03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Evolution of Paris as a Major Art Market

Prior to World War II, Paris and London were recognized as the centers of the global art market. However, New York's embrace of modern artists, such as Pollock and de Kooning, during the post-war era was the beginning of a shift in attention from the Paris art scene to the other side of the Atlantic. New York's embrace of innovative artists with independent ideas established the city's status as the art world's center of creativity and commercial activity alongside London. Paris retained its reputation as a center of old-world art, culture, and wealth, but the city's prominence as a contemporary art scene and a major art market waned.

Recently, however, changes at the art fair FIAC (Foire International d'Art Contemporain) and the French auction market have contributed to Paris's resurgence as an international contemporary art scene, and more broadly as an art market center. First, the high caliber of works exhibited at FIAC, which ran from October 22-25, 2009, allowed the fair to command greater respect in the art world and elevated Paris's stature in the global art market. Second, the city's art market revival can also be attributed to important changes in the legislation governing the internal organization of French auction houses. The expansion of international influence in the French auction market facilitated one of the most prestigious auctions of the year to be held in Paris, and did a great deal to enhance the reputation of the Parisian art market more generally.

This year, FIAC's ability to attract exhibitors showing high caliber works by renowned artists drew international attention and elevated Paris's prominence in the art world. Despite FIAC's long history, the fair had faded from the contemporary art scene since its inception. However, FIAC's recent move to the renovated Grand Palais was the first of several modifications that rejuvenated the fair and allowed it to attract an increasing number of international galleries exhibiting high-quality works by blue chip artists. The French art fair adapted to the selective buying trends in today's economy, where only exceptional works among an established artist's oeuvre are finding buyers. In an effort to further enhance this year's 36th edition of FIAC, fair director Daniel Malingue took audacious steps to attract museum-quality works to the Modern Project, a new section of the fair. Ten international modern and contemporary art galleries, some exhibiting at FIAC for the first time, were invited to participate and exhibit works by some of the major modern masters, including Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Sam Francis, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. Prior to the recession, these masterpieces would have most likely gone to auction due to the large guarantees offered to sellers and high bidding that had come to define auction sales. By the last day, however, the Piet Mondrian priced at $40 million and several others of the masterworks were rumored to have attracted potential buyers. The success of the Modern Project, despite fluctuations in wealth and turbulence in the broader economy, indicated that the French market is capable of attracting prominent dealers, artworks of outstanding quality by established artists, and the necessary buyers. In an economic downturn, FIAC took advantage of the opportunity to prove its sustainability and Paris's relevance in the contemporary art world. However, the strategic direction which FIAC took is only one of several signs that the French art market is regaining its standing.

A second transformation in the French art market occurred in 2000, when the French legislature modified the laws that govern French auction houses enabling Paris to reemerge as a major art market center. The changes affected the once-protectionist industry and opened the French art market to greater foreign competition. Foremost among the restrictive regulations previously in place were those that governed the position of commissaire-priseur, the French equivalent of an auctioneer. According to the previous rules, there were very tight restrictions on both who was qualified to hold the position and the number of people who could become a commissaire-priseur at any one time. Over the past decade, however, the French legislature has liberalized the rules governing the profession so as to open the country's art market to international auctioneers. This has led to the arrival of Sotheby's and Christie's in France and greater competition in the art auction space. The changes also meant that Paris could once again become a major international center for art auctions. In an age where collectors have greater wealth, access to information, and opportunities to acquire new works, the greater competition proved to be a beneficial move for the French market. The changes had such a strong impact on the auction market that the Christie's Yves Saint Laurent - Pierre Berge sale on February 23, 2009 was extremely successful, despite the economic climate in which it was held. The second part of the sale will take place later this month, November 17, 18, and 19, 2009. The modifications in French auction market regulations have drawn both competition and outstanding sales to Paris, further reinforcing that the city has a place as a major art market center.

Paris is poised for resurgence as an important art market as FIAC and the French auction market continue to evolve along these lines. Especially as the economic landscape continues to shift dramatically, the adjustments that have been made in the French art market will only further enhance Paris's ability to attract both the art and the buyers to regain its eminence.