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The visible part: Of art galleries, artistic activity and urban dynamics

Presentation and first results of a research project
Tatiana Debroux


This paper looks at the places of art and art galleries from a spatial point of view and in relation to contemporary urban dynamics. Presenting prospective reflections about the spatialities of places where transactions are financial and symbolic, as well as the data and methods used for empirical research, this paper introduces an ongoing project dealing with the Parisian gallery landscape since the contemporary art boom, in relation to the production of urban space. I argue that ‘visibility’ is a useful notion to interrogate the geography and dynamics associated with art galleries. It can either describe their presence and environment within the city and from the street, or the ‘visibilisation’ of portions of the city in relation to the dynamics of urban renewal. Based on quantitative and qualitative data, the project will offer insights into the causes and impacts of the spatial structuration of the Parisian art market on different scales. Therefore, the project enhances existing research concerning the influence of art-related activities upon the transformations of urban space, but also anchors the analysis of the geography of art galleries and its recent history in a wider socio-economical perspective.

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This paper has been written when I was working on a project called “Diffusion d’art et production d’espace : Dynamiques des lieux du marché de l’art à Paris (1955-2015)” hosted at the Ecole normale supérieure de Paris and the Institut d’Histoire moderne et contemporaine (IHMC), with a research grant of the City of Paris (Research in Paris, from January to December 2016). I am grateful to the colleagues of Paris who facilitated my research, and especially to Professor Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel for her warm welcome in the Artl@s project, as well as to Julien Cavéro and Léa Saint-Raymond for their highly valued help and useful suggestions on the data. An earlier version of the text was presented at the International Geographic Union Regional Conference 2015 in Moscow. Its preparation relied on intensive discussions with my colleague Camille Boichot, whose definition of ‘artistic centralities’ in Paris and Berlin (Boichot 2012) included art galleries as one indicator of artistic activity. I owe her some of the ideas developed in this paper and I thank her sincerely. I am also grateful to Christopher Brent Murray for his help and careful work on the paper in order to improve its writing.

Introduction – Spatially looking at the art galleries

1The present contribution to this thematic issue on “Arts in cities / Cities in arts” offers to reflect on specific art places, art galleries, and their relation to contemporary urban dynamics from a geographic perspective. Through what may seem a limited scope arise various questions about the presence of arts in the city that go much further than the mere geographic location of places where artworks are exhibited and sold. For instance and among others, the presence of galleries can influence real-estate values (economic effect), be part of original artistic initiatives (organisation of the local art scene) or bring into question the accessibility of art to different audiences (sociological and political perspective).

2This paper introduces an ongoing research project dealing with the Parisian landscape of art galleries and the production of urban space: the paper presents prospective reflections on urban dynamics associated with the location of places where transactions are financial but also symbolic. It also describes the empirical data collecting and methodologies implemented for the project, before showing preliminary results. Dealing with the exhibition and consumption of art, this research extends former work on the spatialities of the visual art world first developed in the city of Brussels through the analysis of artists’ living and working spaces (Debroux 2013a, Debroux 2013b, Brogniez and Debroux 2013).

3By ‘art galleries’, I am referring to the modern definition of private places where art is exhibited, priced (its economic value appraised), and put on sale (Moulin 1997). Some rare places called ‘galleries’ may exceptionally function rather as preservation institutions than places for selling art: the Whitechapel Gallery in London, for instance, is a historical public institution dedicated to the exhibition of a large collection, free of entrance, with no commercial activity. The Newport Street Gallery recently opened in October 2015 in Vauxhall (South London) by the entrepreneur-artist Damien Hirst operates in a similar way, as it was created to share the artist’s private art collection with the public. Closer to the logics of museums, fewer in number than commercial art galleries but generally present over longer period of time, these places are not included per se in the definition of art galleries used for this research. However, due to their connections with the art market and their recognition as important exhibition places for contemporary art, these particular galleries may have an influence on the location of smaller commercial structures that hope to benefit from the audience attracted by these large institutions. Consequently, knowing that such structures exist in a city, and where, could be valuable information for analysing the distribution of contemporary art galleries. Finally, to cite one final example located in the British capital, a few museums still refer to the old definition of galleries as vast exhibition halls where an art collection – whether public or private – is preserved and can be accessed by a large audience (the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery). These historical ‘art galleries’ are also not included in the definition adopted for this research.

