How will Paris+ par Art Basel be different? we are asking the new director Clement Delepine.
It’s important to stay humble. We need to understand the context we’re working in: We’re indebted to a great tradition that is not our own, to circumstances we didn’t create. In Paris, expectations, ideas, and habits have been shaped over 47 years through the work of Fiac (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain). I would never pretend that we come with some sort of sacred fire. This is a Parisian moment; a moment Art Basel can nurture to serve a community of galleries and institutions.
In the long term, I would like Paris+ par Art Basel to be different in the sense that I’d like to broaden its scope across the city; a fair where collectors can discover places they wouldn’t normally go. For instance, I’d like to expand the Sites program to include locations beyond the center of Paris.
The ‘+’ in Paris+ refers to a multidisciplinary approach that has been presented as fundamental for the fair. Could you tell us a little about this?
I’m more interested in a cross-disciplinary approach, rather than a multidisciplinary one. We can no longer consider visual art, fashion, and music in isolation from each other. A great number of artists work at the intersection between them. I’m thinking of artists like Bendik Giske and Laurie Anderson who use music as a medium, or filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2010 and had a solo exhibition at New York’s New Museum in 2011. I could also mention Steve McQueen, Chantal Akerman, and Alain Guiraudie – there are so many examples.
I’m interested in that friction between disciplines, and Paris is fertile ground for this kind of cross-pollination. To my mind, art is like Esperanto; you and I may not speak the same language, we’re not the same person, but art has the power to move us equally. There is a kind of universality to the emotion that art elicits – it’s a form of metalanguage. I like the idea of applying this vocabulary to other creative fields.
The first edition of Paris+ par Art Basel will take place in just a couple of weeks, what are you most looking forward to?
On Wednesday 19 October at 10am, I’ll be there at the door to welcome people coming in and I’ll say to myself, ‘Wow, we did it’. The fair was developed in just nine months and I’m delighted with it. I’m especially happy with the Sites and Conversations programs. It’s with these satellite programs that we create a discourse around the fair. They are also spaces where we can engage with a broader public: they’re free and open to everyone, with or without a ticket.
I’m particularly proud of the Conversations program. I think that Charles Teyssou and Pierre-Alexandre Mateos – under your guidance and supervision – did incredible work. It is everything a talks program should be: it’s witty, intelligent, generous, inclusive, relevant, sexy, funny – and just a little bit off-the-wall, I’m extraordinarily proud of it.
The Sites program is exceptional too. There will be exhibitions in the Tuileries and the Musée Delacroix curated by Annabelle Ténèze, and a project curated by Jérôme Sans at Place Vendôme. And I’m delighted that Alexia Fabre has allowed us to use the Chapelle des Petits-Augustins at the École de Beaux-Arts. Not only does this give us an extra space – and what a space, the chapel was the first museum of France to open to the public in 1795 –, but it also opens up a dialogue with art schools.
What was the biggest challenge in mounting the fair in just nine months?
The biggest challenge was getting a team of 22 people – most of whom had never even met - to work with and for each other, to support each other, and to strive collectively. I’m moved and astounded by the way the team pulled together, and of course infinitely grateful for it. We have people who have joined from Fiac, Christie’s, Paris Photo, and museums, alongside freelancers and others from outside the art world. We were able to create our dream team in no time – they can do anything, it’s humbling to watch.
You’ve worked in various sectors of the art world; at institutions like the Swiss Institute in New York, grassroots organizations like the CACBM art space, and on the commercial side with Paris Internationale. But throughout your career, you’ve always maintained an interest in emerging art. How does that influence your work?
It’s very important to me. At Paris+ par Art Basel, not only have we doubled the size of the emerging galleries sector, but we’ve also placed it at the very center of the Grand Palais Éphémère – it is the fair’s center of gravity. I think that really says something. We want to support galleries that promote emerging perspectives: art by young artists, or older artists whose work has been ignored, or for whom recognition came late. Voices from liminal and marginalized spaces are always the most vulnerable, but in the end, that’s where pioneering work is done. This is where art reflects society the most.
Do you remember the first artwork that really moved you?
Chris Burden’s performance Shoot, 1971, where he is shot at close range by a rifle. I learned later that it was a mistake, but watching the footage for the first time really shook me up. It’s a work that could symbolize all kinds of revolts and protests, even putting aside Burden’s own discourse. This brings us back to what I was saying earlier about art as a universal language. That work still haunts me.
I studied in Lausanne, where the university library adjoins the canton’s fine art museum. At the beginning of the 2000s, they hosted an Olivier Mosset exhibition with maximalist paintings. I’d never seen paintings that big, so of course it made a strong impression on me. For a long time, I was obsessed with minimal paintings and the BMPT group; what can you say with one long brushstroke, or with what you leave out, what can you say without saying anything at all? That is the power of art.
And more recently?
I’ve been quite impressed by artists working in feature-length video form, artists like Melanie Gilligan and Arthur Jafa. At the last Venice Biennale, there was a film by Tourmaline that I found captivating – it stayed with me for a long time.
What do you think makes Paris unique?
The unique thing about Paris is that it’s a city of contrasts, more so than New York. It’s a city that completely confounds our expectations. It’s supposed to be hostile, but in fact it’s very welcoming. It’s supposed to be beautiful, but it can be very ugly. It’s supposed to be dormant, but it is wide awake. It’s a city that is both tough and tender, a city I love, where I was born, but where I didn’t live until quite recently. I live in Paris now, and yet I don’t quite feel that I’m from here. I think Paris is a city that really welcomes those who make the choice to live here and take the time to understand it.
What advice would you give to someone coming to Paris for the first time?
I’d tell them not to talk to waiters in English straight away, to at least say ‘Bonjour’ first. I’d tell them to eat at Georges. I’d tell them not to project their own fantasies onto the city or they’ll inevitably be disappointed. It’s a city where people live, a city that sweats, a city that is worth more than the clichéd ideas people have about it.
What would you like visitors to remember about the first edition of Paris+ par Art Basel?
I’d like everyone to feel welcome. We’re going to host tours for children, for CEOs, for all kinds of people, and we want to treat everyone with the same attention.
Where can we find you on a Sunday?
Walking in Buttes Chaumont park with my son in his Yoyo stroller.
Coline Milliard is Art Basel’s Executive Editor.
Caption for full-bleed images: videos and photographs by Aliki Christoforou for Paris+ par Art Basel.
Translation: Alice Heathwood