Paris+ par Art Basel Remains an Approachably Haute Alternative to the City’s Cliché Checklist
Evan Dale // Oct 31, 2023
The rugby World Cup expanded, if not pinpointed, the eternally global mass of tourists visiting the French Capital during Autumn. Paris’s turn to host its annual Fall/Winter Fashion week had just ended, along with a story - seemingly blown out of proportion - about a presumed bed bug infestation. Perhaps some local Parisians planted the Reels and Tik-Toks of crawlers emerging in daylight from the cushions of the Paris metro to ward off those who prod their home with selfie sticks. Can’t blame them if they did. The city itself is the most visited tourist destination in the world, infested without pause by swarms, drawn to a web of well-placed tourist traps amidst the Haussman architecture - albeit admittedly a web decorated with legitimate keystones in global art and intrigue. But, if it’s an escape from the smattering of ill-cultured, flag-bearing, big-bussing sheep that you seek, there is still a city of art and mystery and even the rare moment of quiet to be discovered in the spaces between the Louvre, Tour Eiffel, and Champs Élysées.
If it’s October, may we suggest starting under the canvas of Le Grand Palais Éphémère, where Art Basel has just hosted its second annual grand iteration of the international contemporary art festival. Unlike that in Miami Beach, it is - at least for now - understated in scale - and, too, notoriety - rendering it the largest exhibition remaining in Paris where it’s actually possible to observe art in peace. No pushing and shoving, no strollers to the back of the thigh, and at least a mitigated militaristic effort by the modern world’s legions of wannabe influencers. That alone is worth the price of admission.
If you’re not simply looking for peace, but rather a legitimately artful experience, Paris+ par Art Basel is inarguably that as well. The collection is rotational. Since almost every gallery being exhibited is in the business of buying and selling fine art, a different experience awaits Le Grand Palais every year. And because the exhibiting galleries rarely assign their art to museums or tours, what is hanging from the walls is predominantly art that you’ll never have the opportunity to see again. It’s a layman’s glimpse into the droves of fine art that exist almost exclusively out of the public eye.
Even the work by grandiose, untouchable names - Basquiat, Kaws, Picasso - is mostly of private or galleried collection. Around any turn, a work familiar by its stroke, yet new in its exact form, can accentuate even a casual art observer’s appreciation for the scale of style and the emotion it evokes. And yet surely, the most immersive and unique experiences under the Art Basel umbrella come in the corner of the greater exhibit housing the work of emerging artists. An eye into who’s the next hot commodity in the world of buying, selling, and influencing the wider art market lands a viewer in the strange present of our artful moment, gleaming as an oft-digitized, mixed-media bizarre of modernity’s greater stabs at post-contemporary, coalescing somewhere between sweeping social-statement and AI-generated anti-art. Like a good museum experience, it can be unnerving and strange at times.
But step away from Le Grand Palais Éphémère, and find yourself again thrust into the center of Paris. And then comb your way through the city to unearth what else Paris+ par Art Basel has inspired, either sanctioned or not. Art Basel hosts - as it does in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong - a barrage of industry-led conversations, presentations, and extensively niche galleria across the city, for those looking for the academically infused depth that experts bring into focus.
And just like in Art Basel’s other locales, a collection of further events, inspired by, although not technically tethered to the Art Basel banner, also spring up around Paris. From expanded gallery hours and free galas across the art capital’s breadth, to a Retro Car show at ArtCurial, and countless parties fusing fine art inspiration to peripheral spaces like music and fashion, Art Basel’s influence on Paris has started to become more entrenched. The result is a citywide atmosphere beginning to resemble Miami’s stylistic vivacity brought to even higher heights during Art Basel’s run at the beginning of December.
Without question, Art Basel will soon claw its way out of an identity as the most well-kept secret, hidden in plain site, in the middle of the art world’s sacred center. But as it does - as has already shown this year - it is inspiring something larger, and even more important. Art Basel - in all its cities - has always had a way of organically manufacturing a peripheral, orbiting the festival with local explosions of art, music, fashion, and design. HK Walls - a street art festival in Hong Kong - occurs at the same time as Art Basel. A explosion of mixed-media events - like RhymezLikeDimez's Meet Me On Cloud 9 - pop up across the Miami area during the festival every Winter. And already, in its second year, the Parisian scene is catching wind and making it their own. There will always be more to see than just the festival itself. And although that means undoubtedly that the droves of gen-pop tourism will catch on as well, all it will take is a dive deeper into the Paris underground to see Art Basel’s exponential effect on a city that may already be the most established art center in the world.
Next years Art Basel hopes to move from the Ephémère to Le Grand Palais. Newly renovated, it’s immense glass ceilings will speak to the continued growth of Paris+ for years to come.