4The period under consideration in this project extends from the mid-1950s to the present, a period that precisely corresponds to the emergence of the contemporary art market and its new institutions (specialised art galleries and auction sales, new museums and art centres – Moulin 1997). However, the analysis is not restricted to the venues that exhibit and sell contemporary art, but to all kinds of artistic production (notably for reasons linked to the sources used, as explained in the third part of the paper). In a later stage of the data processing, though, it will be crucial to distinguish between the different types of galleries (including contemporary art galleries) in order to compare their spatial strategies, and to evaluate how their location may be linked or not to the transformation of the city.

5This paper focuses on art galleries as elements that make artistic activity visible in the city, dealing with the first axis of the issue (“Arts in cities”). Aside from ephemeral artistic events such as festivals and performances, artworks shown in public space, and individual or collective workspaces for artists or their living spaces, galleries are indeed elements which distribution can reveal both the structuration of the local art world and the stakes associated with art and urban development.

6Three main elements make art galleries an interesting angle for looking at urban space and its evolutions. First, as perennial exhibition places, art galleries materialise the art market within the city space, contrary to big art fairs and biennials that generate specific spatial dynamics at national and international scales (Filipovic et al. 2010, Quemin 2002), but which have generally limited duration and limited effect on the space where they settle. On a local or international scale, art galleries offer a spatial entry to one of the major capital markets in the world. In this sense, they can be interesting objects for geographic analysis.

7Second, as galleries require an audience (be it of buyers or connoisseurs), they develop strategies in their location that can be studied by combining traditional retail analysis (including clustering measures or relations to the luxury market) with sociological and cultural analysis of the public. Even if art galleries do not rely on occasional badaudage to sell their products but rely instead on massive communication campaigns through their mailing lists, their location within the city matters: transportation accessibility (notably by private cars or airplanes) and the social geography of the city are among the factors that dictate gallery clusters. Art galleries offer specific spatial strategies for analysing the urban space, from a local to a global scale.

8Third, another dimension that makes it worthwhile to look at art galleries is related to the role assigned to art in urban redevelopment strategies since the 1990s and the emergence of the so-called ‘creative cities’. Dealing with cultural consumption and being generally conspicuous elements of the urban landscape (with their large window frames that offer the artworks in plain view), art galleries may be a valuable activity to assert the artistic dynamism of a city or a neighbourhood. Does the presence of galleries really reflect the vigorousness of the local art scene, often invisible from the street level (Bain 2004), or are they specifically interesting elements to put forward as they need to be visible to maintain their activity? This last element also links art galleries to the narrative of urban renewal and the related pioneering role of cultural players in the transformation of central neighbourhoods, by re-making through their presence these spaces visible for privileged consumers and households.

9In this paper, I argue that visibility (and its variants: e.g. to be visible, to make something visible) is a useful notion to interrogate the geography and urban dynamics associated with art galleries. These places have a singular nature: representing the materialisation of artistic consumption and of the art market, galleries are places for both symbolic and economic exchange. They are then places to be seen (to assert oneself as an art lover) as well as places that need to be visible (materially or virtually, in order to allure potential buyers or new users of the urban space). Combining the notion of visibility with the three aforementioned spatial themes (art galleries as objects materialising the art market, related to specific location strategies and included in urban renewal dynamics), one can distinguish four perspectives through which galleries have been considered in literature as markers of artistic activity and renewal strategies in the city. These perspectives are summarised in figure 1. The second part of this paper develops and illustrates these four perspectives through the mention of recent works that have taken art galleries as their core topic. The main hypotheses and several issues that these studies and their results raise are also examined. The third part of this text presents the empirical data and research methodology through which these issues are addressed in the case of Paris. It also unravels first empirical results, shedding lights on the geography and spatial visibility of art galleries within the space of contemporary City of Paris.

Figure 1. Proposal for an analysis grid combining the main themes related to the spatial analysis of art galleries with the notion of ‘visibility

Figure 1. Proposal for an analysis grid combining the main themes related to the spatial analysis of art galleries with the notion of ‘visibility

Made by the author.

The visible part: art galleries as markers of artistic and urban dynamics

Architectural visibility: discovering art galleries from the street

10The first image that usually comes to mind when combining the terms ‘visibility’ and ‘art galleries’ is their perception in the urban space, the way these places can be perceived from the street. The common idea today will be the vision of a brightly lit space, glowing through a large window that offers the artworks to the view of passers-by. Behind the glass, on immaculate white walls, paintings and photographs are hung from picture rails with large space between them. Discreet pedestals support the small three dimensional artworks, while larger objects sit directly on a neutral floor made of wood or smooth concrete.

