Artmonte-carlo takes advantage of an open fair calendar to entice blue-chip galleries to Monaco

Artmonte-carlo (15-17 July) opened in the glamorous, sun-drenched principality of Monaco with preview for collectors on Wednesday. The mood at the fair’s fifth edition was buoyant despite a decrease in exhibitors from 73 to just 27. Held in a different part of the Grimaldi Forum due to the downsizing, it retains its “salon d’art DNA” atmosphere, with a premier league level of exhibitors. And most galleries have brought over a broad offering to appeal to the collector base in Monaco, which is known as a tax haven for multi-millionaires.

“We’ve never had this level of exhibitors before,” says Thomas Hug, the founder of Artmonte-carlo and Swiss fair Artgenève, adding that he decided to go ahead with the event three months ago, after The European Fine Art Fair (Tefaf) in Maastricht was cancelled, and several international dealers including Dickinson from London and New York and, Waddington Custot and Thomas Gibson, both from London, asked to participate. “It’s an ideal selection [of galleries], and a private jet of German collectors from Munich is travelling over.”

The preview coinciding with Bastille Day in neighbouring France added a layer of celebration to the fledgling event, Hug adds: “When we see all the fireworks, we can think that it’s for our fifth anniversary.” 

The gallerists were certainly pleased to be back in the swing of face-to-face dealing. “This is the first fair we’re doing in person since Tefaf last year and we were desperate to do something in the flesh after all the OVRs [online viewing rooms],” says Max Weaver, the gallery manager of Dickinson, at the fair for the first time. “We’ve brought over pieces that are Modern, bright and Pop Arty, with prices ranging from €25,000 for a André Masson drawing to €2.5m for a Basquiat work on paper, since we had no idea what would sell.”

Stéphane Custot, from Waddington Custot, echoes this sentiment. “We’re here because we were frustrated at being unable to do a fair during the last year,” he says. “Usually, we’re tired after Art Basel but this year we want to work in July.” 

The exhibitors are generally unbothered by Artmonte-carlo’s intimate size. “It’s an opportunity to get the machine working,” says Anne-Claudie Coric, the executive director of Galerie Templon from Paris, which has been a longstanding exhibitor at sister fair Artgenève but is in Monaco for the first time.  The gallery has sold a Chiharu Shiota sculpture, €65,000.

The Parisian dealer Nathalie Obadia, whose sales include works by Laure Prouvost and Fiona Rae, is another first-time exhibitor. Interestingly, Berlin’s Esther Schipper and Turin’s Franco Noero both withdrew from ARCO Madrid and came to Monte Carlo instead. “You can’t do everything and have to choose,” says Noero, who is showing Francesco Vezzoli among other artists. Other early sales include a small Kiki Smith snail sculpture dotted with white sapphires, for €3,000, at Pace, and works by Tracey Emin and Kazunori Hamana at White Cube.

What is alluring for visitors is the consolidation of Monaco’s art scene. “It’s amazing how the art scene is evolving in a very positive way,” says the artist Johan Creten, who is exhibiting ceramic sculptures with French dealers Almine Rech and Perrotin. The auction houses Artcurial, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have showrooms here and international mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth opened a space last month.

The fair is the anchor event during Monaco Art Week (13-18 July), which includes offerings from 14 auction houses and galleries, while the dealers Kamel Mennour and Johann König (not a fair exhibitor) have organised temporary exhibitions, the former in his parents-in-law’s villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the latter in a showroom.

After we cancelled our holiday in Crete because of all the PCR tests, I thought of doing this invitation-only, holiday exhibition, integrating our artists like Camille Henrot and Latifa Echakhch,” Mennour says. “It’s a way of asking ourselves the question: ‘What is a gallerist during a situation of paralysis?”

Although the fair does not require visitors to show a negative Covid-19 test result or health pass, their temperature is measured at the entrance, and exhibitors and visitors wear masks.

Among other fair highlights are Giacometti’s paintings at Thomas Gibson, Lucio Fontana’s ceramics at Robilant + Voena, and Renaissance works at Moretti Fine Art. “We’ve done Frieze Masters and hoped that this simple, elegant fair could be attractive for collectors who don’t specialise in Old Masters,” says Moretti’s director Gabriele Caioni.