Travel tip: If you are vacationing in Central Europe this summer, consider making a stopover in Lecce, Puglia. It’s worth it not only for the Italian city’s delectable orecchiette and array of Baroque architecture, but also because a group of savvy dealers will be setting up shop in a 16th-century palace with a presentation of dynamic contemporary art.
The decentralization of the art market has accelerated in the pandemic, beckoning a new era of the destination art events catering to a still-mobile collector class. Many collectors have retreated to holiday homes in the Hamptons, West Palm Beach, and the Balearic Islands—and dealers with means have followed them, opening up permanent or temporary galleries there.
Other dealers, meanwhile, are opting to pop up in less crowded, more unique locales before the fair carousel begins again in the fall. Enter: Lecce, Puglia. The area (nicknamed the “Florence of the South”) is a choice summer destination for many Europeans and neighbors collector-rich areas of Italy.
“The last year was challenging, so it came naturally to us that we would want to get together before the art world starts up again,” said Daniele Balice, co-founder of Paris gallery Balice Hertling, a Lecce native and one of the dealers spearheading the event. “Everyone has the same need to get together.”
Jutta Koether Liebhaftige Malerei (red version) (2007). Courtesy of Bill Cournoyer / The Meeting.
The 10-dealer presentation, called Palai, will be held at the historic Palazzo Tamborino-Cezzi between July 23 and September 15. The seemingly remote location has managed to attract a variety of far-flung, taste-making dealers, including Shanghai’s Antenna Space; Blum & Poe from Los Angeles and Tokyo; Sadie Coles HQ from London; Layr from Vienna and Rome; and Ciaccia Levi from Paris. Italian galleries Veda and ZERO will also participate.
Avoiding calling Palai an art fair or gallery share (a term that feels like it was left behind in pre-pandemic 2020), Balice said that, though it is a selling event, participation fees were kept low to keep the focus on reestablishing ties with collectors from Europe and giving artists an inspiring backdrop to work with. He added that dealer-friends wanted to make space for some productive face time before heading back to their white booths this fall.
“Our business has changed, and so a focus on the community aspect is very important—we see this as a spiritual retreat and intellectual exchange,” Balice said.
Collectors from Greece, Italy, the U.S., the U.K., and France are confirmed to travel to visit. (Vaccinated Americans can enter without quarantining; Europeans can move freely within the E.U.) “We all have the same greater network of collectors,” Balice said.
Palazzo Tamborino Cezzi, which will host Palai. Photo: Raffaela Quanra.
Lecce boasts a small but dynamic art scene: Palai will close on September 15, overlapping with Lecce Art Week, which runs from September 10th to 15th and is organized by PIA, a private contemporary art school for artists and curators.
Offerings at Palai include a 2007 painting by Jutta Koether based on Sandro Botticelli’s 15th-century work The Story of Nastagio Degli Onesti: The Disembowelment of the Woman Pursued, which carries a price tag of around $50,000 to $75,000, presented by Bill Cournoyer’s New York space The Meeting.
Lisa Offermann, the founder of Tbilisi’s LC Queisser Gallery, will bring new works by Georgian artist Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili (priced at €4,000–17,000) and Geneva-based Ser Serpas (€2,000–10,000).
“I recently had good experiences with alternative projects compared to a typical fair,” Offerman said. “These formats grant the audience more time with the artworks and the exhibitors a chance for real conversations.”
Palai opens at Palazzo Tamborino Cezzi in Lecce, Italy, for VIPs on Saturday, July 24, and will be on view from July 25 through September 15, 2021.
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