In recent years, the once dominant Old Masters market has been eclipsed by the excitement around the exploding contemporary art sector. There are fewer quality works available in the Old Master category than there are in modern and contemporary art, and the subject matter can sometimes feel stodgy to the younger crowd. So, when ten Paris dealers got together to put on Paris Tableau, a small art fair devoted entirely to Old Masters, they knew they needed a special hook to draw crowds. Enter Jeff Koons.
Koons will be loaning three of the paintings in his Old Masters collection to the newly minted art fair of Old Masters, which will take place for the first time this November 4-8 at the Palais de la Bourse in Paris. The contemporary artist is known to collect Old Masters (his preferences in art were the subject of a New York Times profile last year).
The paintings are Jean-Honoré Fragonard's "Young Girl Holding Two Puppies," "Femme nue, or Woman with a Parrot" by Gustave Courbet, and "Jupiter and Antiope or Venus and Satyr" by Nicolas Poussin. The Poussin has been held in private collections for over 100 years and has rarely been seen by the public. Each of the paintings feature at least partially nude women in erotic poses and are arguably more risqué than the average Old Master painting. The three paintings will be on display — but not for sale — at the fair. The goal is to entice a younger demographic of collectors with the titillating subject matter.
Of the 20 dealers who will be showing their best work in the intimateBourse space, ten are based in Paris and ten hail from abroad. "We have been very selective about the people we have invited," Paris-based art dealer and fair organizer Bob Haboldt told ARTINFO. In turn, he added, the fair is intended for a "targeted end of the market" — collectors serious about Old Masters (plus those onlookers who just want to glimpse Koons's private collection).
The fair launches at a time of economic liberalization in the French art market, a process which is bound to favor the big auction houses over the small one-man-show dealers. In July, the French parliament passed a law allowing auction houses to conduct private sales, which were previously not allowed. While the original regulation may have dampened the market for private sales in Paris in favor of cities like New York and London — where Christie's and Sotheby's both do an enormous volume of business in the back room — it also had the effect of protecting the city's smaller dealers, who did not have to worry about auction-house competition until now. After the liberalization of the law, the major auction houses will begin to move into the sphere of dealers such as the ones putting on Paris Tableau.
Might this fair be a reaction to the encroaching auction houses? Maybe — though the fair was planned months before the new law was passed. Haboldt also pointed out that dealers who sell old masters must deal in the secondary market, meaning that they often get their own inventory at auction. Dealers must compete with the major houses, but also depend on them for their livelihood.
Still, he added that the fair is about promoting the dealers involved. "It's an initiative of a group of people who are basically defending their end of the market," he said.