Paris Internationale 2018

Last week I visited Paris during the hyper-busy and buzzy FIAC week and made a concerted effort to visit Paris Internationale, the not-for-profit alternative to FIAC, which is essentially Paris' answer to Frieze. The words 'alternative' and 'not-for-profit' suggest a less shiny, less manufactured art fair, however with sponsorship from the likes of Gucci and the grandeur of 16 Rue Alfred de Vigny, a real architectural wonder sets the scene for some of the world's most impressive and innovative independent galleries.

It was a real treat to spot so many great London spaces, especially Carlos/Ishikawa, Southard Reid and Emalin; despite galleries being from cities as wide-ranging as Hove and Jakarta, nothing felt out of place and, with free entry to visitors too, it's emerging as a great counter-model to the big art fairs we all know and...accept. Paris Internationale was set over four floors in a beautiful building with each gallery having a designated space resembling either a living room, bedroom or bathroom, truly embracing this 'alternative' aesthetic.

Installation view: Simone Subal at Paris Internationale, showing the work of Jesse Wine.
Image courtesy of Art Viewer

New York's Simone Subal and London's Carlos/Ishikawa shared a space on the first floor; it would be interesting to know what the basis of curation or selection was as some pairings seemed quite arbitrary. Simone Subal's showcase of Brooklyn-based artist Jesse Wine was a subtle highlight of the show for me, with twisted and decapitated body parts on white plinths in pleasing pastel palettes making the work even more surreal and unnerving. Issy Wood's darkly distinctive paintings stood out at Carlos/Ishikawa's 'booth' despite their murky tones, with complex narratives, faces and tiny details some eagle-eyed viewers will remember from Wood's recent degree show at Royal Academy Schools. I'm certain her popularity will sky-rocket now that her work is being exposed to new audiences. Similarly, the Beirut gallery Marfa (not from Texas) displayed the Kuwait-based artist Tamara Al Samerraei, whose work in dialogue with Wood's would be incredibly interesting, of course as well as being impressive and poignant in isolation, with Al Samerraei's sharp whites and dark colours somehow becoming soft in stark compositions.

Installation view: Marfa at Paris Internationale, showing the work of Tamara Al Samerraei.
Image courtesy of Art Viewer.

It's quite a mission to retain concentration in an art fair, but in these environments the pieces that catch your eye do so even more when there's a high volume of work to see. At Paris Internationale especially, the faux-domestic setting also mixes things up, and with Alexandra Bircken's sculptures courtesy of Berlin gallery BQ, the paradox of the artist's crude bodily forms on these surfaces enhances the power of the work and makes us consider alternative spaces to display art, as many of the exhibitors are doing in their physical forms. The only real notable example of installation comes from another Berlin space, Isabella Bortolozzi, which stresses the potential of gallery forms and layouts effectively. The surreal makes a comeback as German artist Veit Laurent Kurz employs archetypical horror tropes such as clowns as realistic human-size sculptures in a claustrophobic synthetic 'forest'. This arrangement reflects on the possibility of incorporating set design in contemporary art; it is not something that is discussed as the terminology 'installation' or 'immersive' is preferred, but with such strong filmic properties, there is a certain blurred line in Kurz's work.

Installation view: BQ at Paris Internationale 2018, showing the work of Alexandra Bircken.
Image courtesy of Art Viewer

In a city where it's easy to get swept up in romanticism and the large-scale tourist attractions such as Palais de Tokyo and Fondation Louis Vuitton (the latter has great shows on Schiele and Basquiat until mid-January), Paris Internationale is something of a respite from both the vast queues and the elitism that is rife in the larger more renowned art fairs. The show feels like a space for experimentation but more importantly a chance to see the direction in which young and exciting art galleries can showcase their artists and ideas in an outstanding location. In keeping with the art world and indeed the real world, all the galleries had a highly international outlook and maintaining these networks in Paris will refresh the art lover's interest in contemporary art if it has been fatigued by the big gun art fairs. 

Installation view: Isabella Bortolozzi at Paris Internationale 2018, showing the work of Veit Laurent Kurz.
Image courtesy of Art Viewer.

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