A visit to Françoise Pétrovitch's atelier

Francoise Pétrovtich

Pétrovitch (b. 1964) lives and works just outside of Paris in the town of Cachan, a short RER ride from the city where she teaches at Ecole Estienne.

Her home abuts a busy street. Upon walking through the gate, all is calm. To the right is her home, but it’s to her studio we are drawn, a contemporary structure overlooking a lovely garden. Inside, it’s truly her world -- her space is precisely layered with 20 years of works in many media: painting, watercolor, ceramic, etching, glass, photos and videos. She’s truly a virtuoso.

Pétrovitch's work

Her work is both delicate and sensitive and at the same time, questioning the cruel naïveté of our universe of dreams. Her works often represent the fragility of human and animal bodies, with a special focus on childhood and daily life. Familiar and personal scenes that tend toward the universal by focusing on narrative detail, without staging the landscape to which the body belongs. Pétrovitch sees no distinction between art and craftsmanship, and is always interested by layers, transparencies and colors.

Her works embody her ambivalence about life, the transience of the beauty, the vanity or the world, the foreshadowing of death and decay, the fragility of bodies, her fear of the inevitable destruction of cherished things, and her technique, especially with color washes, hints at her wish for escape. Each work, she says, starts with the search for art, which then leads her to choose her medium, and ultimately the work itself.


Pétrovitch’s works débuted in the mid-90’s at Galerie Polaris, then RX, and now Galerie Semiose, where she is represented by Benoît Porcher, a former student from École Estienne school of applied art.

Financial awards

She has consistently received a generous level of support from French regional contemporary art funds and art centers, with exhibitions throughout France including in Caen, Toulouse, Annecy, Pougues les eaux, La Rochelle, and Saint-Claude. Her larger exhibitions include: Musée d’Art Moderne of Saint-Etienne (2008), Chapelle de Thonon les Bains, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris (2011) and a residency at Manufacture nationale de Sèvres for ceramics.

Shows & holdings

She’s had international solo shows in Rome, Berlin, Japan and New York at French Institute Alliance Française (2012), and is held in many public and private collections.

Currently, she’s exhibited in Bruxelles at Galerie Antoine Laurentin and at Institut Bernard Magrez in Bordeaux (catalogue «Échos» Fr/Angl., Beaux-Arts de Paris éditions) . A big solo show is planned in Musée des Beaux-Arts de Chambéry, her home town, in 2014.

Buying in the atelier

Before you go

The first question is always, how do I get invited to an atelier?

Well, ask your art advisor if you have one, if he or she has access to any artists’ ateliers, or suggest names of contemporary artists you’d like to meet. You may know or meet artists, and by all means ask if they’re interested in a visit.

You should know when you visit an atelier that the artist has likely spent considerable time tidying and preparing for your visit, hanging and organizing works. So be mindful that not only have they spent time in advance of your visit, but you’re cutting into their working time.

Also know that some ateliers get quite chilly during the winter -- dress appropriately!

If you want to buy something you see at the atelier, here’s what you need to know:

If the artist is represented by a gallery:

  • the gallery is usually representing the whole work of an artist, even what is still at the atelier and even if the sale is happening totally without its intervention. Then, you can see the various pieces and then proceed by buying and paying through the gallery (which will take the usual 50% of the price).


  • It could occur that the artist and his gallery have an agreement only on few pieces or a particular series only, then you can buy directly from the artist as the work is outside of the gallery’s agreement.  Expect lower prices in this case.


If the artist does not have gallery representation:

  • She or he is the only one in charge of discussing the price and the way of payment. Be ready to face such problems as: unset prices, lack of will to sell, etc. It is easier to manage once you develop your buying experience.

If you have an art advisor:

  • If you don’t have your art advisor on retainer (meaning paying on a monthly or percentage basis), he/she will or negotiate his/her commission with the gallery or add it to the artist’s price if the artist is unrepresented.

Reminder: if you are buying as a foreigner for delivery outside of France, you shouldn’t pay the French VAT. It may become important as the government is considering raising that tax from 5 to 10%.

November 15: ParisPhoto

Whoa! 55,240 visitors at ParisPhoto this year -- a thousand more than last year!

