Innovations and Global Reach - Talk with Art Paris Fair Director Guillaume Piens

March 27, 2016

One of the European biggest and most important art fairs – Art Paris art fair opens on March 31, 2016. This year’s edition brings together 143 galleries from 20 countries. With 58 newcomers, the 2016 edition maintains the 48% of foreign galleries and 52% of French galleries. As all collectors and art lovers know, you can find everything at Art Paris art fair. There are always some of the most renowned world’s galleries; but, here you can find emerging galleries and artists as well. Very important part of the fair and actually one of its highlights is A Guest of Honor section. This year’s guest of honor is Korea, and the visitors can expect to see the latest contemporary art trends from this growing market.

There are a huge number of big art fairs across Europe; so, the level of competitiveness is quite high. Therefore, many art fairs are trying to introduce innovations or new elements that would attract more collectors and more visitors. For example, Art Paris is known for its commitment to digital art, and for its global outreach – galleries from all corners of the world participate at the art fair. But, we wanted to learn more about Art Paris art fair, what is so unique about it and what makes it so special. Therefore, we had the honor to speak with Mr. Guillaume Piens, the Fair Director, and we asked him about this year’s edition of the Art Paris, but also we wanted to hear some of his opinions about contemporary art market, emerging markets, etc. So, scroll down and enjoy the interview!

About Art Paris

Dear Mr. Piens, thank you for agreeing to do the interview with us!

Widewalls: Art Paris Art Fair is certainly one of the most prominent art fairs in Europe. As it appears, there is a high level of competitiveness between all the big fairs. What is it that makes Art Paris unique, what differentiates Art Paris from other important art fairs in Europe?

Guillaume Piens: We make an effort to be different and to cultivate our own identity. Our focus at Art Paris Art Fair is to explore the regions of Europe and go to interesting cities like Zurich, Munich or Milan. What we look for is galleries who work with passion and whose artistic line acts as an antidote to the tendency towards the uniformity we see from one art fair to the other. Art Paris Art Fair is also known for its concentration on emerging art scenes, and every year we have a country or region as guest of honour to highlight that. After our Asian trilogy which featured China, Southeast Asia and South Korea, we are developing a focus on Africa for 2017.

Widewalls: You’ve been holding the position of the artistic director of Art Paris since May 2011. How has the art fair changed over the years?

GP: First of all, I was fortunate enough to meet the Lecêtre family who are the owners of Art Paris. They asked me to take over Art Paris and rethink the event. The first thing we did was to appoint a selection committee. Then we re-organized the way things were done, established a department of communications and partnerships and created a VIP programme with its own manager to look after institutions and collectors all year round. We also travel a great deal to prospect, meet new galleries and attract them to come to Paris.

Art Paris was rebranded as Art Paris Art Fair in 2012. It has become a generalist fair for modern and contemporary art with some 140 galleries with 50% of foreign exhibitors from some 20 countries. It is a European fair with a selection of galleries both local and global, regional and international that focuses on discovery and presents a different geography of the art world that places Beijing, Zürich, Sarajevo, Bangkok, Moscow, Munich, Seoul and Singapore on the map. The concept can be described as cosmopolitan regionalism: the idea that local identity needs to remain rooted and preserved and at the same time be part of a global culture and look towards others, notably the emerging art scenes.

Widewalls: Last year, we saw an impressive number of visitors at Art Paris. Do you believe the high attendance trend will continue? Do you think that the status of Paris as a major European city and one of the main global contemporary art centers helps the art fair to bring together so many people?

GP: First of all, Art fairs in France are really seen as big exhibitions and not just commercial events. Galleries create museum quality shows and the people flock to the opening of the fair because it is an event not to be missed. We get 17,000 visitors on preview day!

Many visitors like to come to Paris in the spring not only to enjoy Art Paris Art Fair which takes place in quite a magnificent and unique setting, the Grand Palais, but also to take advantage of the exceptional cultural wealth of the Parisian museum scene.

