Inside the 12th Edition of artgenève, Where Variety Reigns Supreme

It might be strange to associate the feeling of calmness with an art fair, but at the VIP day of artgenève’s 12th edition on Wednesday, that’s exactly what visitors experienced. This is not to say the halls of Geneva’s Palexpo convention center were empty, or that hands were not being shaken. But the pace seemed to be more leisurely, and the buzz more convivial than one might expect from an art fair’s waking hours. Oddly, in contrast to typical fair openings of late, only a handful of the dealers that Artsy observed across the fair looked stressed.

“The people coming here are great,” said Sofía Roldán, a sales assistant at Albarrán Bourdais, which has branches in Madrid, Menorca, and Crete. “The collectors really know what they want, they know what they’re looking for, and I think that’s a lot different from [other] fairs.”

Albarrán Bourdais is making its artgenève debut at this year’s edition of the fair and brought together a clever presentation of artists on its roster, including bronze sculptures by Iván Argote, Claudia Comte, Pedro Cabrita Reis, and Cristina Lucas. Argote’s figurative sculptures—which reference pre-Columbian art and Brutalist architecture—are standouts, alongside vivid, large-scale abstract work by Lucas, made from the 16 elements that make up the human body, including phosphorus and iron.

Bajo el viento oceánico (Rachel Carson) I,II y III, 2022
Cristina Lucas

Albarrán Bourdais

It’s a strong booth in a fair with no shortage of quality across the 80 or so galleries participating in this year’s event. artgenève organizers place particular emphasis on the idea that “variety reigns supreme.” Those who have been to more than a few art fairs might roll their eyes at how fair organizers typically characterize their events in this way, but meandering around artgenève, this ethos of variety does ring true.

It might not be the largest fair in Switzerland, but there are plenty of discoveries to be found here, thanks to a smartly chosen selection of exhibitors that cater to a wide variety of collectors’ tastes. Among them is the presentation by Dubai’s Ayyam Gallery, which specializes in Middle Eastern artists.

“We wanted to bring more of our programming so we really brought five different artists, different mediums, different skill sizes, and so on, just to show what a young gallery does through our programming,” explained Maya Samawi, a partner at Ayyam. Delicate, intense monochromatic works on paper by Sadik Kwaish Alfraji are hung amid scenic abstract works by Kais Salman and pensive double portraits by Safwan Dahoul. “When you feel that everyone is bringing the best they can and the galleries are properly selected, then you want to be associated with such a fair,” Samawi added.

Dream 196, 2021
Safwan Dahoul

Ayyam Gallery

Untitled, 2023
Kais Salman

Ayyam Gallery

Indeed, artgenève is also a fair in which up-and-coming tastemakers rub shoulders with mega-galleries in an unpretentious, welcoming way. Hauser & Wirth, Perrotin, Thaddaeus Ropac, Templon, and Almine Rech are among the heavyweights exhibiting this year, signaling the fair’s strength. Much of this has to do with the caliber of collectors present, which is unsurprising given that the fair takes place in the private banking and wealth management capital of the world.

“We have a lot of collectors who are based around here and come over here,” Maximilian Lefort, a director at Almine Rech, told Artsy. “It’s a nice way to connect with them closer to home.” The gallery, which has just opened the doors of a new space in the upscale Swiss resort town of Gstaad, brought together a typically varied selection of works from its cross-generational roster, including Gioele Amaro, Jenny Brosinski, Johan Creten, Mimmo Rotella, Emma Stern, and Thu Van Tran.

It was clear across the fair that the Swiss collector base is a strong and open-minded one. “It’s nice to meet the Swiss and show them our artists,” said Michaëla Hadji-Minaglou, a gallery manager at the Paris-based AFIKARIS. “This is a very collaborative art fair. So it’s good to show our artists among very big names.” AFIKARIS, which was founded in 2018, specializes in works from the African continent and its diaspora, and dedicated a corner of its booth to works on aluminum by Cameroonian artist Salifou Lindou, whose works capture the energy and rhythms of urban life in textural, affectionate detail. The solo presentation is supplemented by an impressive selection of works from artists from across Africa including Saïdou Dicko, Ozioma Onuzulike, Mouhcine Rahaoui, and Hervé Yamguen.

While galleries remained tight-lipped about sales (one could put it down to Swiss discretion), it was clear that the pace of dealmaking here ticked away with relaxed consistency, with several dealers noting that collectors’ buying decisions are not as quick-fire as they might be at other, more frenetic fairs.

As the first major European art fair of the calendar year (BRAFA in Brussels kicks off just a few days later), it’s no coincidence that artgenève takes place in the middle of Europe’s ski season, and is ideally situated so that visitors can take a break from the nearby slopes at Mont Blanc for a spot of art if they’re so inclined. The crowd at the VIP day was decidedly European (little English could be overheard in the aisles), which is also reflected in the gallery list.

“It’s the fair that sort of kicks off the year [for us],” explained Alexis Sarfati, a director at Paris- and Brussels-based Galerie Nathalie Obadia, which brought a formidable slate of works to view by artists including Valérie Belin, Patrick Faigenbaum, Shirley Jaffe, Robert Kushner, Laure Prouvost, Fiona Rae, Andres Serrano, Joris Van de Moortel, and Wang Keping. “There’s a great pool of collectors in Geneva, so it’s always nice to be able to come back and say hi and present some new works,” Sarfati added.