Here are our notes in case you missed anything for the myriad reasons one could miss things -- distracted by great images, blinded by sunlight, lost, hard to hear... it was a wild one and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

12 photographers to watch

  • Pieter Hugo, Galerie Stevenson: South African photographer specializing in portraits and society subjects from South Africa

  • Valerie Belin, http://valeriebelin.com Galerie Obadia in Paris, Edwynn Houk in NYC and Michael Hoppen in London. French photographer who creates huge photographic collage or “superpositions”, in color for the most recents.

  • Olivier Metzger, Galerie Bertand Grimont. Former student at School of Fine Photography in Arles (best French school for photo in the city hosting a great festival every summer) making narrative series.

  • David Hilliard, Galerie Particuliere. American photographer whose current series focusses on a father-son relationship with recomposed images taken from various angles.

  • Stan Guigui, Galerie Particuliere lived in a drug-gang controlled neighbourhood in Bogota, near the President’s Palace for three years and made portraits of the inhabitants.

  • Penti Sammallahti and Sarah Moon from Galerie Camera Obscura

  • Vee Speers, School Gallery

  • Nicolas Dhervillers, School Gallery

  • Hiroshi Sugimoto, Fraenckel Gallery. Famous photographer well known for his black and white shots of thunder and light.

  • The Finnish school of Photography and Gallery Taik : Johan Esquilden, Santeri Tuori, Sandra Kantanen

  • Sophie Ristelhueber, galerie Poggi

  • Du Zhenjun, galerie RX


Focus on the Finnish School of Photography, in Helsinki

(From Wikipedia)

The Helsinki School refers to a loose group of photography artists, still studying at or already graduated from the Photography department of Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. This specific photo-education is based at the Aalto University, School of Arts, Design & Architecture which is the largest art school in Scandinavia with 400 teachers and nearly 1700 students, of which 14% are from abroad.


The approach towards photography changed about 30 years ago when the focus on strict photojournalism seemed to change. New teachers brought in new ideas, such as Pentti Sammallahti who encouraged students to perceive themselves as artists, as well as British photographer Martin Parr, who served as visiting Professor in the department for 2 years at the end of the 1980s bringing his own international outlook and experience as a pioneer of the new British photography movement of the time.

Timothy Persons has been Senior Lecturer since 1982 and is currently Director of Professional Studies at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. Persons brought a new way of thinking into the school. He created a virtual gallery, Gallery Taik, which represents outstanding students on international art fairs such as Art Forum, Berlin and Paris Photo.

Helsinki School Internet pages at www.helsinkischool.fi [1].

The Photography department at University of Art and Design Helsinki's internet pages at www.taik.fi [2].

Art of teaching

When selected to the Helsinki School group, students are pushed to: produce series of photographs, thinking about a concept and realizing it, to prepare portfolios that are of international standard, to present each other's work, to write artist statements about their own work and learn both the history of, and the practice of, conceptual art. While students also learn a lot regarding the practices and history of photography as art in the actual curriculum of the Photography department, they are not, contrary to popular belief, pushed to become conceptual photo artists unless they choose to apply to The Helsinki School.


It is impossible to name one style or genre within the Helsinki School. In that way the school isn’t a “School” or movement historically speaking. But what they all have in common, is an intense and precise aesthetic awareness. They work with thoroughly planned concepts and whole thematic series. Finland hasn’t got a long tradition of photography so the style of the artists from the Helsinki School isn’t as self-referential or self-conscious as the Japanese or the American photo-artists’.

“...The photographic art being produced in Helsinki cannot be easily categorized by style, theme or material. The artists’ personal visions, techniques and presentation vary widely. (…) While most of the art is conceptually based and many of the photographs feature the northern light typical of Arctic and sub-arctic regions, a light that can lend an elegiac, lyrical quality to the works, there is no uniform “look” unique to the Helsinki School. Rather, it is the approach taken to making photographic art that is uniqueliy its own and uniquely Finnish in intent, design and execution.” Ferdinand Protzman


Focus on PhotoBooks

We didn’t have much time to discuss photo books, though we left you in that area at the end of the visit. Here’s what you need to know!

Photo books consumed a sizeable portion of the floor at ParisPhoto this year. The booths were incredibly crowded, especially if a named photographer was there signing.