11This ordinary presentation of the art gallery, visible through the openness of its glass wall – even more when it is dark outside and the lights are on, was not always a (widespread) architectural model for such exhibition and retail places. In fact, the above-mentioned description corresponds to the so-called ‘white cube’, an expression and architectural model that only appeared in the 1960s with the development of contemporary art (O’Doherty 2017, Millet 2006). Art historians have stressed how several changes in the organization of the art market translated into new exhibition places (and new location within the city), from the gigantic periodical Salons offering an outlet for the growing number of painters in the second half of the 19th century (Wolf 2012) to the alternative private spaces that welcomed small avant-garde shows at the end of the same century (Brogniez and Debroux forthcoming), or the increase of art galleries in the first decades of the 20th century and the installation of these places as essential elements for the modern art market (Greffe 2007). In a similar way but for other time and space, alternative places developed in New York in the 1970s in reaction to the lack of exhibition spaces for young artists, while traditional art galleries selected first and foremost recognised artists, and museums were not interested in the avant-garde art (Terroni 2015).

12In the first half of the 20th century, the early commercial art galleries still looked like bourgeois private interiors, overloaded with artworks and decoration, except for the rare cases that specialised in modern art and avant-garde aesthetics, which distinguished themselves through starkness. Such places would transform after de Second World War into even more simplicity, in an attempt to make the setting of the artworks disappear (an amusing thing to note is that the simplicity of the white cube is transposed today on the websites that are also offering visibility to the gallery. There is obviously a parallel to be drawn between the visual identity of white cube art galleries and their virtual identities). In the newly designed white cube, all the focus is placed on the works, through the white walls, the bright light and the new attitude of the visitors, seemingly paying respect to sanctified creations. In her works on Parisian art galleries in the 1940s until the 1960s, the historian Julie Verlaine has documented this shift in form of the gallery, but also the changes in the sociability associated with the visit to the art exhibition (Verlaine 2013, 2009).

13Nevertheless, despite of the recurrence of white cube interiors, the external morphology of art galleries (their architectural frame) presents a diversity that is of certain interest for urban analysis. In a preliminary research done on galleries in Brussels, cartographic results and field exploration have revealed the coexistence of two primary architectural models (Debroux and Wayens 2015). The first and most common of these consists of reusing ground floors formerly dedicated to retail activity: due to the shrinking of small shop activity from the 1950s (precisely when the local art market and galleries began to flourish), these types of spaces are easily accessible and also easier to fit out into a gallery than non-commercial places (in terms of room, access, activity regulations and also in terms of rent outside the most central areas of the city). These art galleries in converted retail locations have often preserved the old shop window, even if the interior has been refurbished, making them easily identifiable. The second model is linked to the transformation of historical buildings, often much bigger than the previous spaces and suitable for galleries specialised into big-sized artworks. Such spaces are typically former warehouses, small factories, or even old sports facilities converted into a white cube with a postindustrial touch.

Figure 2. Two models of contemporary art galleries in Brussels

Figure 2. Two models of contemporary art galleries in Brussels

Above: A former retail ground floor, with a large window showing the artworks (Ixelles, Rue Américaine). Below: A double historical skating rink converted into a double gallery. Left: Rue Faider, Saint-Gilles (the entrance of the gallery, here in the shadow, is near a former artist’s house, which illustrates a long artistic tradition in this part of the city). Right: Rue Veydt, Saint-Gilles. The bigger gallery is next door to the Brussels branch of the gallery Daniel Templon, set back from the street and only visible with a plaque.

Photographs taken by the author, March 2017.

14If the majority of the art galleries are identifiable from the street, some of them are not as easy to find for those who do not know their location. Sometimes, there is only a sign on the façade that announces the art gallery in a courtyard accessible by a carriage door. On other occasions, the plaque indicates a location at the first floor. This rather unusual location – and almost inexistent material visibility – has also been pointed by Molotch and Treskon in their meticulous description of the changes in the art gallery landscape in Manhattan since the 1990s (Molotch and Treskon 2009). In SoHo and Chelsea in particular, where the concentration is high, available space is limited: for the galleries who are not showing heavy or massive artworks, a location above the ground floor can be a (less expensive) alternative, and a way to maintain themselves in a coveted neighbourhood. The concentration of art galleries described in the case of Manhattan is of course exceptional but corresponds to a general tendency of clustering. The accumulation of such exhibition places in a street or a neighbourhood is another important element of their visibility, outside of their architectural specificity.

