The New Parisian Golden Triangle of Contemporary Art

The artistic heart of the French capital is shifting once again. Having inhabited Montmartre and Montparnasse, Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Marais, galleries are now moving to the eighth arrondissement and the Champs-Elysées. The center of this renowned “Golden Triangle” exquisitely combines luxury with contemporary art.
The Louvre des Antiquaires building, a former antiques mall from 1852, will soon house the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art. © Grégory Copitet/RDAI/SFL

Where can you find the beating heart of Paris? For many years, Montmartre and Montparnasse on the Left Bank were the capital’s artistic center. This role was then donned by Saint-Germain-des-Prés, with its bohemians, existentialists, nightlife, and the Café de Flore, before being snatched away by the Marais and its 17th– and 18th-century mansions. In the late 1970s, after the opening of the Centre Pompidou (France’s answer to MoMA), gallery owners crossed the Seine to set up near the elegant arcades around the Place des Vosges. Having since made names for themselves in New York City, Hong Kong, and Dubai, proudly exhibiting from their booths at the world’s leading fairs, the movers and shakers of the art market are now rushing to the Right Bank. Their destination is none other than the eighth arrondissement – specifically the “Golden Triangle,” a neighborhood flanked by the Champs-Elysées, Avenue Montaigne, and Avenue George-V.

In this well-heeled enclave, they have found a well-established ecosystem for representing their new stars. The area is home to the offices of major auction houses: Christie’s (owned by French billionaire François Pinault) is on Avenue Matignon, while Sotheby’s (owned by Patrick Drahi, another French billionaire) is on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Larry Gagosian, the world’s most powerful gallerist, with 300 employees and 19 exhibition spaces across three continents, followed suit by opening a branch near the bottom of the Champs-Elysées in 2010. He then doubled down in 2021 with another gallery on Rue de Castiglione, a stone’s throw from the French luxury showcase that is Place Vendôme. The American celebrity has since inspired others. While German art dealer David Zwirner, owner offour galleries in New York City, has remained in the Marais, the Swiss team behind Hauser & Wirth will soon be opening their first Parisian space at 26 bis Rue François Ier, halfway between Dior and Hermès.

The Christie’s showroom, at 9 Avenue Matignon. © Christie’s
In 2020, Perrotin opened a new gallery on Avenue Matignon, a stone’s throw from the Champs-Elysées. © Atelier Senzu

Nothing is better than a classical setting for promoting the work of subversive artists. Hauser & Wirth, among others, will be moving into 8,600 square feet across four floors in a private mansion built in 1877. But throughout this urban shuffle, in which trendiness is just as important as the social makeup of the neighborhoods, strong personalities have a huge influence. Both daring and iconoclastic, Parisian gallerists Emmanuel Perrotin and Kamel Mennour – the two enfants terribles of the contemporary art market – adore stirring up controversy. This time, Mennour set the ball rolling. In 2016, to general surprise, the art dealer, who represents Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren, and Ugo Rondinone, coupled his gallery in the sixth arrondissement near Saint-Germain-des-Prés with a second space on Avenue Matignon, 900 feet from the Elysée Palace. Perrotin joined him in 2020. Six months after fetching 120,000 dollars for the latest “work” by his friend Maurizio Cattelan (a banana taped to a wall at Art Basel Miami), he opened his own space on Avenue Matignon as a partner to his mansion in the Marais. The two art dealers are now located next to the offices of London-based White Cube, the mother of contemporary galleries. The former launchpad for Young British Artists, inaugurated in Paris in 2019, now dreams of offering the same opportunities for young French talents.

After Switzerland and Miami, Art Basel Comes to Paris

Left Bank or Right Bank? Why choose? While gallery owners are breathing new life into parts of Paris seen as sluggish, bourgeois, and invaded by tourists, fairs and exhibitions are a stark reminder of the contribution made by these two ventricles of France’s artistic heart. Last October, impressed by the influx of huge names, the American media lauded the launch of Paris+, the first French edition of Art Basel. “Paris is booming,” was the headline chosen by CNN. While waiting for the end of renovation work at the Grand Palais, a Belle Epoque monument on the edge of the Champs-Elysées, the event that replaced the now-defunct Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) was held in the gardens of the Champ-de-Mars at the Grand Palais Ephémère temporary exhibition hall. With its wooden frame and enormous, half-moon window framing the Eiffel Tower, this eco-friendly structure designed by starchitect Jean-Michel Wilmotte will be the setting for events in the 2024 Paris Olympics. It is also the ideal site for welcoming blockbuster exhibitions, including FIAC 2021, Paris+, Paris Photo, Anselm Kiefer, and Le Grand Numéro de Chanel, which has just ended.

The Grand Palais Ephémère, in the gardens of the Champ-de-Mars. © Wilmotte & Associés
The first edition of the Paris+ contemporary art fair, in October 2022, brought together 156 galleries. © Paris+ par Art Basel
The Scheherazade at Night exhibition, which has just ended at the Palais de Tokyo, the largest contemporary art center in Europe. © Quentin Chevrier/Palais de Tokyo

Paris+ by Art Basel – its full name – has rejuvenated the art fair scene. There were fewer exhibitors (156 galleries in 2022), but the event was attended by high-ranking collectors, as shown by the quality of the works (from Joan Mitchell to Alberto Giacometti), the number of sales, and the prices, which often featured five or six zeros! The objectives of this first edition were to break from the million-dollar one-upmanship of the Miami fair, while making up for the event’s newbie status by establishing it within the perpetually changing local cultural landscape. In doing so, Paris has proved its vitality. Other recent symbols of this vigor include the inauguration of the Collection Pinault in the former Bourse de Commerce building, transformed into a temple of contemporary art by Tadao Andō. There has also been an extension added to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in the Marais, a space devoted to the renowned photographer’s work. (Clément Chéroux, the former chief curator of photography at MoMA, is now its director.) Looking to the future, 2024 will see the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art move into the old Louvre des Antiquaires building, a former antiques mall from 1852 which is currently being revamped. Another promising project is the Maison LVMH, “a space dedicated to artistic heritage, live performances, exhibitions, the applied arts and artisanal craftsmanship,” in the Bois de Boulogne next to the building designed by Frank Gehry for the Fondation Louis Vuitton.

The 2019 arrival of the Jeu de Paume museum’s new director, Quentin Bajac (another former MoMA curator), and the rise of a new generation at the head of major Parisian institutions such as the Louvre, the Centre Pompidou, and the 240,000 square feet of the Palais de Tokyo – the largest contemporary art center in Europe – have bolstered the image of a city in tune with the times. Paris now appears to have a red carpet rolled out before it. London is still mired in Brexit, while the Hong Kong fair is constantly being canceled or postponed due to the pandemic. What’s more, the strength of the dollar over the euro is encouraging American buyers… Brimming with museums, hotels, and restaurants, the French capital is putting everything into luxury and art de vivre. “Paris is a moveable feast,” wrote Ernest Hemingway about the city he discovered in the 1920s. A century later, this sleeping beauty of the contemporary art world seems to have sprung back to life!

Article published in the February 2023 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.