It’s testament to a flourishing industry rejuvenated by the rise in self-publishing. Of the 20 books in the Paris-Photo/Aperture First Book shortlist, 14 were self-published.

Photo books give photographers new ways of storytelling, which can be very rewarding to collector and photographer both. And, while more expensive than regular books, they allow both the photographer and collector a better, more affordable way to indicate the range of a work or series.

Like art, while you can buy them online, they are better appreciated and considered in person, where a buyer can enjoy their heft, the quality of the workmanship, and the resonance of the printing inside. Indeed, photo books are increasingly sophisticated in terms of the materials used in their construction.

As collectibles they are usually more affordable than photography prints, and may increase substantially in value. For photographers, a book is better able to represent the range of the artist’s work or series.

Big name publishing houses include Steidl, Phaidon, Hatje Cantz, Taschen, and smaller houses, specialized in photos only, include Xavier Barral, Filigranes. All exhibitors at Paris are on this list. There is also a dedicated photo book fair at the same time as Paris Photo, called OFF Print.

If you’re interested in photo book collecting

  • look for limited editions, special prints, signed copies, and smaller, independent presses

  • follow blogs like, if your French is up to snuff, OurAgeIs13.com , and Aperture, the award-granting body at ParisPhoto



November 8: Photography & Galleries

Collecting Photography

Things to consider ...

1.  who is the artist ?

2.  name of piece of art ? date ?

3.  technique used ?

4.  number of prints ?

The 70s marked the beginning of photography as a collectible art form. Photographers moved from printing unlimited copies, to the model used by lithographers. This is essentially a representation based on trust of how many prints are to be printed, and it relies on the honesty of photographers, their printers and galleries.

Prints are now typically (but not always) sold in series, with a defined end-point. Editions are usually between 3 and 15 prints, in various set sizes (small, medium, large format). Gallerist and photographers can decide to make the price increases when the prints are sold. The earliest prints are the least expensive, after which prices increase up to the end of the series. Prices will also vary based on the size of the prints sold. There are usually two extra prints, not for sale but for the artist’s record: there are named Artist proof (AP) or Epreuve d’artiste (EP). These prints can however end up on the art market, especially if the artist is recognized after his death.

A photographer has more often an oral than a written engagement with a gallery insuring exclusivity in one country. Known photographers can have a gallery in several big cultural cities like London, NYC, Berlin, Milan… At an international art fair, his or her work could be presented simultaneously in a few galleries’ booths. The galleries keep track between themselves of the edition numbers and prices for available pieces.


Printing & display techniques

The first decades of photography were very experimental and innovative. The earliest photographers, many of them French, used raw materials as egg white (albumen), salts or starch to fix images, first on paper, then on glass. It was a long, slow while until the discovery  of the film process that allows a very easy and democratic use of photography.

Most photographers today use digital printing, even if they still use film photography.  The negatives are scanned to print in professional studios. It is not possible to print the currently popular large, color formats in a darkroom.

Sometimes photos are backed with aluminum (‘contrecolle’) and they can also be face mounted to plexiglass, a technique and patented manufacturing process called a diasec.  This adds brightness and depth to a photo, and is currently in vogue.  BUT the plexiglass can be easily scratched and irreversibly damaged, which lowers the work’s value.


Learn more

  • A concise introduction to the history of photography.

  • Here’s a quick historical timeline of developments in photography from photo.net.

  • A fun look at how art photographic movements map to major art trends.

  • Here’s a very good article on current trends in photography collecting, from Blouin ArtInfo.  

  • A great glossary of photographic terms can be found at the Ansel Adams Gallery site. It’s useful to familiarize yourselves with them so you can better understand exactly what you’re buying.


Gallery Visits (by Deborah)

Galerie Particulière

(Audrey is extremely friendly, relatable and informative, great art - A+)

Kate MccGwire: finds old showcases and displays art within, ex: the feathered “snake”

Ethan Murrow: American, 37 y.o.  Graphite drawings, large formats.  Figures are always of him and/or his wife.

David Hilliard: Photographer. Latest series about a man named Eric and his relationship with his father. Eric has OCD and his father is a hoarder.