Meeting this “pool” in one place is also an important factor for many of the Swiss galleries in attendance. At local gallery GALERIE MIGHELA SHAMA, a mirrored floor illuminates a series of new nocturnal, supernatural scenes by David Weishaar in which blue-hued figures find themselves cast among spiderwebs, fauna, and ambiguous backgrounds. The choice of a reflective floor was a deliberate contrast to the paintings, explained Iraj Nabavi, an associate director at the gallery. He also noted the importance of local galleries attending a fair in their own backyards. “There is something very natural about participating in this fair, not only because we’re happy to take part in ongoing networking with local collectors we have, but we also see it as support to the Geneva scene,” Nabavi told Artsy, adding that the gallery’s commitment to the local scene is further emphasized through showing the work of a Swiss artist.

Fainting Spell, 2023
David Weishaar

GALERIE MIGHELA SHAMA

Chemically Induced Magic Unfolds, 2023
David Weishaar

GALERIE MIGHELA SHAMA

Another local gallery in attendance was stalwart Xippas, which has operated a space in Geneva since 2011. “This is the time where we get to meet most of our collectors in just a few days,” said Tristen van der Stegen, a director at the gallery, which also has branches in Paris and Punta del Este, Uruguay. Van der Stegen noted that, while the fair was once seen as “local,” it has now broadened its scope of galleries and collectors. “Quite recently over the years, we have [seen] this extension,” he added.

Among those traveling furthest to attend the fair was first-time exhibitor Pearl Lam Galleries, which has physical locations in Hong Kong and Shanghai. The gallery was attracted to the strong European collector base, though attending the fair is also an extension of its mission to “bridge East and West” through its programming and international presence, explained Alena Ivanova, a director at the gallery. Artists from China, Nigeria, Slovakia, the U.K., and the U.S. were among those represented at the gallery’s booth, which was foregrounded by an imposing, 6.5-by-13-foot diptych by Zhu Jinshi, a pioneer of Chinese abstraction and installation art.

The work is a remarkable eye-catcher in a booth that features works by emerging Welsh textile artist Anya Paintsil, hyperrealist portraits by Nigerian artist Babajide Olatunji, and intense acrylic works by Chinese painter Zhu Peihong. “We do have a lot of interest towards Chinese artists,” said Ivanova. “For us, it’s important to understand local taste, how people perceive art, their perspective, and their cultural scene.”

Tribal Marks Series III #69 , 2022
Babajide Olatunji

Pearl Lam Galleries

Another gallery traveling a little further than most is Montreal’s Blouin Division, which is returning to the fair after a successful artgenève outing last year. Dominique Toutant, director at the gallery, remarked on the strong quality and knowledge of the collectors.

“I feel the clients of our work are cultured enough to go and listen, understand, and also enter into exchange with us,” Toutant said. While the gallery presented a three-artist presentation of works by Zhi Ding, Wanda Koop, and Tammi Campbell at last year’s fair, at this year’s edition, it features a wider breadth of talent from across its program. Among the works included is a sumptuous painting of a golden sun above water by Koop, with whom the gallery has worked for more than a decade. The artist is also currently featured in a solo show at Night Gallery in Los Angeles. “We have seen a growing of interest [in Koop], but she’s always been an amazing artist for us,” Toutant added.

Another highlight is a solo booth of works by Idir Davaine at Ketabi Bourdet, which is among the youngest galleries at the fair, given that it was founded in 2022. The French artist’s abstractions take slices of sunsets, rivers, and the natural elements in between, melding them into evocatively fluid visions. A visit to the fair last year was enough to convince the gallery to participate, noted co-founder Paul Bourdet.

At the booth of Parisian gallery and publisher Dilecta, a series of prints by the likes of Tacita Dean, Thomas Houseago, and Mircea Suciu is accompanied by a solo presentation of paintings by Swiss artist Jean Gfeller. Another discovery of the fair, Gfeller’s paintings depict suited figures caught in drab, ominous corridors, offering a humorous and strange portrait of office life. The booth marked the second appearance at the fair for the gallery, which was founded in 2005. “We organized Gfeller’s first solo show in Paris last year, and it’s the first opportunity, in effect, his first introduction to Swiss collectors,” said Elsa Paradol, a director at Dilecta. “So for him, it’s important. That’s why we decided to come back this year to allow him to find his public.”

Other standouts at the fair included a cross-generational presentation of Minimalist works at Bologna’s P420, which is making its third appearance at the fair; textural explorations at Beijing- and Paris-based HdM Gallery; and a wonderful survey of works from Pablo Picasso to Zao Wou-Ki at Paris gallery HELENE BAILLY.

Level? {NO DATA} #10, 2023
Jean Gfeller

Dilecta

Geography Biography (Mime Marceau), 2023
Tacita Dean

Dilecta

Ultimately, artgenève seems to be in tune with the more relaxed rhythm of its visitors, who did not appear to be in any rush. Indeed, there is plenty for them to take in across the Geneva art world—from the Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement at the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève to events at the Musée d’art et d’histoire, MAMCO, and the Centre de la photographie Genève, among others. Many of these institutions had booths at the fair, several of which were as well attended as those of their commercial counterparts.

After a 2023 that was uneven at best for the art market at large, the spirit of the fair was a combination of bullishness and relief at the attendance of prominent buyers. Several dealers expected a broader crowd from across the continent to come through over the weekend and were confident about the conversations that they were already having. As the fair that fires the starting gun on a packed European art market calendar, artgenève will only tell a small slice of the story of how this year is shaping up. But from the quality of the work on view and the positivity of the galleries Artsy spoke to, it at least appears to be a hopeful signpost.

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