“Open the door and leave it like that,” Thaddaeus Ropac tells one of his 60 employees as he crosses the courtyard of his new gallery on the outskirts of Paris.
The Austrian-born dealer has just inaugurated the French capital’s biggest commercial contemporary-art space. He hopes to encourage more visitors to follow him inside, now that the French government has rejected a proposal to include artworks in calculating wealth tax.
Super-size galleries in New York and London are being followed by Ropac’s mega-space, where he is showing works by the German artists Anselm Kiefer and the late Joseph Beuys. Larry Gagosian has also just opened a new space on Paris’s northern rim with a Kiefer show, in a week when galleries at the Fiac fair have been vying for the attention of choosy buyers.
“I was surprised Gagosian decided to open with Kiefer,” says Ropac, who had been the first to approach the French-based artist 18 months ago. “Actually, it turns out Paris has profited from all the attention. I’m quite relaxed about it now.”
Ropac, 52, has converted a former boiler factory at Pantin -- a site on Paris’s eastern rim reachable by Metro -- into a 50,000 square-foot (4,645 square meter) complex. Gagosian has chosen an old 17,760 square-foot industrial building in the north of the city at the private-jet airport of Le Bourget.
France’s Socialist government is planning a 75 percent tax band on all income of more than 1 million euros ($1.3 million). The country’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, is seeking dual Belgian citizenship.
“High taxation has scared people,” says Ropac, wearing a dark suit and open-necked white shirt. “If these measures are introduced there will be an exodus of wealth. Then again, governments have been discussing this for the 22 years I’ve been in France.”
Ropac maintains his original Paris gallery in the Marais district -- where Beuys’s 1982 “Stag Monuments” have been curated all over again by Norman Rosenthal -- as well as two spaces in Salzburg in his native Austria.
“We found we were limiting the vision of our artists,” he says. “We couldn’t take four-ton sculptures by Antony Gormley. If you give them an ambitious space, they will produce their best work, and that is easier to sell.”
The Pantin project, designed by Buttazzoni & Associates, combines a main building of four hall-like galleries with a smaller structure for performance works.
Though the area has long been a hub of cultural activity -- Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain is based nearby -- Ropac is keen to emphasize that he is an art dealer, not a museum curator.
“We are a commercial gallery, and we have artists we represent,” he says. Ropac is offering original elements that were first used in Beuys’s 1969 performance, “Titus Andronicus/ Iphigenie,” sourced directly from the artist’s estate.
The specially made cymbals that were used in the piece are priced at 1 million euros.
The original performance had a white horse that stood in the background. An understudy has been placed in the gallery and spends the day happily munching hay. The animal isn’t for sale. Ropac is asking 2.5 million euros each for vitrines containing further pieces crafted and appropriated by Beuys, whose influence on 21st-century artists is due for reassessment, he believes.
Ropac is optimistic about the “mega-gallery” model, despite the expense of running such spaces, diminishing demand from French-based collectors and certain other buyers, and concerns about overproduction by artists such as Kiefer.
Global auction sales of contemporary art from June 2011 to June 2012 were 859 million euros without fees. That was 55 million euros down from the year-earlier period, according to the French-based analysts Artprice in a report published earlier this month.
“This is a good sign,” Ropac says. “When the middle and lower ranges are inflated, I’m not happy.” Destination galleries such as Ropac Pantin, showing quality works by the most museum-worthy names, continue to be a draw for chauffeur- driven collectors.
The inauguration dinner for the new spaces was attended by 40 artists and 25 museum directors, Ropac says, who estimated that 80 percent of the “normal“-sized works in his Kiefer show, titled “The Unborn,” had found buyers.
Smaller paintings by the artist are priced at about 500,000 euros and have a waiting list. The artist’s monumental works are a more challenging market and “aren’t flying” out of the gallery, he says.
“Paris is still one of the great international centers of the art world,” Ropac says. “About 80 percent of our buyers are from Europe and America. The rest of the world will be along in a bit.”
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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