9 Helene Lacharmoise

For you, describe to us what personal significance you have for the themes presented? What sort of meaning are you carrying towards exile & commitment?

For me, both themes resonate with current events: war is raging on Europe’s doorstep, identity-based conflicts are proliferating and the climate crisis is increasingly dramatic – all of these situations exacerbate the displacement of populations. The idea of commitment also evokes when artists themselves take a stand. As Friedrich Nietzsche said: “The artist has the power to awaken the strength to act that lies dormant in other souls”.

As far as exile is concerned, whether chosen or forced upon us, it is always associated with dispossession. Dispossession of something concrete or of oneself. It is a state to be endured. To quote guest curator Amanda Abi Khalil: “Exile is crushing. It leads to apathy, but it is also a catalyst for new possibilities, new imaginings and new solutions that are the result of a different relationship to time, different expectations, a different language and different commitments”. 

Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation
Angèle Etoundi Essamba, Couronne en dentelle 2, 2020, Galerie Carole Kvasnevski
Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation
Lucile Boiron, Partie humide I, Mater, 2022, Photographie, 160 x 110 cm, Galerie Hors-Cadre

Can you tell us a couple things you are most excited about for this monumental art event? What should we anticipate in the coming days of the spring when Art Paris commences?

One reason for excitement is the sheer number of artists to discover, in particular from Colombia, Guatemala, Chili and Turkey, not forgetting Uganda and Morocco, to say nothing of the French scene that is more active than ever. 

I am also very excited by the quality of this year’s selection. We chose 134 galleries from 25 countries from some 350 applications, all of whom are presenting specific, cutting-edge projects. There are 16 monographic exhibitions and more than a dozen duo shows. The two themes, “Art and Commitment” and “Exile: Dispossession and Resistance” will give the fair a unique vibe, especially as, above and beyond the artists selected by Marc Donnadieu and Amanda Abi Khalil, a lot of galleries have taken these themes into consideration. 

Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation
Duncan Wylie, Self Construct (NGZ) #3, 2022, Huile sur toile, 162 x130 cm, Courtesy de l’artiste et Backslash
Art Paris Director Guillaume Piens Reflects on 25 years of innovation and reinventation
RaKaJoo (alias Baye-Dam Cissé), Toi et moi, 2022, Acrylique et huile sur toile, 162 x 114 cm, Datée et signée, Courtesy de l’artiste et Danysz

It is so impressive to learn about how Art Paris is the first sustainably designed art fair. Beginning the efforts in 2022, there have been great efforts to establish a life cycle analysis to more accurately measure sustainability and environmental impact. Please share some details about how this approach has experienced its success since its start in 2022 and what frameworks are in place to continue its method for sustainability. We would love to hear more about the systems that operate in the life cycle analysis.

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is the most advanced tool for measuring the environmental impact of a product or service. It takes into account a multitude of criteria in order to provide a global analysis, listing and quantifying the materials and energy used. By opting for a life cycle assessment, Art Paris has reduced by almost half the quantity of waste produced with a decrease from 25.1 tonnes in 2021 to 13.6 tonnes in 2022 (a 45.8% reduction).

The fair has also reduced its carbon footprint: 80,791 KgCO2eq in 2021 compared to 64,217 KgCO2eq in 2022 and 12 tonnes of materials were reused or recycled in 2022 rather than being thrown away as during previous editions.

Is there anything specific you hope to come from this edition of Art Paris? What would you like guests, artists, curators, and all who are in attendance to consider in their experience?

I’d like to think they will discover talented new artists and feel curious about what they see, while enjoying a convivial atmosphere grounded in a shared passion for art. 

Almudena Romero, The Act of Producing. The Pigment Change. Hand I, Photograph printed on Macrorrhiza leaf Casted in bio resin fossil, 2021.,Fisheye Gallery
Thomas Jorion, Monolithe #3, 2022, Galerie Esther Woerdehoff

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