‘I have sometimes supported young artists before they become the rising stars of very large galleries. I take pleasure in detecting the future talents of tomorrow,’ enthuses Michael Dupouy, a collector and tireless surveyor of art fairs. In recent years, private initiatives to support young artists seem to have multiplied in France, notably through the commitment of enlightened collectors. New prizes, grants, artist residencies, and exhibition venues have emerged on the artistic landscape. Collectors are investing in the future. This observation is corroborated by analysis in the latest Survey of Global Collecting published by Art Basel and UBS, which reveals that confidence remains strong among collectors in 2023 despite the major geopolitical turmoil that has impacted the global economy. And among collectors, the French turn out to be the most optimistic – and with good reason: French billionaires saw their wealth increase by 7% last year. The report also notes that the act of collecting remains first and foremost a choice motivated by personal pleasure, ahead of financial investment.

The study also highlights an increasing openness around exploring new artists, with the share of acquisitions of works by already known artists dropping slightly compared to 2022 (- 4%), and in France significantly (from 65% to 44%). ‘The focus has shifted to new and emerging artists in Germany, France, and Hong Kong, where they have accounted for more than half the works in collections,’ writes Clare McAndrew, the author of the report. Couple this indication with the fact that, in 2023, French artists attracted the strongest interest from international collectors – topping the podium in 8 of the 11 regions surveyed (Brazil, Mainland China, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, UK, and US) – and the emerging French scene looks set to rise. This is confirmed by the fact that France is also at the head of the list of places where collectors want to buy in the coming months.

Guillaume Houzé is one of the key players in all these changes. General Director of the Galeries Lafayette department store chain, in 2001 he launched Galerie des Galeries, a 300 m2 exhibition space dedicated to contemporary creation, at the heart of the flagship store on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. This venue was a forerunner of the Fondation Galeries Lafayette, of which Houzé is president, and in 2018 Lafayette Anticipations opened – an exhibition and production space housed in a building designed by Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA. Houzé explains, ‘Above all, it’s a machine for seeing, planning, and producing, built around a production studio, a program of residencies, exhibitions, and transdisciplinary encounters – all at the center of an extremely dense institutional and curatorial ecosystem.’ Close to artists and driven by a family tradition of collecting, he mentions the pioneering figures of his generation – Tatiana Trouvé, Mathieu Mercier, Saâdane Afif – who have inspired his personal collection as well as the program of the Galerie des Galeries and, later, Lafayette Anticipations: from Mimosa Echard and Xavier Antin in 2014, to the exhibitions of Pol Taburet and Cyprien Gaillard last year.

Houzé also refers to the partnership between the Galeries Lafayette group and Paris + par Art Basel, which began with the first edition of the fair and is manifest in the group’s support for the Galeries Émergentes sector. He underlines ‘the exceptional work done to refocus on the young art scene, as well as on the quality of French production.’ What’s more, each year, within this sector, one artist is selected and offered an exhibition and residency at Lafayette Anticipations the following year (while the exhibiting gallery then benefits from the reimbursement of their stand fees). This was Akeem Smith of Heidi gallery in 2022 and Mohamad Abdouni of Marfa’ Projects in 2023. ‘Via the support with our “Emerging Scene” program via Lafayette Anticipations, we also discover the disruptive potential of young international galleries,’ he adds.

The idea of including emerging artists in a professional ecosystem is shared by the property developer Laurent Dumas,

Président du Conseil de surveillance of Emerige, who has just celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Emerige Revelations bursary, created to ‘connect young people leaving school to the art scene.’ In 10 years, 70% of the artists selected (12 per year under 35 years old) have gone on to exhibit, join galleries, and enter private or public collections. Passionate about French creation for over 20 years (his collection numbers some 2,000 works, 65% of them by French artists), the collector is also pleased with the ‘1 building, 1 work’ initiative, cofounded with the French Ministry of Culture. ‘Today, it’s the leading program for commissioning living artists in public spaces in France, with 750 pieces in 6 years and over 80 member promoters.’

‘Emerging and young artists dominate my collection,’ continues Dupouy. ‘I essentially support galleries that discover artists. I also sometimes buy directly from artists who are not yet represented.’ His commitment also includes the publication, once a year, of ALL GONE, the bible of street culture. The latest opus, which has just been published, notably reveals a collaboration with the artist Daniel Arsham on its cover. Asked about French creation, he confides, ‘It deserves more visibility and more presence among international collectors. Among the most visible in my international network, Claire Tabouret, Neïl Beloufa, Laure Prouvost, Pol Taburet, and Jean-Marie Appriou spring to mind, but it’s still too few.’

This view is shared by Mamadou-Abou and Catherine Sarr, whose contemporary art collection began 20 years ago. Based between Chicago and Paris, the couple are keen to promote the emerging scene. ‘We collect a lot of young French artists in a spirit of support and openness, so that they can benefit from the connections and network we’ve developed in the US.’ The latter is reinforced by their presence on museum steering committees, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Terra Foundation for American Art, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. ‘For us, accumulation only has value if it’s shared. So we asked ourselves the question of the durability of what we collect and the public use it could have. That’s why we’ve sponsored exhibitions of artists in museums, and why we thought that creating a prize would enable us to perpetuate our vision and offer the French scene an opening to the world.’ So, in 2021 they created, the SARR prize – a €5,000 endowment for three students at Beaux-Arts de Paris, with one of the students also awarded a residency at Villa Albertine, Chicago, a French cultural institution offering residencies in the US. ‘This prize enabled us to structure the desire to be able to export the French scene.’ Furthermore, the couple helps American collectors passing through Paris, who are increasingly seduced by the idea of discovering emerging French artists.

‘Paris is renewing itself, and that’s a good thing,’ enthuses agnès b., a pioneer in supporting emerging artists. In 1984 she inaugurated galerie du jour, then, in 2020, she opened La Fab., an exhibition space which is home to her foundation, housing her collection of 7,000 works. She also initiated the Prix des Amis des Beaux-Arts in 2007. ‘I’ve always been passionate about young artists,’ recalls the woman who was the first to exhibit Martin Parr and Nan Goldin in France. Today, she focuses on young painters such as Valentin Ranger, Enzo Certa, Bruno Gadenne, and Jean Claracq. Thanks to her long-standing commitment, her collection is also able to weave a history of contemporary art across generations.

In this respect, the approach by Dumas takes a similar path, as work gets underway on his future foundation on the Île Seguin, due to open in 2026: ‘A real life, hands-on project, which will showcase artists from the French contemporary scene across all generations,’ he explains. It also corresponds to the current resurgence of the French scene and as he concludes, ‘Today, we’re at a key moment in the rebirth of international interest in what’s happening in France.’

Credits and Captions

Julie Chaizemartin is a journalist and art critic based in Paris. She writes regularly for Transfuge, Artpress and Quotidien de l’Art.

Translation by Art Basel. 

Caption for full-bleed image: Chanel Khoury, Decompression, 2022. Courtesy of Michael Dupouy.