Visibility within the city: spatial distribution of art galleries

15Another angle for considering the visibility of art galleries is the analysis of their spatial distribution on the scale of the city in order to question the existence of specialised urban areas. The case of Manhattan, the highest concentration of galleries in the world since New York became the major art capital in the 1950s, has been the subject of several research projects, and notably the aforementioned work of Molotch and Treskon (2009). These authors focused on the evolution of the geography of galleries, using empirical data and producing meaningful maps that revealed the constraints and opportunities that such exhibition places had experienced in the evolving urban fabric of central New York. More recently, two other researchers have considered the Manhattan art scene and its art galleries in order to understand their location factors with the help of statistical tests and models applied to an exhaustive database (Schuetz and Green 2014). Their findings confirm a very high concentration level in the activity of exhibiting and selling art, and a spatial pattern consistent with location models of luxury retail (the conclusion is not really a surprise: the art market in Manhattan is “more bourgeois than bohemian”). The main reasons of the observed geography and the clustering phenomenon lay in agglomeration economies and preferences over location-specific amenities. The likeliness for a new gallery to open in a neighbourhood with existing galleries is high and explained by an expected longer lifespan in these clusters.

16The longevity of the concentrations of galleries is an interesting aspect, even more when the time perspective taken into account is very long. Despite of a short average lifespan of individual galleries, major concentrations remain stable for long periods of time: this implies a high replacement rate and a frequent reuse of the same addresses. This agglomeration phenomenon and its permanence were also demonstrated for the city of Paris through an impressive data collection and mapping from 1815 until 1955 (Saint-Raymond et al. 2015). Streets like Rue la Boétie or Rue Laffitte on the right bank of the river Seine hosted a high amount of art dealers for a very long time, before they considered crossing the river and opening new exhibition places on the left bank from the 1930s onward.

17These concentrations however must not be seen as homogenous clusters of galleries. For Paris and Berlin, the work done by Boichot on sites of visual art consumption in order to define ‘artistic centralities’ has proven that different types of art galleries have different location strategies (Boichot 2012). Rius Ulldemolins (2012) has studied the distribution of art galleries in Barcelona from a sociological perspective and has published interesting findings regarding the spatial organisation of a professional field. His work confirms the existence of a main historical concentration in the centre of the city. The analysis focuses then on a few galleries located outside this main cluster, in peripheral portions of the city. Relying on the local artistic ground, these places are often small in size and have short life expectancies. Their untraditional location pattern is dictated by proximity with the artists that cannot afford the rents of the city centre and attract in turn these small galleries outside of the main gallery clusters. The French sociologist Raymonde Moulin in her influential work on the art market also stressed the importance of such small galleries that operate at the margins of the big galleries but which nurture the market with their local search for talents (Moulin 1967). The heterogeneity in nature of the art galleries (from artists run spaces to big commercial galleries) must also be considered if one intends to finely understand their general location pattern and its evolutions.

Visibility as an indicator of artistic presence

18The tendency of art galleries to cluster – and in some cases to cluster in close proximity to artists – introduces the question of the galleries as markers for artistic activity in the city. Galleries, due to their architecture and their concentration in specific neighbourhoods or streets, are perceptible elements of the art world. Does that mean that they are ‘the visible part’ of a local art scene?

19This question matters in the perspective of studying art-led gentrification processes. Since the description of the events located in SoHo, New York, and the transformation of a decayed neighbourhood after artists settled in the cast iron buildings (Simpson 1981, Zukin 1982), researchers have dealt with the issue of the influence of artists on the change of perception of impoverished neighbourhoods (Gravereau 2008, Murzyn-Kupisz and Dzialek 2017, Ryberg et al. 2013). However, the visibility of artists’ living- and workspaces today is generally low for unaccustomed eyes, according sometimes to a conscious strategy of the artists (Bain 2004) and to the disappearance of the old-style painters or sculptor’s studio that functioned as a business card for artists and which was visible from the street (Gribenski et al. 2007). In addition, from a methodological perspective, the visibility of painters, sculptors, performers, video artists… in the traditional sources used by researchers is also a delicate issue. Some authors have then considered alternative data to identify artistic concentrations, moving their perspective from creation to consumption of art, and considering art galleries as indicators (Mathews 2008).

