La Bastille

Twice a year, autumn and spring, around the Colonne de Juillet, Place de la Bastille, where once stood the prison whose storming by the ‘Mob’ in 1789 marked the start of the French Revolution, is a vast 3-day ‘market’ of contemporary art. Some 500 booths, each an Aladdin’s cave of original art or craft, form a rectangle that floats above and across the River Seine and welcome some 40,000 visitors per event.

This autumn’s event was blessed with the abnormally warm weather that has been characteristic of most of Western Europe. It seemed to lend exhibitor and visitor an extra feeling of ‘bon viveur’: outside the stands situated beyond the ‘chapiteau’ – the indoor exhibition space – was a plethora of little tables, laden with wines and sometimes whiskies, pushed up against the walls which plunged on the other side to the River Seine and a flotilla of yachts and flower-bedecked houseboats. Above the chink of glasses and the constant buzz of excited conversation, floated the smoke and smells of sizzling crèpes and gaufres, Normandy ciders and whatever it was that bubbled away at the in-house Corsican restaurant Le Fanfan Gégé. The conviviality of the atmosphere seemed to make everybody keen to talk about their art.

The diversity of the works on sale, at very reasonable prices, could not but have accommodated every taste and purse. Certainly, after my visit, on the platform of the ‘La Bastille’ metro station, I noted a number of visitors wending their way home with canvas under arm.

‘Le Petit Journal du Grand Marché d’Art Contemporain’ – the glossy catalogue handed out in exchange for the entrance fee of 7 euros – included a plan of the event, listing the names and locations of all the artists and galleries exhibiting and indicating the special space reserved for newcomers. A focus of the event was ‘l’Art de la Récupération’: art of the ‘found’ object, which was showcased in an article in the catalogue. There were a large number of ‘found art’ artists exhibiting. It was an opportunity to see the whole spectrum of art being produced from the found object, which ranged from the jokey to what might be called ‘zen’.

Of the latter, I was drawn to the constructions of Imy, an artist working out of one of Paris’ satellite towns. I was moved in particular by one work entitled ‘l’Hermitte’, not much more than a thoughtful gathering together of carefully selected stones and driftwood. The artist was keen to explain her philosophy of ‘intervening’ as little as possible in her chosen objects and pointed out that the head of ‘l’Hermitte’, had taken some considerable time to find. It reminded me in colour and composition of Joachim Patinir’s ‘St Jerome in a Rocky Landscape’ (c1515): and I found her economic use of material and considered approach akin to the poetic form of the haiku.

More ‘interventionist’ was the work of Danielle O’rhan-Horlick, whose intricate constructions were a little reminiscent of medieval ‘tableaux vivants’, silent unknowable narratives and in this, emblematic of the narratives that make up all lives. An aspect of one work was a mosaic floor, its tiny tiles made up of fragments of blue and white china ‘recuperated’ from her garden, each fragment a story in itself. I was curious about the inclusion of a ‘pen’ shell, which I knew as native to tropical seas. The artist, dark of hair and eye, described herself as a ‘Celt’. She is Breton, from between St Malo and Dinan, but has lived in Florida. When she learned my husband was Turkish, she told me she believes her maiden name to be Turkish in origin and touched upon the possible connections between ancestors of the Turkish and Celtic races. Our conversation added extra dimensions to her construction. It was transmuted, into a conglomerate of narratives bringing together disparate geographies, cultures and times. The artist is exhibiting next in Bordeaux during the first week of December, in the second week at the Salon des Singuliers in Paris, at the Salon de Récupération, at ‘Blancs Manteaux’ in Paris’ Marais, from 20 December to 1st January and at a venue in London next year.

Another artist, Francois Arnaud, an abstract painter living in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, was producing interesting work which, although physically ‘heavy’ in medium, was paradoxically, as image, light, airy and delicate in colour. He gave me a card and took my email address, promising invitations to his open studios:

I was also handed an invite to the private view of artist Marie Debrole, who is exhibiting upbeat still life paintings ‘La Gymnopedies’ at the Galerie Garcia-Laporte, 13 rue de Miromesnil, in Paris’s 15th arrondissement from 17th November to 2nd December.

The back page of ‘Le Petit Journal’ is dedicated to the painter Alain Juno: and especially ‘Action Art Tsunami’. This is a fund-raising activity he has organised, helping to rebuild a fishing village completely destroyed when the Tsunami hit in December last year. It is under the umbrella of the Rotary Pattaya Marina, (the first francophone Rotary Club in Asia): (this site is also in English).

Other web sites mentioned in ‘Le Petit Journal’:

My next ‘outing’ will be to Le Marché Regional de l’Art at Conflans, which is situated on the road between the steep medieval town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and Auvers-Sur-Oise where Van Gogh painted 70 pictures (and ended his days).

The art fair at Conflans takes place over two weekends: 19-20 and 26-27 November. Different artists exhibit each weekend.

During 11-15 January I will be at Le Grand Marché d’Art Contemporain Bercy Village, Paris 12th

All these ‘GMAC’ fairs, are open to artists from other countries. I’m not aware that there were any British artists exhibiting at La Bastille. Are these unexploited opportunities for British artists? Has any British artist tried and failed? Or even succeeded?! – click on GMAC and ‘calendrier’ for details of next year’s marchés and if you want to exhibit, click on ‘participer’ for an online form to complete, on receipt of which GMAC will send you a dossier.

Ann Isik