Largely thanks to a wave of new galleries with internationally minded programs, the city has recaptured some of the energy and excitement of a bygone era.
IN CHINESE, THE word for crisis — weiji — contains two characters: wei, which means “danger,” and ji, which means “opportunity.” This conflation is what propelled the art dealers Vanessa Guo and Jean-Mathieu Martini to open Galerie Marguo in the fall of 2020. Guo, the former director of Hauser & Wirth Asia, was visiting Martini in Paris, where he was an independent dealer of photography and art books, when the pandemic struck. As was true for so many around the world, the ensuing pause ignited a kind of reckoning of purpose in them. In a few months’ time, Guo decided to leave her job, stay on in Paris and make her romantic partnership a business one, too. “I used to organize big exhibitions for names like Mark Bradford and Louise Bourgeois, but I realized there’s only so much you can do for established artists,” she says. So while Galerie Marguo is set in a 1,200-square-foot former military complex in the heart of the Marais, among established galleries such as Thaddaeus Ropac and Perrotin, in addition to the Picasso Museum and the Centre Pompidou, it focuses on work by lesser-known international artists — many of them in their 30s and 40s and of Asian descent — whose work the pair feel passionate enough about to collect themselves.
“The Hearing Trumpet,” a recent group show of theirs inspired by the hopeful and radical world building in the artist and writer Leonora Carrington’s 1974 surrealist novel of the same name, brought together work by Asian artists living in cities across the Americas and Europe and exploring questions of identity and identification. Guo describes it as a statement show. “We’re seeing a lot of group exhibitions for Black artists here now, which is so great, but nothing like this for Asian diaspora artists, whose stories can also be uniquely told and united under a common context,” she says. “I think it had a really good impact.” So much so that a second installment of “The Hearing Trumpet,” with work by the video artist Astria Suparak, the ceramist Heidi Lau and others, will open May 7.
Guo also attributes the success of the show to a larger shift — away from stuffiness and localism and toward dealers and viewers who are curious about contemporary makers from other parts of the world — that has been partly driven by social media. At the height of the pandemic, when collectors couldn’t visit their favorite galleries in person, they turned to Instagram and became curious about what else was out there, which, according to the dealer, when restrictions were lifted, translated to increased foot traffic. “People have embraced us despite the fact that Paris has historically been pretty exclusionary to international dealers and artists.”