Paris has a new art gallery, Galleria Continua, the likes of which it has never before seen, and Parisians are happily queuing up to get in. Forget about the forbiddingly austere and elegant white-cube gallery that is the norm here and everywhere else in the world. The first things you notice when you step inside are the smell of Italian espresso and, confusingly, the sight of shelves stocked with packages of pasta, flour, wine, soft drinks and more, as well as plastic-wrapped art books.
“This is a gallery?“ you think. “Where is the art?” Well, it’s there, mixed right in among the products. In between bottles of wine and a row of cans of Antarctica Guaraná, for example, is a display of medicine bottles and boxes, each labeled with the Latin name for a toxic plant and the name of an artist (Gabriel Orozco, Gerhard Richter, Tsai Ming Liang, etc.), and marked “POISON.” Luckily, this installation by Luis López-Chavez, “Los Síntomas del Engaño” (2015) is encased in Plexiglas, preventing accidental purchase by the gallery’s grocery shoppers.
Galleria Continua was founded in San Gimignano, Italy, in 1990 by Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi and Maurizio Rigillo, and is now an international phenomenon, with branches in Beijing, Les Moulins (in a former factory about an hour-and-a-half from Paris), Havana, Rome and São Paulo. After the first exhibition at the Paris gallery, “Truc à Faire,” ends on February 20, the plan is to strip the interior of its shelves and false ceilings to reveal the gutted space, ready for a second exhibition.
“Truc à Faire,” curated by French street artist JR, includes dozens of works by contemporary artists with names both highly familiar – Ai Weiwei, Anish Kapoor, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Daniel Buren – and unfamiliar.
Visitors unsure about what is art and what is a product up for sale are cleverly and effectively guided by arrow-shaped fluorescent-yellow and -orange labels of the type used in discount stores, each bearing the handwritten title of the work and the artist’s name.
The three-story gallery, which used to be a wholesale leather-goods shop, has been left as it was, with rows and rows of empty shelves and all the effects of wear and tear still showing.
Some of the artists used the site as inspiration for their works, notably JR himself, who has three witty installations, all of which make use of idiosyncrasies of the space. A hole in a wall became a peephole into another room, framed by a hand, and a long, empty shelf-lined room became a getaway route for a running man. Upstairs, the Eiffel Tower thrones in a broken wall at the back of a room while a black-and-white image of its environs stretches and spills out across the floor of two rooms.
There are many wonderful works here, including Tayou’s human figures made of crystal, Leandro Erlich’s glass-encased cloud, Hans Op de Beeck’s hypnotic film “Staging Silence” (2019) and Antony Gormley’s small bronze sculpture of an abstracted man on his hands and knees, kneeling alone on the floor in the middle of a room, ready to be tripped over.
Some of the least-interesting works are by the best-known artists, among them Buren’s lame piece of striped canvas and Jannis Kounellis’s “Senza Titolo” (2015), a few framed scribbles on paper.
I loved the unpretentious, anarchic spirit of the Galleria Continua, where visitors are welcome to hang out in a lounge-like area upstairs and where a café will open when Covid-19 rules allow. In the meantime, you can get a coffee to go. Lured by the smell, I couldn’t resist and left with a real Italian espresso in hand, the perfect way to cap off a visit to this mad and marvelous addition to the Paris art scene.Favorite