20From a historical perspective and with the emergence of the modern art market, the bond between artists and art dealers (and its spatial expression) is a compelling topic. Today, with the professionalization of the galleries, their diversification and the changes in artistic commission (works depending on public subsidies), the relation between these two segments of the art market, and their comparison within space, have become more complex and questionable. A few galleries are indeed open in artists’ neighbourhoods, indicating their presence, but the vast majority of the galleries have another location pattern in response to economic imperatives. Furthermore, the nature and location of these art galleries exclude them from the usual narrative of artist-led gentrification (Schuetz 2014). Yet, because of their architectural visibility and the symbolic activity they represent, art galleries may participate in other renewal processes linked to retail gentrification and to the change of functions and of users in central urban areas.

A way to make art-related activity visible: the ‘visibilisation’ of urban spaces

21For clustering tendencies and the noticeability of their large windows amongst plain residential façades or shop windows, art galleries catch the eye when they are open. On opening nights, they even transform into a show: from the street, the view of the white cube and its artworks is replaced by the view of a crowd, sometimes very large and that takes over the pavement in front of the galleries. The crowd and its rumble indicate that something is happening, a social event in which one can and dares – or not – to take part, depending on the organisation of the event and one’s own experience of visiting galleries. In various cities where clusters exist, professional associations or local authorities have initiated collective openings in order to combine the audiences, and make all galleries benefit from their vicinity. These initiatives intentionally reinforce the visibility of these places: therefore, they are working towards the ‘visibilisation’ of the gallery cluster, and consequently also highlight their urban environment. In Paris, aside of the information on the programme and the opening nights of the galleries produced by private structures such as Galeries Mode d’emploi-Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, other initiatives developed by local artists and gallery owners may also have an impact on the way the urban environment of galleries is perceived by the audience. The ‘treasure hunt’ regularly organised by Papotart to discover “a neighbourhood, street art and contemporary art galleries” is an example thereof (

22Since culture and creativity have been designated as assets to foster the urban economy, notably through adding new value to the image of a place and therefore participating in city branding (Bianchini and Parkinson 1993, Cameron and Coaffee 2005, Markusen 2006, Whitt 1987), initiatives such as grouped opening nights or the institutional recognition of a cluster may be considered as more than a new way to bring audiences to exhibition venues. These initiatives can also be part of public or private strategies aiming at the aestheticisation of public space, the branding and commodification of the city centre through the presence of art galleries, while in some more distant cases they are part of planned refurbishment of an entire neighbourhood (as in the 798 Art Zone in Beijing, China) or the renewal of the local art scene through political planning (Kim 2007).

Consuming art, producing space. The Parisian art market and its places (1955-2015): an ongoing research project

Research hypotheses and aims

23Paris has long been known as one of the world’s artistic capitals, hosting numerous events and places where art is exhibited, appreciated and sold (Gilabert 2004, Joyeux-Prunel 2009, Menger 1993, White and White 1965). Very few attempts have been made however to spatially consider the local art market through precise mapping (excepted for the first attempt of Moulin in 1967 or the Artl@s project. Paris is also well documented for the regeneration processes that have occurred in many of its neighbourhoods, sometimes involving artistic activities (Clerval 2013, Collet 2008). The ongoing research project presented in this paper investigates the relationship between the geographical distribution of art galleries in Paris and the production of urban space since the end of the 1950s. It also examines how the sites for and practices of art consumption in the French capital can both open up and close off urban space, materially and symbolically.

24In its first dimension, the project involved collecting data and mapping art galleries in Paris from 1960 to 2015. In doing so, the project extended previous empirical work (Maupeou and Saint-Raymond 2012, 2013). Added to the address collection of the Artl@s Project (1815-1955), the new data authorised a long-term spatial analysis of the geography of the Parisian art market throughout two centuries.

25In its second dimension, the project focused on a few representative clusters of galleries, in order to question the location factors of these places at different times: retail or prestige strategies, competition of urban functions, prices, scarcity of space, etc. This is also the scale of analysis chosen to question how the concentration of such visible places contributed/are contributing to changes in the functions and uses of their environment. In particular, I intend to examine how exclusive spaces are established as sites that become inaccessible for the majority of uses and users (including in the art world), sometimes forcing their relocation. The existence of such exclusive spaces associated with the consumption of art refers to the transformation of residential and retail spaces since the start of gentrification processes in the 1970s (Fleury and Van Criekingen 2006, Patch 2004, Shkuda 2013). Alongside the material transformation of space expressed through changes in urban functions and real-estate increase, other transformations operate at symbolic level. Such changes may result in the creation of a singular urban landscape (Cosgrove 1984, Zukin 2009) identified through the art-related places they host (Mathews 2008), and which materialise into space the elite dimension of art consumption (Fogle 2011, Hanquinet et al. 2012).

