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Aguttes told the Antiques Trade Gazette that he had reached “saturation point” in his Neuilly saleroom, where he currently stages 80 auctions a year, and needed a “more prestigious venue” to attract “more top collections and beautiful objects”. He will maintain activity at his Neuilly saleroom but use the Hôtel Dassault for top-rank sales, the first planned for May 27. He said a full merger with ArtCurial was a future possibility.

The Hôtel Dassault, described by Aguttes as “a magical venue – the finest saleroom in Paris”, is set for a major overhaul to boost auction activity. A second, smaller saleroom will be opened on the second floor, and the main first-floor saleroom refurbished. As part of the redevelopment project, the ArtCurial gallery/bookshop will relocate from cramped basement premises to occupy the ground floor.
ArtCurial entered the auction world last year by joining forces with modern art specialist Francis Briest, and ArtCurial boss Nicolas Orlowski is keen to attract other commissaires-priseurs within the next months to create a “small but coherent ensemble of auctioneers” with a turnover of “at least Fr350-450m (around £40m) per year… with less than that you don’t exist!” (In 2001 Briest turned over £13m, Aguttes £9m). Orlowski told the Gazette that he was particularly keen to stage sales of Old Masters, furniture and objets d’art, but insisted that ArtCurial would be “particularly selective” about new partners.

Orlowski also hopes for the Hôtel Dassault to continue hosting small, stylish fairs. Some of these (eg. those devoted to tribal art, Asian art or designer jewellery) are organised by Orlowski's own company, Orlowski S.A., and will doubtless continue in the revamped venue; others, like the biennial, dealer-run Salon de la Céramique, are unhappy at the prospect of less space, and the Hôtel’s increasing auction profile.

Paris dealer Antoine Lebel, a leading light behind the Salon de la Céramique, warns that “You cannot mix genres! We would never stage a fair at Drouot, for instance!”

Lebel fears the salon may be edged out as more space is devoted to ArtCurial. The Hôtel’s refurbished staircase will, understandably perhaps, be out of bounds for exhibitors during the setting up and taking down of their stands, and book and magazine publishers – who traditionally show at Paris fairs (there were five at last year’s Salon de la Céramique) – no longer being accepted, giving the relocated ArtCurial bookshop a monopoly.

The next Ceramics Salon is arranged for September 2003 but Lebel says the fair’s organising committee will decide this May whether or not to continue at the Hôtel Dassault, which hosted 29 dealers for the 2001 edition.

Orlowski insists that a rational interior revamp will ensure that the number of stands available at future fairs will be reduced by just two and, to offset this, exhibitors will enjoy improved facilities and an influx of visitors attracted by a venue that would be “full of life seven days a week”. But he acknowledged that “some events will fit in, others won’t”.