Art Paris Art Fair: digital art projected into contemporary art


The contemporary art fair Art Paris Art Fair takes place from 31st March to 3rd April, a key date in the spring for modern and contemporary art in Paris. It pursues its rather unusual arts policy to integrate digital creation through its programme of monumental projections of virtual works on the façade of the Grand Palais. This exercise in 3D mapping reflects the concerns of its director, Guillaume Piens, who upholds the approximation between digital and contemporary art rejecting resistance from the elite. This is an opportunity for him to give us the benefit of his expertise, on both the current limits of digital art in the collector market and a model that is perhaps the future of contemporary art. Interview below.

Every evening from 30th March (eve of the opening) to 3rd April, Art Paris Art Fair will project six digital creations on the façade of the Grand Palais. According to what artistic criteria and/or partnerships did you plan this programme?

Guillaume Piens: We began this programme projecting digital creations on the façade of the Grand Palais three editions ago. For the first one in 2014, we called upon Miguel Chevalier (read portrait) who presented his virtual reality installation L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World). Then, last year, we selected three very different projects: Modern Times – A History of the Machine by Mounir Fatmi, with an interplay of Islamic architecture, the mapped waterfall in Universe of Water Particles by the Japanese collective  TeamLab and A Concentric Study by Dominic Harris and Cinimod Studio, with a more ‘optical art’ slant. It is clear that this programme is growing since this year we are presenting six projects.


We had two selection criterias for this edition.  First of all, Art Paris Art Fair 2016 chose to highlight South Korea and digital creation is very ahead in this country. Regarding the three Korean artists, there is a high degree of complementarity. Moon-Pil Shim (editor’s note): exhibiting colourful pictorial compositions in Contemplations is an artist who undertakes substantial work on geometry, reflecting Galerie Lahumière and its historical involvement in abstraction, geometry and concrete works. He takes the same approach as a visual artist and extends it by means of digital techniques.

The duo Col.l.age + (Sho Jang & Min Kim) editor’s note: and their dreamlike connection Hypnagogia draws its inspiration from the famous parable of The Butterfly Dream by the Buddhist monk Chuang Tzu, in which the wise man dreams that he is a butterfly, and upon waking, wonders if it is not rather a butterfly that dreams that it is Chuang Tzu. Kim Joon is an artist who only works with digital, often strong images and in particular many on tattooed bodies. His 3D creation Snake is an animation that shows the body and its movements from a reptilian angle, with saturated bright red and mauve colours. This work may shock some people.

Then, we chose to focus on unusual projects. This is the case with the Swiss proposal from Encor Studio, editor’s note: Duel and audio-graphic vibratory work. They have developed a very interesting video mapping technique that enables them to play with the architecture by deepening the space. Their projections are like windows that open onto other spaces. This is also the case with Antoine Schmitt, with his more algorithmic aesthetic, editor’s note: Façade Life and his lively restitution of an artificial life under duress and for the Azeri collective Hypnotica, editor’s note: and the organic beats in The Breath. I think that it is the only collective that works with video-mapping techniques in Azerbaijan and that therefore provides an element of additional curiosity.

I think that we are the only contemporary art fair to offer this type of performance in France, and what is more on the Grand Palais, an iconic, prestigious building. This reflects our desire to offer a free show to the public and not only to the professionals at the fair. There is a magical aspect to meeting this challenge and providing a light and sound show at such a venue.

You challenge yourself technically and artistically with this programme, produced in partnership with the audiovisual and scenographic event company Videlio. Can you elaborate a little?

Videlio first of all lends us its technical skill, as the implementation of the project is extensive. It requires ten technicians and two nights of tests and adjustments. Precision is vital with this type of architectural projection. The image must fit perfectly within the fixed frame. It is a full-scale work involving ten video projectors with 10,000 lumens and two others with 20,000 lumens! And there are many restrictions as historical façades are involved that are already overloaded. There is also the need to adapt the work requiring close cooperation between the artists and the Videlio technicians. Real collaboration is required from both sides.

We transmit all the irreducible technical points specific to the site, surface, mouldings and lit doorways. Each new space has to be adapted to so that a work of art can integrate and function. Within the scope of these projections on the façade of the Grand Palais, we are nevertheless building two projection turrets specifically for the programme. This requires a lot of authorisation, from the prefecture, from the historical site of the Grand Palais. Obviously we cannot just do it any old way despite the Grand Palais being particularly thrilled by these digital projection programmes.