26On another scale of analysis, the third dimension questioned by the project and its first results regard the hypothesis of the saturation of the local market, when concentration has reached a limit and may force art galleries to adopt new location strategies within the Parisian region or even at the international level.

Data and methodology

27Each dimension of the research project uses specific methodologies, sources of data and information, and scale, organised in three phases of work.

28In the first phase, led at the city level (the twenty arrondissements), the objective was to identify and to select sources that allow the collection of as many art galleries as possible in Paris, including their names and addresses. According to the previous work led in Paris on art galleries until 1955 (see Saint-Raymond et al. 2015) and with the intention of gathering the two databases of addresses, I have extended the inventory of art galleries by going through the same sources these researchers used: the retail directories known in France as Annuaires Didot-Bottin. Until the 1980s, these directories (or trade almanacs) listed commercial, industrial, and professional activities, including a section initially dedicated to ‘art dealers’, then to ‘art galleries’. As professional tools that list companies and private practices, they are an invaluable resource for those who are interested in the social and economic landscape of Paris throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, notably its cultural life (Campos 2009). After the 1980s, when the traditional organisation of the Didot-Bottin directories is suspended, another well-known directory has been used instead (Pages Jaunes/Yellow Pages) to complete the inventory of galleries. What the directories do not offer, however, is to distinguish the different types of art galleries listed together under the same heading. Therefore, the 8000 addresses collected through a five-year sampling (addresses collected in 1960, 1965, 1970, etc., up until 2015) must be compared with other sources with the aim of establishing a typology of galleries: from primary to secondary markets, new or traditional art, depending on the economic model and relation to artists (Moulin 1967). In this regard, the empirical data collection previously gathered for Paris by other researchers on the 1940s to 1970s (Verlaine 2013) or the contemporary era (Boichot 2012) are useful, as well as professional categorisation made by the sector itself. At the end of the data collection, and after the removal of a few duplications, all the addresses were geolocated and mapped (see next section for the first results).

Figure 3. Appearance of the trade directories used to inventory the art galleries from 1955 until 2015

Figure 3. Appearance of the trade directories used to inventory the art galleries from 1955 until 2015

Bottin of 1965 (left) and Pages Jaunes of 2015 (right).

29On a larger, more detailed geographical scale, the second phase analyses the changes in artistic, residential and retail functions around the art galleries, since they settled in a portion of the city. For a few specific clusters of galleries and their neighbourhood, such as the surroundings of the Centre Pompidou in the 1970s or more recently the ephemeral concentration of exhibition places in the perimeter of the ZAC Rive gauche in the 13th arrondissement, the evolution in urban functions and numbers of galleries is investigated through the aggregate quantitative data offered by censuses and trade directories, through scientific surveys, counting, and grey literature.

30Finally, the last phase of the research will deal with the hypothesis of the making of exclusive spaces to which the presence of art galleries may contribute, through their visibility in the urban landscape and the symbolic value of the goods they present and sell. This exploratory phase will also tackle the related hypothesis of ‘closing’ of these exclusive spaces, which may eventually exclude other urban uses and users (Pinçon and Pinçon-Charlot 1992), even users from the art world. Relying on qualitative data (observations, pictures, semi-directed interviews on location, on spatial strategies including relocation) and publications (reports, press, specialised press), this third phase will combine analyses at local, metropolitan and international scales.

31Based on quantitative and qualitative data and from a dynamic perspective, the different steps of the project will ultimately offer insights into the causes and impacts of the spatial structuration of the Parisian art market on different scales. Therefore, the project enhances existing research on the influence of art-related activities upon the contested transformations of urban space, but also anchors the analysis of the geography of art galleries and its recent history in a wider socio-economical perspective.

First empirical results

32For the twelve dates retained and the two different sources, more than 8200 addresses have been collected and gathered in a database. Duplication of entries is a common thing in the directories: a few galleries obviously paid to appear several times on the lists (and consequently to increase their visibility). For instance, in 1980, the gallery Marcel Bernheim located 35 Rue La Boétie in the 8th arrondissement is mentioned three times on the alphabetical list of the Pages Jaunes, under the names ‘Bernheim (Galerie Marcel)’, ‘Galerie Marcel Bernheim’ and ‘Marcel Bernheim’. Once these duplications have been removed, a bit more than 8000 addresses were left. However, due to the need of changing source during the studied period (linked with the evolution of the directories Didot-Bottin in the 1980s), and in order to allow for sources comparison, the years 1980 and 1985 were encoded twice, in the Didot-Bottin and in the Pages Jaunes (see figure 4). Since there seem to be a clear loss of quality in the data gathered in the first source, it is the second one (Pages Jaunes) that has been selected to map the art galleries in 1980 and 1985. In the end, the final amount of addresses collected for the twelve dates, without double encoding for the 1980s, is a bit more than 7520.

