Publisher Jay Koka reports on his first time exhibition at the famed RetroMobile show in Paris France.
Taking art to Paris?
Sort of like taking coal to Newcastle.
But I did it. And in automotive themed art terms, I went right to the top exhibiting at the 2018 RetroMobile show.
The “Galerie des artistes” is organized by the Artist Auto group but not all of the roughly 60 exhibitors are actually “members”. They do however all use the automobile as some aspect of their work. Occasionally abuse may actually be a more accurate term for the odd exhibitor but, by and large, the work on exhibit was of very high calibre…. and there was an amusing comment making its way around the show floor suggesting that there may be a few too many items in any medium dedicated to Steve McQueen.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
About a year ago I decided that I wanted to expand the markets for my work. While we’ve shipped all over the world, there’s nothing like actually standing in place to see the reaction and response to the work in person. Europe was a great place to start. Canada had just signed a free trade agreement with the European Union and having both a number of European colleagues and a very rudimentary, I mean really rudimentary knowledge of French, it would make for a good and hopefully financially successful expedition. And in an odd sort of way, I was coming home: I was born in Europe.
Shipping art anywhere is costly and Europe was no exception. It is normal practice for me to ship the canvases rolled in a tube and purchase stretcher bars and re-stretch the art on location. The problem however is that in Canada stretcher bars are sized in inches (even though we are a 100% metric country) and of course in France, the bars are sized in centimeters. Every canvas was the wrong size for the local stretcher bars and so I shipped what was in effect a load of lumber across 6 time zones and an ocean - by air no less. The stretcher bars accounted for some 80% of the weight of the shipment.
That was lesson one.
The RetroMobile Show is held on the grounds of the Paris Expo at the Porte de Versailles. This place is big… some 65,000 square feet. Held in 3 massive interconnected buildings, the logistics of moving an exhibition in and out are breathtaking to say the least. But it’s incredibly well organized and conducted with military precision. You book an entry and exit time in half hour increments. You show up in your time slot, unload your stuff and get out quick. Fortunately a multi-story parking structure is located immediately above the biggest building which also happened to be the one housing our exhibit. So I parked my rental car in the structure for the duration of the show and discovered that we could… and did… just park the car, put the stuff in the elevator and carry it right to our stand. In and out.
That was lesson number two.
Paris is as beautiful as every writer has ever claimed so there’s no need for me to dwell on that. It is however, like all big cities, very congested and apartments or houses are both incredibly expensive and incredibly small. My art is big. I paint large canvasses both for impact and for the ability to include a high level of detail. My interest in backgrounds and the context in which cars exist keeps growing in importance and is becoming the increasing focus of my art. So I arrive with a number of 5 foot (almost 20 sq ft) and 4 foot wide works in a city where a 12 sq meter apartment is over 1,000 Euros a month. I think you get the drift.
That was lesson number three.
Yahn Janou is the president of Artist Auto and exhibited just across the aisle. Sandrine Blondel is the VP and was right beside me. Astrid Javoy is the treasurer and with her husband Stephane Grenet (Psyko) were located straight across the aisle. Metal sculptor Karl Hugo Mars is also a member and was situated right beside Yahn. So we formed a small enclave that… to the surprise of our Canadian sensibilities… turned into a wonderful “salon” at just after noon each day. Wine (French, of course) hors d’oeuvres and
superb nibbles of all manner appeared from what seemed to be thin air and the days became shorter and far more pleasant. Even when “interrupted” by show-going potential customers. We (Cathy and I) were of course staying in a nearby hotel and had not even the faintest idea of where we could find a store so that we may reciprocate in kind. The offer of a Coke and chips from one of the show stands just was not going to cut it.
That was lesson number four.
The show starts at 10am each day and goes on until either 7 or 10pm for six days. That makes for long days to say the least. Every convenience conceivable can be rented through the show… even the electricity that we didn’t have… to power the coffee maker that we didn’t have… that would be stored in the display cabinet that we also didn’t have. Thankfully I did rent 2 skinny little chairs in advance…
And that was lesson number five.
RetroMobile is an incredible show in every sense of the word. The cars on exhibit and offered for sale cover every conceivable make, style and age… all at a price. With enough money, you could buy pretty much anything, including Paul Newman’s 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300SL. There were also some vintage tanks in case you wanted to start a war but
I’m not sure if they were actually for sale. The area devoted to automobilia, the “Village Artisans”, featured items of every description, size and quality so large and diverse that one could spend an entire day just in that section of the show and probably still not see everything on display. For example, there were so many auto-themed books that I’m
glad I didn’t see this before we published our 30th anniversary book “30:30” because one could wonder: does the world need another? And model cars? I’m not certain but I am confident that there were more model cars on display than there are real cars in existence in the entire world today.
And then there’s the art. An artist is certainly not a good critic of another’s work so I won’t offer judgement in that direction. Our European correspondent Tony Clark provides in-depth commentary and analysis in an article elsewhere » in this issue. Some 60 exhibitors participated in the “Galerie des artistes”. I believe there is “fine” art, illustrative art and art more accurately described as “crafts”. Perhaps I’m a traditionalist in that I embrace the classic techniques in both two-dimensional and three-dimensionall works even while applied to a modern subject matter.
That doesn’t mean that I automatically dismiss all other media, not at all. I believe all are valid forms of creative expression. It’s just
that for an example… digital based/originated images… are not the same as those created by fine art techniques and should not be compared. If I may offer a single criticism of the show, it is that this wide range of technique and media are all lumped together creating a situation where a stand of traditional paintings is neighbored by digital-based work beside another of “found materials” constructions. There is an opportunity here to recreate more of an art gallery atmosphere composed of fine art. It is my single hope for the future.
I would be negligent if I fail to extend my and Cathy’s most personal thanks and appreciation to our friends and colleagues that made our participation possible and enjoyable.
Yahn, Mariele, Sandrine, Astrid, Stephane, Karl, Stan provided generous and invaluable assistance at very step.
This is an incredibly expensive show in which to participate for an off-shore artist.
The logistics are complicated and difficult. The expenses appear almost limitless. The hours and days are exhaustingly long. And language can occasionally get in the way.
Will we return?
Absolutely… nous travaillons sur notre francais …see you in Paris next year.