As art fairs multiply all over the world, Geneva – a city better known for its NGOs, banks and watches – is pushing its way onto the scene. The second edition of the Geneva International Salon of Art, artgenève, has opened its doors.

Niklaius Gruber Opera

Niklaus Manuel Güdel, Opéra, 2005-2011, oil on canvas, Galerie Rosa Turetsky

Article published by on 31 January, 2013: 

“We are aiming for quality, not quantity,” president Simon Lamunière told As former curator of Art | Unlimited, the monumental works section of Art Basel, Lamunière not only brings years of experience in programming contemporary art, he also brought the walls.

The partitions that Lamunière has used to construct a comfortable and effective exhibition space within the immense Palexpo Hall actually belong to Art Basel. The circular pattern, with generous passageways, lounge spaces and the occasional sculpture, is unusual for an art fair.

It could take many years for the Geneva venture to become part of the major art fair league that includes Art Basel (Basel, Miami, and now Hong Kong), the London Frieze, Paris FIAC, Venice Biennale and Maastricht Tefaf, to name only a few.

But that is not Lamunière’s goal: “This is not a fair, but a salon. I wanted to create an intimate atmosphere.”

Broad audience

Sixty galleries are present in this year’s edition, up from 45 last year, including presenters from Paris, London and Berlin. “We are very careful to include galleries from the entire spectrum, so as to appeal to a very broad audience and to propose art for all budgets,” said Thomas Hug, the 30-year-old director, who, with Lamunière, resuscitated artgenève.

A classical musician by training, he became a regular of the art fair circuit as the owner of a small gallery in Berlin. “I didn’t want artgenève to become an exclusive event for connoisseurs only, which is why we have selected a number of young galleries that sell art at incredibly reasonable prices.”

Caroline Smulders

Kimiko Yoshida , Painting (Smiling Girl by Vermeer), 2007-2009, Caroline Smulders/I Love My Job Gallery

One of them is Caroline Smulders, a former Christies expert who recently opened her virtual gallery in Paris called “I Love My Job”. She told that the price tag for most of the pieces she is selling doesn’t even pay for the rental of the walls that they hang on.

“But what really appealed to me was the contest for solo exhibits. It’s a great way to promote new, young artists and I want Emmanuel Regent to win!”

Regent’s scintillating black-and-white renditions of water sell for SFr3,300 ($3,627).

Building a reputation

Other galleries have been around for a long time. Rosa Turetsky opened hers in Geneva 30 years ago. She has been a regular at the Geneva salon, even when it was still part of the Salon du Livre, the book fair, and has witnessed the major changes.

“Collectors have actually come from Zurich for the opening,” she announced enthusiastically on the first night. “The quality has risen considerably this year and I can feel the energy. I am convinced that new doors are opening,” she said.

There is a general consensus that Geneva, as a whole, is edging its way onto the international art scene, at last. It has a lively Quartiers des Bains, where most of the newer galleries are located, and a modern art museum, MAMCO, that unfailingly produces milestone exhibitions in contemporary art.

Yet unlike Basel and Zurich, which have benefited for over 100 years from the wealth generated by industry, it does not yet have a profile in the field.

“Geneva has a very powerful image all over the world, but not in art,” Lamunière observed.

The Future Gallery

Jon Rafman, RV890, Norway, 2011, Digital C-Print, Future Gallery

Private sales

“And yet many of the biggest private sales take place here,” Lamunière revealed.

When the prominent art dealer Larry Gagosian opened a gallery in Geneva in 2010, his arrival generated a lot of buzz. Not surprisingly, the gallery holds one of the largest and most central stands at artgenève.

In answer to the question of why Gagosian chose Geneva, the gallery’s representative explained that Larry Gagosian had always wanted a space in Switzerland, and that by opening here, he wanted to show confidence in the market, especially the higher end of the contemporary art market.

Of course, artgenève has its share of vapid young things in pretty dresses posted as sentinels to guard, and occasionally sell, some of the art, as well as elegant, knowledgeable couples floating in and out of the stalls, but by and large it’s a fun environment, well suited to adventurous people who would like to get an idea of why there is such a fuss about art.

A partnership with the cutting-edge Geneva festival Antigel accounts for numerous performances and happenings that are programmed during the salon, including one in which a dancer will enter into an acrobatic dance with an excavator.

Uncharacteristically for a commercial venture, the local museums MAMCO (modern art) and CAC (contemporary art), as well as the HEAD (the art school), are also present at Palexpo. Several art collectors have opened their homes for the event.

Lamunière highlighted the careful planning that went into rallying the entire Geneva art scene around the event. “We don’t want to build a sand castle that will collapse with the first wave,” he said.

Michèle Laird, née Haffner, was an international arts administrator (visual arts and theatre), successively in Paris, New York and London, before moving to Switzerland and becoming an arts journalist.

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