contemporary art news

How Big is too BIG! Gallery Weekends in Berlin, Paris, and London

Opening this weekend 26 – 28 April 2024 is the mother of all weekends Gallery Weekend Berlin hosting +50 galleries in the German capital. So it seems like a good time to take the measure of the state of gallery weekends as a genre unique to Art Fairs and Art Weeks…

Founded in 2005 by a cooperative of Berlin galleries, GWB was the first ‘gallery weekend’ and was a city full of interesting contemporary art galleries and a local/national government willing to invest in Berlin as a culture capital. The impetus was that Berlin never had a strong art fair though several iterations of Artforum Berlin and later abc (art Berlin Contemporary) never quite worked and struggled to attract international collectors like Art Basel or important German collectors like Art Cologne.

But, GWB managed to establish Berlin as a highlight on the international calendar for serious art collectors- organizing collectors dinners and turning the art fair format on its head. Even though the current local gallery scene(and its Biennale) seems to be struggling lately as collectors have moved on to Paris, Brussels, LA and Mexico City as well as the burgeoning Asian market. GWB cemented Berlin’s profile as an important art destination.

Generally, ‘Gallery Weekends’ don’t work in large cities such as NYC or LA. NYC tried it in the early 2000s- but every weekend in NYC is a gallery opening somewhere… But with the upcoming Paris and London Gallery Weekends– Perhaps a good question to ask is– How big is too big?

LGW has a whopping 150 galleries– while Paris comes in at 94 galleries in four Paris neighborhoods, Pantin and Romainville.

London Gallery Weekend founded in 2020 by Jeremy Epstein (Founder & Co-Director of Edel Assanti) – has done an amazing job of coalescing all the London galleries around building this huge endeavour of dividing the city of London into 4 sectors (East, West, North, and South) and has created an amazing gallery committee of gallerists & gallery directors to curate each sector from key galleries such as Hauser & Wirth, Sadie Coles, Modern Art, Zwirner etc..). Functioning, much like an art fair with gallery selection committees– the weekend and its selected galleries is organised by peer-to-peer curating- because who better know the local gallery scene than the galleries themselves.

LGW also offers a very British “Curated Routes” where celeb Artists and Curators- including Gilbert & George’s favorite lunch spots 😂😂.

Gilbert & George (image courtesy London Gallery Weekend)

This year’s Paris Gallery Weekend event is from 24-26 May, 2024 and has doubled in size since 2020 when PGW founder (& gallerist Marion Papillon) became the director of the powerful comité des galeries d’art (CPGA)– which is Paris’ professional gallery association. Papillon, Owner/Director of Galerie Papillon, become the President of CPGA in December 2019.

Originally she created CHOICES back in 2014 which later became Paris Gallery Weekend to promote the Parisian art scene and the work of galleries. The 2018 & 2019 editions of PGW had been a manageable curated group of around +40 galleries.

Our question about size is not a critique- but more a question about the growth of the contemporary art market along with art fairs + its satellites, auction houses as primary dealers, private galleries and foundations, online platforms and the annoying role of social media. It’s not only that weekends have exploded – its purely a reflection of the market. The role of ‘gatekeeper’ (for better or worse) has virtually disappeared to a form of mass consumption.

For Part 2 will focus more on the direction of the art market as well as round-ups of Berlin, Paris and London as well as additional events in Amsterdam Art Week, Antwerp Art Weekend and Zurich Art Weekend.