Figure 4. Numbers of Parisian art galleries listed in the addresses’ database

Figure 4. Numbers of Parisian art galleries listed in the addresses’ database

Author’s collection.

33The general trend observed in Figure 4 corresponds to a growth of the amount of art galleries during the period 1960-2015, with a few galleries resisting in the long run and many more opening and closing after a few years. The peak in the data occurring between 1985 and 1995 does not disrupt the spatial distribution pattern of the galleries but raises questions about the category ‘Art galleries’ in the directory, and about gradual mergers with other categories in the Pages Jaunes during these ten years. Finally, the numbers obtained for the last four dates follow a similar trend to that observed in the retail database for Paris, BDCOM, which tends to confirm the data’s accuracy ( The latter hosts a higher number of entries (for instance, 1317 in 2014 in BDCOM, compared to 888 in my database for 2015). However, looking at the distribution of data per arrondissement, it seems that the category listed by the database BDCOM under ‘Art galleries’ is even broader and may for instance includes art shops located in touristic neighbourhoods (in 2015, the proportional difference between the directories used in this study and BDCOM is higher in the 18th arrondissement where Montmartre is, and in the 5th, the 12th and the 13th – but on very low figures for these cases).

Figure 5. Geography of art galleries in Paris in 2015

Figure 5. Geography of art galleries in Paris in 2015

Source: Pages Jaunes, volume Paris, 2015. Mapped by the author.

34The geography of art galleries in 2015 is presented at Figure 5. Each gallery is located at its address, as the result of the geolocation process. Looking at this simple cartographic result, it is obvious that art galleries are not evenly distributed throughout Paris, and that they are consequently more visible in some neighbourhoods (and streets) of the city. With 20% each of the total amount of galleries, the 6th and 3rd arrondissements dominate clearly, followed by the 8th, which grouped a higher number of exhibition spaces during the 20th century until the 1970s (Saint-Raymond et al. 2015). Together, these three zones gather 52% of Parisian galleries. The concentrations of the 3rd and 6th arrondissements are part of larger clusters that extend to the neighbouring 4th and 7th arrondissements. A few streets are of particular importance in this geography, which can be seen on Figure 5 by linear arrangements. Straddling the 3rd and 4th, Rue Quincampoix and Place des Vosges reunite each 20 galleries, as do the Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré (8th), Rue des Beaux-Arts (6th) or Avenue Matignon (8th), while Rue de Seine hosts 47 art galleries in the 6th arrondissement. In these streets, it is common to find rows of large windows presenting artworks, distinct from traditional shop windows.

35As Schuetz (2014) observed in Manhattan, the geography of art exhibition and selling is mainly linked with elite consumption spaces. This geography has been shaped by a historical spatial pattern linked with the presence of influential galleries and high standard retail offer (around Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré or Rive Gauche) that attracted wealthy clientele who also visited the art spaces. A gradual shift towards the 3rd arrondissement corresponded in the 1980s with the opening of the Centre Pompidou in 1977, and the radical reshaping of an entire neighbourhood where galleries could find relatively affordable spaces and the vicinity of what became rapidly one of the major cultural institutions of Paris. The map of 2015 also shows smaller concentrations that are linked with more recent urban dynamics and the gentrification of neighbourhoods such as Folie-Méricourt (11th arrondissement). Several galleries are settled north of Avenue de la République and are taking part to the change of the neighbourhood’s functional composition and its visual appearance, as others are doing in Belleville (Rue Ramponeau, 20th arrondissement).

36These first results call of course for a comprehensive analysis of the data collected through the entire period. The comparison of the maps, through aggregate data and the creation of a specificity index, will unveil the precise chronology of the changes that happened in the sector between 1960 and nowadays, in parallel of the evolutions that the city itself experienced. The legacies and trends perceptible in the contemporary geography of art galleries confirm the interest to focus on specific years, portions of the city and local dynamics related to the presence and the visibility of art-related activities, so as to finely understand the processes that have been or still are at play between art galleries, their audiences, and the other users and uses of space. Finally, the last phase of the research project will address what is not visible on Figure 5: the extension of the territorial influence of Parisian art galleries outside of Paris, starting with its outskirts where a number of major galleries have already opened a branch. Outside of the dense urban fabric of the city centre, they are searching for larger exhibition spaces and storage, sometimes to develop artists-in-residence programmes, but also an easier accessibility for international buyers (Thaddaeus Ropac in Pantin, Gagosian at the Bourget for instance).

