Gone are the days where art was once seen as intimidating, elitist and far from attainable. With a growing number of new age galleries sprouting up in gentrified neighbourhoods around the world, this landscape once proliferated by a very exclusive art market and its wealthy purveyors is now leaning toward accessibility and affordability for the everyday man.

One such place is Carré d’artistes, where you can be the proud owner of an original piece of art by an internationally recognised artist for just over a hundred dollars. Launched in 2001, the brainchild behind this venture is Parisian entrepreneur Stephanie Tosi, whose mission 20 years ago was to make her galleries warm and welcoming for regular folk.

Carré d’artistes believes that everyone should have the right to buy art. To make art accessible to all, the gallery’s unique fixed pricing system is based solely on the size of the artwork, regardless of the artist, techniques and medium. This modern approach promotes openness between the buyers and the artists, and removes any obscure aspect of the art market, particularly for first-time buyers.

Today, the French company is home to the largest network of contemporary art galleries in over 30 major cities around the world from New York to Beijing, Amsterdam and Paris, with more than 600 exhibited artists from France, Spain, Sweden, Canada, China and more.

Carré d’artistes was launched in 2001 by Parisian entrepreneur Stephanie Tosi, who aimed to make her galleries warm and welcoming for regular folk

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Entering Singapore market
This February, Carré d’artistes opened its first Southeast Asia offshoot in Singapore at Paragon Shopping Centre, offering over 600 one-of-a-kind creations in varied styles, mediums and sizes from a first selection of 18 international and carefully curated artists.

Franchised by French native Sebastien Chen, the cosy gallery, which occupies a corner unit at Paragon’s level four, resembles its other branches dressed in vinyl wood flooring contrasted by monochromatic décor and stark lighting complete with a mod chandelier to anchor the space.

“Our strategy is to really break the psychological barrier that art is intimidating or cold, from the outside. We want to create a space that is warm and welcoming so there’s no apprehension to step inside. This is also why we position ourselves in a shopping mall — we want the experience to be very similar to a normal retail concept and not like a trip to the museum,” explains Chen.

A love for a piece of art displayed at Carré d’artistes in Paris three years ago was what motivated Chen to buy the franchise. “I never collected art before but this particular black-and-white painting by Julien Rey was love at first sight. I took a look around, spoke to the manager and found the gallery’s concept very interesting. I found out that there was an opportunity to franchise and we signed the contract at the end of 2019,” he recalls.

The Singapore gallery is the third Asian branch after Hong Kong and Beijing. Chen’s decision to open here stemmed from his years working in the corporate sector in China taking care of the procurement needs for the United Nations. “I travelled to Singapore quite often and found it very relaxing. I always enjoyed my time here and felt there was a big market for the arts,” he says.

Chen: Our strategy is to really break the psychological barrier that art is intimidating or cold, from the outside. We want to create a space that is warm and welcoming so there’s no apprehension to step inside

Featured artistes
Due to space constraints, Chen had the arduous task of selecting only 17 artists to put up on display. His criteria was based on what he felt had more appeal to the Singapore 30-somethings. “The selection was done by a team of curators from our headquarters in France, but I worked with them to ensure diversity in the selections and styles so there is something for everyone,” says Chen.

From styles like graffiti, abstract, illustrative to pop and surrealist, in mediums like watercolour, oils or mixed media, the curation of pieces does not follow any particular theme other than being unapologetically contemporary.

Visitors are encouraged to browse the open rack displays like a record shop, hold up and scrutinise the artwork up close, or even try on different frames to visualise how it will look in their home.

Aside from the larger pieces mounted on the walls, all artworks are sealed in plastic sheets for protection. The artists are all treated equally and enjoy the same visibility, with racks of the same size displaying 40 of their best works available in four sizes, and all in square format.

According to Chen, some are specially commissioned for the local customer in mind, such as pop art artist Kikayou, famous for his Mickey Mouse and Snoopy adaptations, who created entirely new pieces featuring Garfield, Hello Kitty, Pikachu and Doraemon.

We asked him to spotlight artists who he thinks will do well here. He picks Parisians Garella and Naen, and German-native Steffi Coupette, not just for their refined artsmanship and attention to detail but also their interesting back stories. All three picked up the brush later in life after making career switch- es from the corporate world — something Chen is all too familiar with.

Fixed prices
One of the great mysteries about art is its price. Carré d’artistes sets unique prices valid for all artists, regardless of the technique which has been used. These prices are assessed depending on one objective criterion, which is the work’s size, to instil a spirit of complete disclosure between the buyer and the artist. Regardless of the seniority or popularity of the artist, prices are set at $190 (13cm x 13cm); $390 (19cm x 19cm); $650 (25cm x 25cm) and $1,300 (36cm x 36cm).