Art Paris and Contemporary Art Market

Widewalls: This year’s guest of honor is Korea. How was this decision made, what affected the choice for such curation of the event? Was it based on growing interest of collectors in Korean and Asian art and to which degree?

Also, how would you describe the position of contemporary Asian art on the global art market?

GP: In the past 15 years, we have seen Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Singapore come into their own as places on the global map of the art world. Now it is Korea’s turn. In terms of the number of museums, art centres, foundations and galleries, Seoul, the South Korean capital is one of the richest among Asia’s mega cities. More generally, Korea today is a bit like Japan in the 1980s. The Koreans excel at just about everything: technology with Samsung, automobiles with Hyundai, the cultural industries with K Pop and K Drama, and now on the art scene, their fire power is impressive.

The rise of Korea on the world stage is the reason why Art Paris Art Fair decided to extend this invitation as guest of honour, and also because it comes in the wider context of a year of celebration of friendship between France and Korea which started last September.

Widewalls: Every year, it seems that the number of international galleries has been increasing comparing with the number of French ones. Do you have any specific curatorial focus at the fair that would address this occurrence? What about emerging markets, and emerging regions (i.e. Latin America, Southeast Asia)?

GP: Every year, we do a curatorial focus on an emerging art scene which draws international galleries from abroad.

This year's focus on Korea has brought together 36 Western and Korean galleries, many of which are first-time participants to the fair, representing some 80 artists. It includes the historic masters of abstraction (Ungno Lee, Myeong-ro Youn) and icons like Lee Ufan and Iee Bae, as well as young rising stars such as Kiwon Park who is showing a monumental installation at the entrance of the Grand Palais entitled “Flash Wall” (2014). There is also a programme of performances called “Rituals” with artists Yeesookyung and Young In Houng as well as a series of events throughout the city including a spectacular installation by Chung Hyun called A Man Standing in the garden of the Palais Royal.

Widewalls: Art Paris has a virtual tour of the event that is available to the public; in partnership with Vidélio, the fair presents a selection of monumental digital mapping projections on the façade of the Grand Palais every night for the duration of the fair. In which way do these digital innovations contribute to the art fair other than being a part of a broader recognition of the digital art sphere? Where do you believe today’s art fairs should go when it comes to new media?

GP: I think we are the only contemporary art fair to give such high visibility to digital art, in particular on the façade of a historic and prestigious building, the Grand Palais. There is a magical side to this challenge: to offer a sound & light show on the front of such a prestigious place and make is accessible to all.

Widewalls: Although Art Paris is becoming more international every year, could we presume the majority of collectors will come from France? Could you tell us something about the general or specific preferences of Parisian and French art collectors?

GP: We get about 50,000 visitors a year with many coming from different parts of Europe, mainly neighboring countries like Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom. There is still a majority of French people but the fair is becoming more and more international by the year. When I first arrived only 15% of the galleries were from abroad, now we are up to 50%.

Regarding the French collectors, I would say that they have become less French - centric in their taste, much more open minded and very curious about the emerging scenes from Latin America, Asia or Africa.

Widewalls: In the end, we can say the upcoming Art Paris program is very rich. Which programs or sections would you highlight as must-sees? We’d love a couple of insider tips for all visitors and collectors.

GP: I would recommend taking full advantage of the focus on Korea and take a close look at the Korean platform in the central part of the Fair. I would also make sure you don’t miss the “Rituals” performance programme, and have a close look at the emerging young galleries in the “Promises” section. Don’t miss the central alley, and stay until 7pm to watch the digital projections on the façade of the Grand Palais.

Featured Images: Guillaume Piens (courtesy of; Art Paris Art Fair 2015; Art Paris Art Fair 2015 (courtesy of; Art Paris Art Fair during its 2015 edition. All Images used for illustrative purposes only.