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St-Art Strasbourg 2007 Interview with Olivier Billiard

Marek Claassen and Olivier Billiard

This is an Artfacts.Net interview with Olivier Billiard, the directeur artistique of St'Art in Strasbourg, France.

AfN: Bonjour Monsieur Billiard.

Olivier Billiard: Bonjour.

AfN: Monsieur Billiard, this is the first time we're visiting St'Art. I noticed that the fair is 12 years old. Can you tell us how the fair started, and what makes it special?

Olivier Billiard: I think we must have some spécificité in this fair. I want this fair to be accessible for an old public, old people, too, because art is for everyone and not just for some specific intellectuals. First of all, we are a European fair because 40% of the galleries are foreign galleries, especially from Europe. And secondly, we have a lof of galleries originally from France. And we are alone in this case. Furthermore, there are two spécificités of St’Art: we are the only art fair where you can see Studio Glass; and we also try to present some very young artists who can be bought at an affordable price. This is my idea, and the gallery can present new profiles...

Astrid Steinbeisser, "verpiss dich", Glas Art, beer bottles

AfN: The fair has 100 galleries, not only from Europe, but also from Korea and Japan, and roughly 30,000 visitors. How do you define your future in terms of gallery numbers, internationality and visitors?

Olivier Billiard: At this moment, we have 40% of foreign galleries. My aim is to have 50%. The fair must be convivial; we will never have more than 100 galleries. Never. This is the maximum for me. Otherwise, it would be too big, and with more galleries, we would be obliged to postpone some exhibitions we are organising, and I absolutely insist in alternatives, in very nice exhibitions like the ones we have this year - George Rousse and the German expressionists from the Weimar Republic.

AfN: Is the number of visitors growing or is it a stable number?

Olivier Billiard: At this moment, it is a stable number, between 28,000 and 30,000 visitors. The urban community of Strasbourg represents something like one million people, and in Paris, at the fair, they only have 20,000 visitors with 10 million people. So 30,000 fo Strasbourg is fantastic. It is a huge number, and I do not think it is possible to have more.

AfN: Besides the French language, we hear some German being spoken at the fair. Even the Museum Würth is announcing a new museum project here. What is your main trading area? Are these mostly local people from the Alsace?

Olivier Billiard: No, our aim is to present what can be done in this area. We have 15% of foreign visitors, from Benelux, Switzerland, Germany, Italy... The European Parliament is here in Strasbourg.

AfN: So there are also some visitors from the European Parliament?

Special show: German Expressionists

Olivier Billiard: Of course. We have a VIP system: Each gallery can invite two VIPs, and we pay the hotel.

AfN: Here are quite a lot of galleries trading with glass objects. In a press statement, the fair said: “ L'engagement de St-art en faveur de l'art du verre.” And I noticed that the European Studio Glass Art Association is located here in Strasbourg. What is the connection?

Olivier Billiard: We invite l’ESGAA, this association of glass collectors, because they present some very nice objects that are very interesting to look at. And it is an occasion for people who like Studio Glass to come and see and buy in the galleries.

AfN: But was this association part of the founding of this fair? Has it always been here, for 12 years?

Olivier Billiard: No, they are here for four years now.

AfN: So you introduced this glass art. By walking over the fair I noticed some quite interesting public projects. German Art from the 20s by the société allemande de la république de Weimar, a great solo show with Georges Rousse by the Galerie Lucien Schweitzer, a nice show of French and German artists by the Fondation Centre Culturel Franco-allemand de Karlsruhe, the tremendeous glass objects by European Studio Glass Art Association. Are these public exhibitions within a trade fair common for the St'Art or is it the first time you're doing something like that?

Special show: George Rousse

Olivier Billiard: Every year, we try to create new attractions for the public.

AfN: And you cannot buy these works; it is like a museum show within the fair.

Olivier Billiard: That is correct. It is not for sale. Like a museum show.

AfN: Other fairs started with so called curated spaces. Where a curator can mix artworks from participating galleries into a group show during the fair. Do you intend to do things like that as well?

Olivier Billiard: No, we abide with the public. It is organised primarily for the public so that it can visit some interesting exhibitions, in addition to the galleries.

AfN: In your fair journal "Le journal des arts", you printed the following quote by Galerie Suty: “St-Art n'est pas Frieze ou Basel, mais juste une foire exigeante et non prétentieuse.” That means ambitious and not pretentious. What do you think Marie Christine Suty meant by saying this?

Olivier Billiard: I agree with her. We will never be like Basel. Basel is Basel. St’Art is St’Art. Every fair has its speciality, and I will never try to be like the others. Basel is the only international fair in the world. The others – Cologne, Karlsruhe, Berlin – are German fairs, not international fairs. ARCO is a Spanish fair, FIAC is a French fair... And I want this fair to be different from FIAC. FIAC tries to present itself as an avant-garde fair. If we do that here, we will not have any visitors.

AfN: So you will never make an off fair. You will never organise a St’Art next to Basel, you will never move to Basel with your fair?

Olivier Billiard: No.

AfN: Do the big players like FIAC in Paris, Art Basel or Tefaf in Maastricht have any influence on what you are doing here?

Olivier Billiard: No, absolutely not.

AfN: How do you define your position compared to other French fairs?

Olivier Billiard: In Paris, there are three or four art fairs. I like the FIAC very much. I have seen all the editions of more than 30 years. It is a very good fair. Art Paris is quite different because it is not for gallerists but for merchants, for traders. It is only trading. They are presenting well-known artists and are selling them at that fair. That’s all. No promotion of new artists, nothing of that sort. And now, there is the Drawings Fair which is quite interesting. And there is Paris Photo, a very good fair. In France, apart from the mentioned Parisian fairs, you have St’Art, but also Nîmes and Grenoble. These two last-mentioned fairs are completely different [from St’Art] because they both present an even mix of galleries and artists, in a fifty-fifty relation. It is very very regional art fairs. There are some galleries coming from the area of Nîmes or the area of Grenoble.

AfN: So in Strasbourg, it is the only big fair, besides the Parisians?

Olivier Billiard: Exactly. And next year, we will inaugurate the Lille art fair, together with the Lille organisation.

AfN: When will this happen?

Boot Museum Würth

Olivier Billiard: At the end of April.

AfN: And you will be the directeur artistique?

Olivier Billiard: That is right.

AfN: Another thing I noticed is that the City of Strasbourg is applying for the title “European Capital of Culture” in 2013. Will you do something with the City? Do you intend to work closelier with the City?

Olivier Billiard: I hope so.

AfN: How is your relation to the City anyway? Strasbourg is a great tourist destination. Other fairs like FIAC or Art Amsterdam are really working closely with the city.

Olivier Billiard: We are working closely with the city, too. First of all, they have a booth at the fair, and they present some illustrators coming from the Art Décoratif School in Strasbourg. Furthermore, the City and the museum [Musée d’art moderne et contemporain] are buying a few paintings here, every year.

AfN: Are you also affiliated with the French association of contemporary art?

Olivier Billiard: No.

AfN: And with the museums?

Olivier Billiard: No. It is not common in France.

AfN: It is a separated world.

Olivier Billiard: Exactly. But it is a – let’s say – gentlemen’s agreement we have.

AfN: Dear Monsieur Billiard, thanks for the invitation and the interview.

Olivier Billiard: Thank you very much.

Transscription: Armi Lee


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