For buyers with no time to commute to a gallery, Carré d’artistes has an ecommerce platform at carredartistes.com which counts over 14,000 works available for sale, different from what is available in the Singapore showroom. Prices here can go up to $11,000 for 120cm x 120cm formats. “If customers can’t find anything that catches their hearts and eyes, I can pull up my tablet to show them what’s available online,” Chen says.

We ask him if putting a more affordable price tag on art somehow devalues the artist in some way. “This is our unique concept and we have many artists who have been our long-time supporters and willing to work within these confines. Some are exclusively represented by Carré d’artistes while others also display in other galleries. In fact, I know of one artiste who goes by a different name at another gallery so that he doesn’t run into any contractual issues,” reveals Chen.

Loving art in a pandemic
The decision to open an art gallery during the Covid-19 was a calculated move for Chen. He saw the closure of many retail spaces as an opportunity to pick the best one that was centrally located and appealed to a broader demographic profile. He found that the space at Paragon, which was previously occupied by an art gallery too, checked all the right boxes.

Although the traffic in the mall is much lower than pre-Covid days, he’s happy to share that the general outlook is positive. “Lots of people are buying our art as gifts for their loved ones, or to furnish their new homes, or they just have all this unspent lei- sure travel budget and want to fill their walls with art to feel happier,” he justifies.

The real challenge for him really is figuring out what art local consumers like. “We are all different and the emotional connection is different from person to person. Collecting market data will take some time. That’s why we try to have a blend of styles to appeal to as many people as possible.”

To add more diversity to his portfolio of artists, Chen intends to put some on rotation every few months to give others a chance to sell their pieces here. When travel restrictions ease, he also intends to fly in an artist every few months for a meet-and-greet with fans.

“For me, art brings about a lot of intangible benefits and is a way to share happiness and positivity. In this current difficult period, opening the art gallery is an opportunity to add to the quality of people’s daily lives by giving them access to a large choice of quality artworks that cater to all budgets. I am also thrilled to be promoting the works of talented and inspiring artists so that they can gain greater international recognition,” he concludes.

Artists in the Spotlight

Mickey by Kikayou
Born in 1966 in the south of France, Kikayou has always been passionate about drawing, painting and sculpture as a young boy. His specialty in graffiti has given birth to whimsical creations that marry street art with urban art.

Using icons of the 20th century like Andy Warhol, Prince, Jim Morrison or even Mickey Mouse, he manipulates the canvas with a hodgepodge of paper mâché art using a collage of old magazines, logos or dollar bills (whatever he can rummage together) and finishes with stencils or spray paint. His work is an indescribable chaos of colour and technique that promises to evoke an emotional response.

C640 by Naen
With a degree in international commerce, Naen began a long career in management and marketing for large companies in France. It was only after a divorce that she decided to give up her high-paying job and pursue painting as a career in the early 2000s while running a communications agency for the Var department.

Her artwork is technique-heavy, using paintbrushes, knives, fabric or even her fingers, as she creates layered imagery with acrylic paints, Indian ink and finished with marble powder. The result is a beautiful harmony of material, colour, light and texture.

Exquisite by Steffi Coupette
Career choices took Coupette away from her artistic vocation where she first worked in banking in Germany. But from 1990 to 1998, she studied painting and exhibited her first works in 2006 in Shanghai, where she and her husband resided for his work.

She likes to superimpose layers of paint to give depth to her work, and use brushes and sponges to strengthen the intensity of the acrylic. In her abstract compositions, the rigour of geometric lines is starkly contrasted with the intensity of colour.

A lot of her art is inspired by her travels across Asia and their magnificent cityscapes. She lives and works in Leverkusen, near Cologne.

Matin Calme by Garella
Before French native Garella devoted his life to the canvas, he was in corporate communications handling various public structures in the city of Colombes, and a part-time music composer for television. Story has it that he was leaving a friend’s party and found some unused canvas in the trash, so he brought it home and started to paint.

He frequently paints the beautiful landscapes of his home in Vendée, a region surrounded by the coast and nicknamed “the coast of light.” He poetically considers his art a meditative space in which dreams encounter nature and where one can search for a world beyond the horizon.

The self-taught artist counts British landscapist William Turner (1775-1851) and China artist Zao Wou Ki (1920-2013) as his artistic inspirations

Carré d’artistes is open daily from 11am – 8pm at #04-08 Paragon Shopping Centre