We went behind the scenes with art dealers looking to make millions in Monaco, the elite city-state smaller than Central Park

It is no wonder that, in the upper echelons of the art industry, the European city-state of Monaco is a haven of peace. The tiny principality, which is smaller than Central Park and known for its fast cars, lack of taxes, and decadent casino, is basically a beloved haven for the wealthy, a place to park the super yacht for a while on the descent of the French Riviera.

“It is mandatory to be in Monaco in the summer,” Antoine Lebouteiller, director of impressionist and modern art at Christie’s in Paris, told Artnet News. Behind us, potential customers examined diamonds in the auction house’s summer showroom at Cipriani Restaurant while suitable waiters mixed with platters of burrata.

Just up the hill from where we stood, Sotheby’s was changing art in its new gallery not far from the newly created space of Hauser & Wirth, where a recently installed Louise Bourgeois exhibition opened last month and was already widely sold. Berlin-based dealer Johann König was also a stone’s throw away, trying out a new format by hanging works by registered artists in a luxury interior design showroom.

The Art Monte Carlo Fair had just opened to VIPs – now in its fifth year, the event is a veteran among a top-notch art scene in full swing of newcomers.

For a newly mobile art world looking for places to congregate in the absence of typical summer tents like Art Basel (which moved in September), Monaco is ideal.

“Monaco is sort of public-private,” one art insider told me. “It’s a bit confidential here.” In other words, nwatch out for the back room when you have a place like this – it’s basically an entire city-state that doubles as a VIP lounge.

The Arte Monte Carlo fair at the Grimaldi Forum with a work by Xavier Veilhan. Courtesy of Perrotin. Photo: Julien Gremaud.

Space creation

More than almost any other city, Monaco has its limits, which makes it even more desirable for glitter. Real estate is hard to find, even for the super-rich. Due to the lack of space, Monaco is literally stacked on itself, hanging from a densely crowded coastline of high-rise apartments from the 1980s – a skyline that a Swiss collector described to me as “totally vulgar “across the table at a dinner party (they attend the art fair every year anyway).

Even the wealthiest collectors have smaller apartments than you might expect here, but an address in Monaco is a precious thing. “They build on the ocean,” said Simon de Pury, auctioneer and columnist for Artnet News. Cipriani roof. Within sight, half a dozen cranes were building Renzo Piano’s $ 2.3 billion “land reclamation” project, which will add 15 acres of false land to Monaco for luxury commercial and residential spaces.

The monumental painting by Matthew Lutz-Kinoy adorns a villa belonging to Kamel Menour.  Photo: Kate Brown

Matthew Lutz-Kinoy’s monumental painting adorns a villa owned by Kamel Mennour for a private brunch. Photo: Kate Brown

For resellers like London and Paris based reseller Kamel Mennour, who has a summer residence on the coast in France, the lack of quality space is in part what prevents him from opening a gallery in town. He and his family hosted VIPs at their beautiful summer home, a 19th century villa dotted with works by artists from the gallery, including a mobile by Petrit Halilaj that hung delicately above a table overflowing with fresh appetizers, near a work in pastel on paper by French artist Camille Henrot, who attended Mennour’s brunch with his family.

Menour, his wife and children strolled while the guests viewed the works, most of which were for sale. “We were supposed to travel now, but because of COVID, I thought I would try this instead,” he said.

Tony Cragg’s sculpture on display outside the Casino de Monte-Carlo, as a preview of this week’s Artcurial sale at the Hermitage Hotel. Photo: Kate Brown

Experimentation also seemed to be the prevailing mood in new Sotheby’s and Christie’s projects. Both have opted for cross-category offers. At Sotheby’s, luxury handbags (including several rare Hermès Grace Kelly bags, named after the princess who wore them to hide her belly during her pregnancy in Monaco, up to € 300,000) were in front of ‘a great Botero work listed for € 1 million at € 1.3 million.

“It’s all about the lifestyle,” said Olivier Fau, head of private sales at Sotheby’s in France. “We want to show our customers that we are there and adapt our diversified offers to them. “

The bet seemed to be paying off. At Christie’s, a new European customer bought a Picasso for around € 250,000 on the restaurant wall, which hung above the cash register.

Still, given the lack of space in the city-state, an ephemeral format like an art fair is a solid option for the larger bell curve of art vendors. The Art Monte Carlo boutique, which can be distributed almost entirely within an hour (it has declined due to the pandemic from 73 dealers last year to just 27 this year), offered dealers a chance to have time with a strong roster of VIPs including collectors David Nahmad, Patricia Marshall, Eskandar and Fatima Maleki, to name a few.

The appeal was clear given the presence of newcomers White Cube, Perrotin, Hauser & Wirth and Pace. (“Something is different this year,” said longtime fair participant Florence Bonnefous of the Air de Paris gallery, pointing to top-notch galleries. She had just closed the sale of a work by 2010 by Dorothy Iannone, for € 20,000 to a Monegasque collector.)

A work by Anselm Reyle exhibited as part of Galerie König's collaboration with Lenzwerk at the Lenzwerk showroom in Monaco.  Photo: Kate Brown

A work by Anselm Reyle exhibited as part of Galerie König’s collaboration with Lenzwerk at the Lenzwerk showroom in Monaco. Photo: Kate Brown

Throughout the show there were signs of caution, with booths dominated by group presentations and very few solo cabins with overt conceptual statements. After a year of upheaval, no one wanted to try something too daring.

Monaco, it seems, is for sale, not for branding or the courtesy of critics. Perrotin sold a large painting by Hernan Bas for € 200,000, and the Turin gallery Franco Nero sold works by Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Falls during the first two days of the fair. Nathalie Obadia, another novice, sold a Mickalene Thomas for an undisclosed price, and two works by Fiona Rae between 50,000 and 100,000 € each, among others.

Thomas Gibson of London, another novice, placed a drawing of Giacometti by Igor Stravinsky with a collector for $ 58,000, surely aided by the artist’s large retrospective held in the same building. The dealer was there alongside a small cohort of modern art dealers, including Dickinson, who was participating for the first time. “With the cancellation of TEFAF, there are a lot of clients that we haven’t been able to see for a while, so we decided to come to them,” Aurélie Maw of the gallery told Artnet News.

A view of the presentation of Christie's at Cipriani in Monaco.  Photo: Kate Brown

A view of the presentation of Christie’s at Cipriani in Monaco. Photo: Kate Brown

Back in town, on the steps of the famous and historic Casino de Monte-Carlo, the French auction house Artcurial organized the exhibition of several outdoor sculptures, including one Tony Cragg – his price range of € 200,000 to € 300,000 listed there on a sign – which will be auctioned on July 22 at the Hermitage Hotel, just past the casino.

In Monte Carlo, everything is just around the corner, accessible via incredibly narrow sidewalks – this is the city of the Grand Prix race, but it’s also a reminder that this is not a place for ‘deserts’. normal people, ”as an art world insider told me.

“We have to bring works to our audience,” said Mark Armstrong, Senior Director of Sotheby’s Monaco. Here, “public” has a very specific definition. Everything from cliff top to new properties atop the ocean is designed for a handful of the ultra-rich, not the general public, who are almost absent.

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About Margaret L. Portillo

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