In recent years, the Art Basel fairs have been edging towards more openness to young galleries. Not only have they relaxed some of the more stringent criteria for scoring a coveted place in their grand fairs, they are even offering various kinds of subsidy and financial help towards the high costs (and considerable risks) facing a young gallery. Partly this has been driven by conversations within the industry itself — everyone recognises the importance of new galleries, which take on untried artists and attempt to build their reputations and profiles in the marketplace. Even some of the blue-chip players — David Zwirner prominently among them — have called for schemes to help young galleries reach the international stage through subsidised art fair places.
Of course, many small galleries suffer the heartbreak of seeing their artists poached by the bigger outfits as soon as they become successful — but that’s the hard truth of any “feeder” system. The same thing happens in book publishing, with emerging authors. Assuming gallery and artist do stay together, the two grow up in a symbiotic relationship, the success of each feeding into the success of the other.
In its new Paris-based fair, opening this week, Art Basel has finally gone full-throttle and created a section entitled Galeries Émergentes, a home for 16 young and young-ish galleries from a range of countries.
With hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring galleries of good quality across the world, pity the curator who has to make that choice. “Emerging” is a very loose term. And at a first scan of the lists, the choice seems fairly conservative. There are at least two Paris galleries that might be better described as established than emerging: Anne Barrault, which opened in 1999, represents 22 artists and has an impressive record of debut solo shows; the gallery is bringing to the fair the narrative-based video works of Argentine artist Liv Schulman. And Edouard Montassut, already a veteran of A-list fairs such as Frieze New York and Liste, brings photography by Niklas Taleb.
Similarly, Dawid Radziszewski gallery in Warsaw hardly counts as a new gallery, with a solid exhibition programme dating back to 2013 and a strong roster of artists; his showing of Agnieszka Polska, who makes videos, animations and photographs, could prove a highlight.
At the other end of the scale, in terms of experience, there is Heidi from Berlin, whose website is almost non-existent and whose shows seem only to date back to 2021 — but she is included perhaps because she’s bringing along the the achingly cool Akeem Smith, the multimedia artist who makes art from the dancehall scene — Smith grew up between Kingston and Brooklyn — and who has already held pandemic-era events in New York.
Although there is plenty of quality closer to home, you might assume that scanning the world for new talent is one of the aims of an emerging galleries section. It’s perhaps surprising, then, that there is no gallery in the section from the African continent, although one artist is Madagascar-born — Jessy Razafimandimby, with Paris’s sans titre gallery.
Beirut and Bogotá are represented, but there’s only one gallery from further east of the Bosphorus — Antenna Space in Shanghai, whose artist Yong Xiang Li is in fact based in Frankfurt. Li uses a mixed practice — painting, sculpture, music and video — to explore the Chinese diaspora experience. An artist from Japan (though based in Berlin) is Nile Koetting, here with Paris’s Parliament gallery, reflecting a meeting and crossing of cultures with installation work that is a symphony of neon and anime inflections.
Installation is a dominant mode for the artists in this section. Berlin’s Efremidis gallery (established in 2018) brings the bright, enigmatic, Pop-like work of Hannah Sophie Dunkelberg; LC Queisser gallery from Georgia displays Thea Gvetadze, whose work ranges from room-sized installation to collage, with painting and much else thrown in. Marfa’ [sic] gallery from Beirut is showing Caline Aoun, whose installation work is strongly architectural, as is that of Marlon de Azambuja (Brazilian, living in Madrid). His geometric and slightly brutalist vision — his works range from built creations to drawings made with marker pen and architecture templates — is being shown by what sounds like one of the most unusual galleries in the section, Instituto de Visión. Devoted to conceptual practices, directed by women and located in Bogotá and Manhattan, the gallery has been included in Art Basel fairs since 2019.
Three London galleries make the cut: the ever-excellent — but once again, more emerged than emerging — Carlos/Ishikawa, with Flemish surrealist Bendt Eyckermans; east London’s Seventeen gallery, showing the politically loaded video, installation and performance works of Patrick Goddard; and the much newer Nicoletti gallery (established 2018), bringing 30-year-old French artist Josèfa Ntjam, whose practice spans sculpture, photomontage and film.
One English artist is included in these ranks: Sophie Barber from St Leonards-on-Sea. (Once-neglected south coast towns are becoming art-world fashionable, thanks to the Tracey-effect in Margate and a string of recent public galleries.) Barber’s powerful, skilled-faux-naïf paintings are brought to Paris by Chris Sharp gallery from Los Angeles. Other “flat” art is offered by the gentle but mysterious watercolours of Monique Mouton, with Veda gallery from Florence.
With such a range of locations and genres, it is hard to discern any particular themes in this section of emerging galleries, or even to divine what its curators mean by “emerging”. But it is an enticing prospect, and will prove itself by sheer quality.
October 20-23, parisplus.artbasel.com