December 2, 2023

Ketabi Projects, founded by Charlotte Ketabi-Lebard, is in Saint-Germain-des-Près, the neighborhood at the north end of Paris’s tony 6th arrondissement, a cultural and intellectual hub that includes the famed café Les Deux Magot, among whose patrons were Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway. Ketabi’s glass-roofed, single-story space sits in an interior courtyard, enclosed within an alleyway that removes it from the streets where the area’s other galleries are. At its opening in December, and at every exhibition opening since, the courtyard is filled with fashionable young Parisians smoking and drinking champagne.

In early May, the gallery announced it was becoming Ketabi Bourdet, merging with Paul Bourdet Fine Furniture. The eponymous Bourdet was already a business partner of Ketabi-Lebard, and furniture he sourced was exhibited in conjunction with the fine art—Ketabi Projects even put on a solo exhibition of work by Italian architect and designer Paolo Pallucco in March. “We shared the same ideas, same passion,” Ketabi-Lebard said of Bourdet. “So why not the same gallery?”

The two met through their contiguous rises: Ketabi-Lebard became the director of Paris institution Galerie Nathalie Obadia in 2017 at only 25 years old; Bourdet worked for stalwart French mid-century modern furniture dealer François Laffanour before launching his own space in 2019. They attended the same art fairs and had the same responsibilities for one another’s respective galleries.

Combining the two businesses into a single gallery that deals in fine art as well as design isn’t a typical model: Among the few existing examples are Salon 94 and Carpenters Workshop Gallery, both in New York. Ketabi-Lebard noted that this unique arrangement provides diversity to collectors: “Here, you’ll never know what you’ll see.” This eclecticism has upsides for the gallerists as well. “It’s very entertaining to not be bored by the job,” Bourdet said.

There’s also an added business benefit: The vintage furniture pieces need months to source and cash up front to acquire, but the fine art exhibitions can be put on with much shorter notice and provide liquidity as artists aren’t paid unless their work is sold. The profit margins, though, are much greater for the furniture. Ketabi Bourdet’s collectors are lapping up the combined offerings, buying both art and design objects. When I spoke to them around lunchtime on a Wednesday, Ketabi-Lebard unwrapped a recently acquired On Kawara postcard (for a future show), and Bourdet got a text confirming that he’d managed to buy four Robert Wilson chairs.

Ketabi Bourdet’s growth mirrors that of Paris as an art-world capital. It, like Sans titre (2016), is one of several nomadic young galleries that recently have settled into permanent spaces. And international galleries, both small and large, have set up shop in the city in the last few years. In fact, so many global behemoths have cemented their presence—mainly showing secondary-market works—in the 8th arrondissement that they’ve effectively created an art gallery row.

The most recent of these is Hauser & Wirth, who announced a few weeks ago that it was opening a Paris outpost right off the Champs-Élysées. Gallery president Marc Payot said “the timing is auspicious,” especially since the gallery has been looking at locations in the city on and off for the past 15 years. The Paris scene, Payot said, “has taken on palpably fresh vibrancy with the arrival of a new generation of talent at the museums and foundations.”

The new Hauser & Wirth gallery, like many of its neighbors, will occupy an entire hôtel particulier (town house). Its four floors cover just over 8,600 square feet, with the ground and first floors as exhibition spaces. Payot also notes that the gallery will be close to Paris+, Art Basel’s new Paris fair, which will be initially held across the river in the Grand Palais Éphémère next to the Eiffel Tower in October. Ketabi-Lebard says some collectors have told her they may no longer go to Art Basel in Basel if Paris+ proves to be good—Paris is cheaper and has other attractions to entertain them during their stay.

Another, smaller, international implant in Paris is Dvir Gallery. The Israeli gallery has had an outpost in Brussels for seven years, and opened its Paris space in April. It chose to be in the Marais, formerly the Jewish quarter and more recently the city’s gayborhood, but also where many of the city’s best primary-market galleries reside. Its program focuses on contemporary art, especially sculpture, that leans towards the fantastical. Like Hauser & Wirth, a Paris location was always something Dvir’s directors considered and the timing “felt like the right moment,” according to co-director Yotam Shalit-Intrator.

Speaking with gallerists, Brexit is the most commonly cited reason for renewed interest in the Parisian scene. “London is no longer the center of the European art world,” Ketabi-Lebard said. With London now having added taxes—as well as being harder to get to—after leaving the European Union, Paris, with its already existing cultural cachet, was the obvious choice.

Ketabi-Lebard called this influx of attention a “revival of France as the art-world hub.” For galleries and artists, France has always been important due to its concentration of institutions and active collectors. These include the uber-collecting Arnault and Pinault families, who not only are the largest shareholders of the two largest luxury groups in the world, but also have their own institutions in Paris: the Fondation Louis Vuitton and the Bourse de Commerce–Pinault Collection (which opened last year). Without all these ingredients in Paris, “people would not come,” said Ketabi-Lebard. But come they have, and, if the last year is anything to go by, their numbers will only grow.


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