Integrating digital art into a contemporary art fair to some extent reflects the way in which some big digital art festivals (Némo in France and Elektra in Quebec) attempt to bring together, in terms of both content and form, contemporary art events (the biennial format, the idea of moving towards securing the future of the work with museums, collectors, etc.). Does this approach interest you, as an exhibition curator and of Art Paris Art Fair in particular?

Yes and I think incidentally that the interaction that we are seeking to engage in our programme of projected digital creation falls into this context. The problem is that, in France above all, we like to categorise and these categories create many prejudices. The digital arts are victims of lots of prejudice from the contemporary art world, perceiving it as too event-based, too popular or like a simple technological gadget. We even directly experienced this ‘elitism’ from the bigwigs of contemporary art. At the 2014 event, many people reproached us regarding the kitsch and baroque L’Origine du Monde (Origin of the World) by Miguel Chevalier. 

Miguel CHEVALIER L'Origine du Monde 2014 Grand Palais, Paris from Claude Mossessian on Vimeo.

Contemporary art is sometimes very elitist and we would like to move away from that. We believe in this idea of showing a work of art to as many people as possible, this ideal to be able to open the doors to art wide open. We have convictions. We are very pleased that our digital creation programme reaches people who pass by in their cars or on foot, who stop in the vicinity of the Grand Palais, without necessarily being interested in the fair. That suits us. That’s what happens in Asia, notably in Korea and Japan. In Europe, there are few contemporary art fairs devoted to digital arts. There is Unpainted, a fair that began in Munich, editor’s note: Unpainted Media Art Fair took place in Munich, the city that is home to its parent organisation and in which live presentation cycles known as Unpainted Lab still take place. However, the next edition has been posted on its website to take place in Brussels in April 2016, but how it operates is rather unclear to me.

Behind this coming together of digital and contemporary art, there is also the question of the development of the digital art market. You work with a large number of art galleries. Do you see trends that indicate that this digital art market can integrate the contemporary art collector circuit?

A digital work is based on a programme or is the result of a computer calculation. This raises the issue of medium for the collector, whether the piece is transportable on a USB key or requires one or several computers to function. People who buy art need to buy an object, something formal. Digital art entails specific problems linked to the work, issues of obsolescence for example. This reminds me of the problems with video art at the start, this advent of a new technology and its progression in the world of art.

To my knowledge, the galleries Charlot and XPO are virtually the only ones in Paris to have this inclination for digital arts. Galerie Charlot’s approach is particularly interesting as many digital artists today revisit research undertaken by kinetic artists in the 60s and 70s, on movement and forms, on this ‘optical art’ line. This enables a genealogy of the work to be created that is still of significant interest to collectors. I was immediately attracted by their way of working. They defend their artists – like Antoine Schmitt, whom we are delighted to have in our programme – and this kinetic/digital vision in a very militant and explicit way, but they also fully empathise with concerns among collectors and this need to buy a work that is above all an object.

Does this situation regarding the art collector market enable digital players however to be optimistic about the future?

I think that the future is digital art. Creative studios are being set up, production companies and places like La Gaîté Lyrique or Le Cube, which we contacted with the aim of collaborating (which did not happen due to dates), that do a lot of work to raise awareness. Digital art creates many new possibilities in artistic terms, but in financial terms it doesn’t seem to be taking off. I have the impression that it is still a creative domain where the artists and structures are sometimes in difficulty. This is often the case for new art markets that form. This was the case for example with photography in the 70s. There was a great deal reticence from collectors, many questions about the life span of the photographs, etc. These questions and this cautiousness tend to reoccur as soon as a new medium appears.


Interviewed Laurent catala

Others videos

Universe of Water Particles on the Grand Palais, 2015 - TeamLab - Courtesy Bogéna Galerie - Art Paris Art Fair - 26 > 29 March 

Dominic Harris & Cinimod Studio - A Concentric Study, 2015 - Sarah Myerscough Gallery - Art Paris Art Fair 26 > 29 March 2015 

Art Paris Art Fair, 31st March to 3rd April,
Grand Palais, Paris