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  • Van Weyenbergh Fine Art

Merchants sell art without galleries.

Common in England and the United States, the practice of selling antiques in apartments was little used in France until recently. But, for 15 or 20 years, around 10% of French merchants have adopted this format. And it may well be that room work will gain momentum with the unprecedented health crisis that is playing out right now and which has forced the closure of all art and antique businesses.

Not having a storefront on the street implies different types of organization. First, there is the gallery upstairs, open by appointment, like a private gallery, like that of Damien Boquet (paintings and drawings from the 20th and 21st centuries, avenue Hoche, in Paris, like all the antique dealers mentioned in this article). Or open all week to the public, like the Alexis Bordes Gallery (old paintings and drawings, rue de la Paix). During my wanderings in London and New York, I realized that the big galleries were upstairs, that they made several publications per year, that they participated in international fairs, and that that was enough. This formula appealed to me, and I opted for it. In my opinion, the traditional street gallery is a somewhat outdated concept, especially on the Internet, observes the merchant. His colleague, Maurizio Canesso, was one of the first to adopt this formula in 1994, rue Rossini (since 2005, he has been on the ground floor, rue Laffite). It is a real choice not to have a showcase because we are addressing an informed public, who knows us, he comments.

Some work from home, with no exhibition space, traveling directly to the client. This is the case of Virginie Lasala (ancient weapons): I have an online store that shows my field of action with photos on which it is enough to click to obtain the description. Prices and additional information are by appointment, she explains. I have a large apartment that I share with a friend who is a painting broker. It is a kind of showroom, explains Maxime Charron (historical memories).

Others - undoubtedly the most numerous - have a simple office and receive by appointment, like Renaud Montméat (Asian art) who wanted to have less costs and be More mobile, or Jean-Luc Baroni recently returned from London to settle in Place Vendôme, on the same level as his colleague Emmanuel Marty de Cambiaire. These last two models - which most meet current health guidelines - may well have a bright future ahead of them.

An economical solution

Apart from the desire to exercise your profession in all discretion, working in this way may have been dictated by financial reasons, because today owning a gallery on the street is expensive. Dispensing with rents, which are much higher on the street, especially in beautiful neighborhoods, or inventory - which incurs catering, framing costs - helps limit expenses. In addition, the desertion of galleries by customers since the advent of fairs and the Internet could also induce this choice. "I never had a shop, because I observed that there were fewer and fewer passing customers, says Christophe de Quénetain (18th century furniture and works of art). Before, I thought that having a gallery would bring me passing customers, but, in the end, it was very little" adds Maxime Charron, who experimented the street gallery for some time.

Not being visible from the street has several advantages. Confidentiality, particularly in transactions for both purchase and sale, is undeniably an asset. The great collectors and curators of museums are fond of atypical places, a little hushed, out of sight. It is a strong market trend, confirms Alexis Bordes. I became more and more specialized in collector pieces bringing together real collections, so I wanted a place where we could work seriously, carry out scientific expertise. In a gallery on the street, people come in, go out, we are interrupted - even on a friendly basis - which leaves less time for further research, explains Christophe Hioco (Indian and Southeast Asian art, see ill.). For a dozen years, he has had an upstairs gallery in an apartment on rue de Phalsbourg, after having run a boutique for three years. In an apartment, the client can project themselves, benefit from daylight, and stay as long as they want. Some spend the day there!, he adds.

Having only one office is also synonymous with freedom. When you have a gallery, you have to stay there because, in general, customers come to see the merchant, not his collaborator. But I like to do research, I prefer to be in the national archives than in a gallery, says Christophe de Quénetain.

Undeniable disadvantages

But not having a gallery also has drawbacks. Franck Baulme (old paintings and drawings) made the opposite choice since, after having worked in a room, he settled in a Quai Voltaire gallery. Working in a room requires having well-organized clients because appointments must be made; they cannot go unexpectedly like in a gallery. And, if you receive at home, it is not necessarily pleasant to have customers who push the door of your dining room! » Another disadvantage: « When, at a trade show, you announce to a customer who wants to review several objects that you do not have a gallery and that the objects are leaving in stores, it does not always like to have to make an appointment you »admits Virginie Lasala. Likewise, having only one office does not allow for the organization of exhibitions, one of the main levers for making oneself known.

How to make yourself known without a store? The merchants who have opted for this discretion make up for this lack of visibility thanks to the salons, the primary source for making contact, both for purchase and for sale. The network is also essential. Brothers and sisters can send us a client who is looking for a specific item, which they do not have, for example, adds Virginie Lasala. Finally, referencing on the Internet, on a regularly updated personal site or platforms like Anticstore or Proantic, also matters. Many merchants claim to make many online sales. To reach the public, in addition to the major exhibitions we organize and fairs, our site and social networks now allow us to share our discoveries and our work with as many people as possible, in real-time, says Maurizio Canesso.

If the activity of merchant in paintings, drawings, works of art or sculptures is easily practicable in this way, for design and furniture, the street gallery remains the preferred formula - even if large merchants specializing in works of art art and / or antique furniture are installed out of sight in a mansion, like the Kugel (quai Anatole-France) or Steinitz (rue Royale) galleries. Once the reputation is established, whatever the exercise mode, provided that the client file lives.

Le Journal des arts

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