Editor’s Note: Each year we ask one perceptive visitor to Paris Photo to collect his/her impressions for an additional perspective on the fair itself and the overall experience – we certainly don’t claim that our summaries are the only intriguing slice of the material on view. Last year, we asked collector W.M. Hunt for his reactions (here); this year we’ve enlisted photography dealer Michael Lee from Massachusetts-based Lee Gallery (here) to give us his thoughts. The comments and opinions expressed here (in the text and in the slideshow captions) are his own.
I’m getting better at Paris. I no longer sleep on the benches in Musée d’Orsay while I wait for my hotel room to open. I’ve graduated to a 17th century apartment building in Île Saint-Louis and can now get in a bed within an hour of arriving at CDG. I have a data plan and can call an Uber. I can even speak enough French to order coffee and a pain au chocolat.
Paris Photo is an important trip for me. It’s as much about buying pictures for the gallery as it is feeling the “now” in photography. I’m looking at secondary market works, but even in that world tastes change, curating evolves, and some pictures pass by and can never be found again. I catch up with many young curators I know in Paris, hopefully over absinthe out in the 11th. If I’m lucky, I get a beer with a collector and discuss the art and sportsmanship of buying early French photography.
My trip this year began at a dealer’s apartment on Rue St. Denis, named after the saint who is immortalized in a statue, holding his head in his hands, above the exit door of Notre Dame. I was bested before I made it in the door. As I arrived, an American dealer emerged with a thin folder holding the pictures I’d hoped to buy. Two days later at the start of the fair I beat the same American dealer to a beautiful Charles Negre. The Negre would be the only picture I’d buy privately this trip. Of course this would happen in the first 10 minutes of the fair.
Paris Photo at Le Grand Palais is a triumph for photography. It’s the best art fair venue in the world and it promotes collecting photography at the highest level. Whether the fair was good or bad this year is irrelevant to me.
I tend to most enjoy booths at the fair that have little to do with my business. A few years ago it was photographs by the Vienna Actionists. Or Viennese? This year it was the booth of Henrique Faria Fine Art. Henrique graciously toured me through his presentation of Latin American artists working in the 70s and 80s. My favorite pieces were tape projects by Jaime Davidovich.
I do my best to look broadly throughout the fair. I try to understand new contemporary work as best I can. I dig for history. I look for what was the avant garde.
The rest of my trip has been filled with museums and endless dinners. It seems that the Americans always find the same new hot spot. This year it’s Verjus. I’m going tonight. Last year it was Spring. I made it to Fondation Louis Vuiton and to the new photography gallery at Centre Pompidou. The Jacques-Andre Boiffard show at the latter was spectacular and the curator, Clément Chéroux, is one to watch. Paul McCarthy’s Chocolate Factory was…different. I’m glad my wife and friends could see that one. I’ve seen more of Paris than I ever have–from Gustave LeGray to Christopher Williams–but I mostly can’t wait to see my daughter tomorrow night.