Galerie Rabouan Moussion

Erwin Olaf, photographer - “Berlin”

Very posed, WWII feel, Nazi Germany... “J’essaie toujours de créer une tension dans mes images.”

Themes : pornography, racism, audacity, exploitation, Down’s Syndrome series, disturbing/provocative imagery.

Galerie Thaddeus Ropac

(one of the biggest galleries)

Yan Pei-Ming, very famous contemporary Chinese painter living in Paris

Grey-scale paintings, large-scale, acrylic/oil (?)

Themes : military, freedom, war, corruption

Galerie Karsten Greve

(another very important gallery)

Cy Twombly: died 2 years ago.  Exhibit looks like scribbling to me.  One of Carolyn’s favorite photographers.

Ed’s note:

To this point, says Wikipedia:

Kirk Varnedoe thought it necessary to defend Twombly's seemingly random marks and splashes of paint against the criticism that "This is just scribbles – my kid could do it".

"One could say that any child could make a drawing like Twombly only in the sense that any fool with a hammer could fragment sculptures as Rodin did, or any house painter could spatter paint as well as Pollock. In none of these cases would it be true. In each case the art lies not so much in the finesse of the individual mark, but in the orchestration of a previously uncodified set of personal "rules" about where to act and where not, how far to go and when to stop, in such a way as the cumulative courtship of seeming chaos defines an original, hybrid kind of order, which in turn illuminates a complex sense of human experience not voiced or left marginal in previous art."[22]

Or, whatever. ;-)


Robert Polidori : photographer.  “La Memoire des Murs”


Themes : Seemingly destitute places, abandoned/damaged places (Indian ghetto, Chernobyl orphanage) Large scale photography.


Galerie Gosserez

- Excellent gallery for design


Galerie Perrotin

Michael Sailstorfer - installation and works on chrome. Playing with popular icons and brands, idea of labyrinth.

Claude Rutault - installation - monochrome canvases in different formations on walls and on the floor, at times displayed on the reverse-side.  No irony on the artists part.  33,000 for 4 “paintings”.  

Love it or hate it, Claude Rutault is a well-known conceptual artist. Worth reading more so we can appreciate, if not enjoy, conceptual art.

Sun Yuan & Peng Yu - “Dear”

Installation - wax figures, taxidermy, a live little-person as part of rock-head/upper-crust people installation.  (what does that mean?)

Themes : afterlife, death, angels

October 25: Art Fairs, FIAC

If you didn’t know before we went, the long line-ups and high ticket prices, not to mention the crowds inside, indicated that art fairs are a big deal.

In fact, in recent years, they have quite reshaped the art world.

Attendance is way up --  artvista.de, which tracks art fairs, reports about 10 million people visited art fairs in 2011.

Looking at the granddaddy of festivals, the Venice Biennale, le Figaro reports the 2011 edition logged a grand total of 440,000 visitors — which represented an 18 percent increase over 2009. This year’s festival has hit 400,000 already with three weeks yet to go. It had a new single-day attendance record of 7,331, according to artinfo.net. That’s a lot of people cramming into each booth!

And in six days, Art Basel attracted 86,000 visitors to Switzerland in June 2013.

It’s easy to see why they’ve become so huge. They represent unparalleled opportunities to meet many gallerists, artists, fellow collectors, and celebrities, depending on which ones you attend.

What’s interesting above and beyond the experience is how the fairs are changing the art selling business.

In 2012, dealers worldwide earned approximately 36% of sales through fairs, up 6% from 2010, according to a survey of 6,000 dealers by Arts Economics.

That’s the good news. What’s a bit tougher is the pressure it’s putting on galleries and artists, especially those with works in price ranges more accessible to the average collector.

First of all, consider the logistics. Galleries essentially have to go on the road, construct, decorate and curate a temporary gallery at great expense, send staff and pay for all their travel expenses, host parties for VIP collectors and more. With booth prices starting at around €40k, a big art fair can cost a big gallery upwards of €250k.

As you can imagine, this puts pressures on smaller galleries – they simply can’t afford to keep up. So while big galleries get bigger (sales for dealers with annual revenue exceeding €10m rose 55% in 2012), the small get smaller (those with annual revenue of less than €500k fell 17% in 2012).

