Paintbrushes at dawn as mega-galleries sprout in Paris

Mon Oct 15, 2012 6:16pm EDT
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By Lionel Laurent

PARIS (Reuters) - A white horse quietly munches hay in the corner of a new warehouse-sized art gallery in the Paris suburb of Pantin, an oblivious player in a giant exhibit featuring mud-and-rust-colored paintings, creepy embryo sculptures and a black-and-white projection of an artist reciting Goethe.

Welcome to the world of the mega-gallery, a larger-than-life testament to the booming power of the $1.2 billion contemporary art market and the latest battleground for flamboyant art-dealer players and their increasingly valuable big-name artists.

While the French capital tends to be seen as a sleepy second fiddle to London in terms of market share, today it is staging the latest round of the fight for collector cash as two rival mega-spaces open just days apart with works by the same artist.

In one corner, Austrian-born dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, whose new gallery in Pantin is a 2,000 square-meter space housing a horse, its hay bale and a series of gloomy works by cerebral German artist Anselm Kiefer including doll-sized dresses skewered by branches.

In the other, world-famous American dealer Larry Gagosian - who earned a name-check from rapper Jay-Z on the "Watch The Throne" album - has opened a huge, new gallery at Le Bourget Airport, on the outskirts of Paris, again with work by Kiefer.

Kiefer's purpose-built sculpture of a crushed, caged field of wheat - inspired by a secret U.S. plan during World War Two to turn Germany into a pastoral, humbled land - fills up the entire hangar housing the airport gallery, which is seen as obvious bait for deep-pocketed art buyers from abroad.

"These galleries are a symbol of the business and marketing of art...It's a war machine," said Laurence Dreyfus, art advisor and curator of the 'Chambres A Part' exhibit at France's flagship FIAC contemporary art fair.

"Gagosian is especially targeting a clientele that lives in the air. They land, fill their boots and take off again."   Continued...

General view of 'Morgenthau Plan 2012' art works by German artist Anselm Kiefer during a media visit at the Gagosian Gallery in Le Bourget near Paris October 15, 2012. REUTERS/Charles Platiau