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France and its Parisian capital has suffered in the past couple of years. In addition to a long fixed economic recession, 2015 and 2016 saw terror attacks threatening the counties’ tourism sector, as well as a steadily rising far right movement. Still, despite this gloomy picture, the Louvre remains the most visited museum in the world, and the art world survives as a stable national sector, even prospering, and perhaps more surprisingly guarding a rare capacity for innovation in a country renowned for its resilience to change.
“France has always been one of the art world’s epicenters from many points of view. It is a land of revolutions, but of many contradictions at the same time,” said Antoine Levi, founder of Antoine Levi Gallery, in a recent conversation with Whitewall.
Although some may argue that the French cultural economy’s stability lies in deeply rooted institutions like the Fondation Cartier or Fondation Pinault, it is interesting to note that parallel to these robust establishments is a new art scene based in Belleville that has rapidly emerged. In a short time, these newcomers, mainly from the 20th arrondissement, have managed to sit comfortably beside blue chip galleries at international fairs such as Frieze, Basel, and ARCOmadrid.
Antoine Levi is one of those newcomers, saying, “Many galleries since the last 10 years have grown up very quickly in this neighborhood. This is why with my life and gallery associate Nerina decided to open our gallery in Rue Ramponeau. It is clumsy to talk about ‘freshness,’ but in a way, it is true.”
The gallery was founded three years ago and since then has cast a bright light on the work of Francesco Gennari with a critically acclaimed first solo show “Autoritratto nello studio” in 2014, as well as that of Alina Chaiderov that broke through at Artissima last year, and on more recent pieces by Ola Vasiljeva at the last edition of ARCOmadrid.
“Each of the artists we represent is a pillar to our project. We have to focus on the artists before anything else to generate quality, and thanks to the web developed in Belleville, we have strengthened our office base and program and facilitated the gallery’s international development,” said Levi.
Belleville galleries have quickly grown familiar to the international scene. Balice Hertling, also located on Rue Ramponeau, was one of the first galleries in the area when it opened in 2007. Since 2011, the gallery opened in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, and earlier this year, one of its artists, Neïl Beloufa, had a solo show at MoMA. In Paris, Balice Hertling recently did a show with L.A. artist Puppies Puppies and is now preparing to exhibit the work of photographer Buck Ellison in November, focusing on a certain perversity in the way white Americans run their life.
“At the moment, we are really interested in exploring a certain scene in Los Angeles and China. During FIAC, we will show the work of Yu Honglei, a Mongolian artist now based in China. His work questions the ongoing dialogue between Western and Asian cultures, showing the complexity of this transition,” said Daniele Balice, one of the three founders of the gallery.
Balice believes that the current climate for galleries in Paris is actually more favorable than elsewhere. “No contemporary art gallery has closed in Paris in the last few years, whereas in cities like New York or London, we sadly hear about colleagues closing, hit by the recession and irregular increase of rent—something we don’t really know here,” he explained. “Here, actually, many galleries are moving to bigger spaces or even doubling their surfaces—from more established Kamel Mennour to younger Crévecoeur. This year, we doubled our space right in the middle of the recession.”
In addition to economic advantages, both galleries suggest that the psychological atmosphere created by the recession has been fruitful for the productivity of artists. “This country has known so much metamorphosis and experimentations within the visual and poetic fields. The culture in its wider extent has been an outlet window and a sociopolitical tool as well,” said Levi. “This current crisis of ideology and politics is stimulating a younger generation of artists to speak up and make incredibly interesting work,” said Balice, concluding that things are going well, but that, “in France, we are bad at marketing success. It’s chic to complain. I kind of like it.”
To read more, pick up the latest copy of Whitewaller in Paris this week. And for even more insight into FIAC and Paris Art Week, make sure to check out Whitewaller Paris’ guest editor Judith Benhamou-Huet’s website at judithbenhamouhuet.com.