Provisional conclusion

37Understanding the production of space through culture may consist in looking at distinctive urban practices or at spaces where elite consumption may exclude other uses and users, as this research project intends. However, the understanding of the observed dynamics is steeped in a broader explanation system, linked with the economic and social processes of urban development. When selecting an address, galleries owners do not only depend on available space or a strong interest for a specific portion of the city: their choice is also constrained by larger urban dynamics involving a great range of public and private stakeholders, delineating the opportunities through the real-estate market, zoning plans or business incentives.

38The case of art galleries is interesting because of their specific practices for selling (and exhibiting) goods with a high symbolic value, besides of their economic value. They combine strong economic constraints in their location strategies (opening a gallery can be a high-risk investment with no guarantee of success), but they also have to take into account symbolic obligations. Each creation of a new gallery reflects a balance between realities of the real-estate market as well as the need to capture high-end customers by locating in the area that they visit frequently. Therefore, galleries share with the luxury retail aggregation strategies, but often with greater economic fragility in their running model. First results obtained for Paris and Brussels (in an exploratory phase of the research project) have shown that the geographies of luxury retail and art obviously share spatial dynamics (what Schuetz and Green 2014 also exemplify), but without sharing exactly the same portions and streets of the wealthy city.

39The proposed focus on visibility in this paper is inspired by the morphology of art galleries today, which makes of them a highly visible segment of the activities related to the art worlds, from production to consumption. Literature has stressed the role that art-related activities could play in the launching of gentrification processes, for the combination of a visibility that changes the perception of their immediate environment and the attraction of an external audience. Recent statistical tests led in Manhattan have however concluded to the absence of link between the presence of art galleries and gentrification (Schuetz 2014). Other empirical analyses modify this assertion by describing how marginal (yet important) local art galleries develop spatial strategies presenting links with artists and gentrification dynamics (Rius Ulldemolins 2012) – hence reopening the debate about art-led urban renewal and how artistic activity can influence the perception of a neglected neighbourhood.

40The data collection and the combined methods applied to the case of Paris and its diverse landscape of art galleries allows for the reconsideration of these issues through the combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses at different urban scales. Yet, it is less the question of the start of renewal processes that is considered (also because the majority of galleries settled in rather affluent parts of the city) than the effects generated on urban space by the specialisation of a neighbourhood as an exclusive gallery cluster, including its potential ‘closing’ to former uses and users. In this prospect, the protean notion of visibility can serve to describe the presence of the art galleries within the city and from the street, as well as to describe the ‘visibilisation’ of portions of the city through the (sometimes instrumentalised) networking and animation of these highly symbolic places.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1. Proposal for an analysis grid combining the main themes related to the spatial analysis of art galleries with the notion of ‘visibility
Credits Made by the author.
File image/jpeg, 48k
Title Figure 2. Two models of contemporary art galleries in Brussels
Caption Above: A former retail ground floor, with a large window showing the artworks (Ixelles, Rue Américaine). Below: A double historical skating rink converted into a double gallery. Left: Rue Faider, Saint-Gilles (the entrance of the gallery, here in the shadow, is near a former artist’s house, which illustrates a long artistic tradition in this part of the city). Right: Rue Veydt, Saint-Gilles. The bigger gallery is next door to the Brussels branch of the gallery Daniel Templon, set back from the street and only visible with a plaque.
Credits Photographs taken by the author, March 2017.
File image/jpeg, 88k
Title Figure 3. Appearance of the trade directories used to inventory the art galleries from 1955 until 2015
Credits Bottin of 1965 (left) and Pages Jaunes of 2015 (right).
File image/jpeg, 100k
Title Figure 4. Numbers of Parisian art galleries listed in the addresses’ database
Credits Author’s collection.
File image/jpeg, 28k
Title Figure 5. Geography of art galleries in Paris in 2015
Credits Source: Pages Jaunes, volume Paris, 2015. Mapped by the author.
File image/jpeg, 596k
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Electronic reference

Tatiana Debroux, The visible part: Of art galleries, artistic activity and urban dynamicsArticulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 15 | 2017, Online since 04 June 2018, connection on 23 April 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Tatiana Debroux

Post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in Urban Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Cosmopolis) – Université libre de Bruxelles (DGES-IGEAT).

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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