Of course, fairs aren’t the only pressure. Galleries also cite rising rents, online sales, and auction houses starting to mediate one-to-one, not just one-to-many, sales. (Figures from Art Economics.)

For artists, this means more than ever there’s a scramble to produce on an art fair schedule, as opposed to by natural creative rhythms or for an annual exhibition or two.

~ With thanks to the New York Times.

city | art insider tips for visiting the fairs:

As an attendee, you will have an extraordinary opportunity to get fully immersed in the world of art and art collecting. It’s such a great way to refine your tastes, develop your collection strategy, and identify and/or purchase art. Set aside two or three days if you can to explore all facets of an art fair season, be it in Paris, Basel, Brussels, New York or Miami… it’s really art nirvana. Get ready!


Connect with your art advisor:

If you work with an advisor or consultant, he or she will be up-to-date on the plans for the fairs and can help you come up with a plan of attack and an itinerary. They can accompany you when you browse, help you make selections, access background research to help you make wise choices, and negotiate a fair price for you. 


Connect with your gallerists:

If you have a preferred gallery or galleries, or those where you’ve made purchases, find out where they’re going to be during the fairs. Most good galleries will send you invitations for special events, if not the fair itself, when you’ve made purchases through them. If you haven’t received anything in the mail, give them a call and let them know you plan to attend, as early as possible, before you’ve given away all their invites.


Plan to attend more than one fair:

We like to go to the biggest first to get inspired and attuned, then plan on attending the “off” fairs that run at the same time, for more reasonable purchasing opportunities. For example, in addition to FIAC, we went to Young International Artists, SLICK, Cutlog and ShowOFF, where there were many wonderful works at (more) reasonable prices.


Remember gallery night:

During the fair weeks, most galleries will participate in an evening of vernissages and general late-night openings, called "nocturnes." Check the fair schedule for information. In Paris, it’s usually the Thursday night of the shows. It's a good way to dive deeper into a single artist, as most fairs represent multiple artists in each booth.


Be prepared:

Buy your tickets online, in advance, to avoid the worst line-ups, if you’re lucky. Your advisor or consultant may do this for you.

On the day of, pack water, a sandwich and a snack for the larger fairs at Grand Palais. Wear comfortable shoes, and layer your clothing. Bring your camera or smart phone.


Study the map:

The biggest international galleries usually hold the choicest positions: near the entrance, on the corners, up a wider central laneway. Start there to see the headliners, then work outward toward the sides. Keep your eyes out for art books you may want to purchase, and any area for “up-and-coming” galleries, art award nominees etc.


Give yourself a task:

While novice collectors may be overwhelmed, you can keep yourself in check by watching for trends, learning to identify artists’ works and more. For example, at FIAC, we kept our eyes out for Anish Kapoors, Cindy Shermans, and paid attention to the groundswell of stellar artists coming onto the scene from China. It really helps to focus!


Keep track:

Snap photos (really, it’s usually allowed) of images you like, followed by the title card for the work to help you remember your favorites.


Ask questions:

Those nicely dressed people standing around looking bored and headachey? They’re gallery staff who are often exhausted from set-up,  jetlag and after-hours social requirements, but they are there to help you. Ask questions, prices, to see monographs by artists that interest you and more. A bilingual art advisor is be helpful at smaller fairs where not everyone is likely to speak English (well).


People watch:

See how others are responding to works of art, and try to understand why. It’s a good on-the-ground way to identify what’s trending in the world of collecting. Of course, it’s fun to people-watch in the sense of looking at the people – there are many many characters of life in attendance, and watching them interact with the art is plain fun.


Wear headphones:

If the constant buzz of the fair makes you feel woozy, try wearing discreet earbuds with some mellow music on for a period of time. It can settle you down enough to continue on.


Buy a catalogue

Full disclosure: we don’t buy one every year, but every few years we pick one up to have up-to-date information on our favourite galleries in an easy-to-reference book. They contain information about all the artists each gallery represents, but usually only one highlighted work from their booth is represented photographically. Make sure you buy it at the end of your visit, as they’re HEAVY. And you can get a bit of a discount if you purchase it in advance with your ticket.