Emmanuel Perrotin's Miami gallery-to-be.

What with the swell of the art market and the previously unheard-of high-level private interest in contemporary art in Paris, Emmanuel Perrotin has plenty to celebrate these days. Still, the invitation from the ever-effervescent French dealer to join him and some three hundred VIPs on Tuesday night for a sit-down dinner followed by a concert and dance party—at Le Georges, no less, the overrated yet, one must admit, magically situated restaurant atop the Centre Pompidou—suggested an occasion. And the invitation itself provided the first clue: a pretty Deco building in Miami—formerly a gas station—that, it turns out, Perrotin is converting into a new US flagship.

But the Miami expansion was not the only reason to throw a party. On the home front, Perrotin announced recently that he is moving from rue Louise Weiss—the rather dreary “young art” ghetto in the Thirteenth—to glitzy quarters in the Marais. In January 2005, Perrotin will reopen in a sumptuous hôtel particulier (formerly occupied by Cosmic Gallery) just a few blocks from Parisian heavyweights Yvon Lambert, Thaddeus Ropac, and Marian Goodman. With two major real estate deals under his belt and a stable of auction-house darlings (Cattelan, Murakami), local favorites (Sophie Calle, Bernard Frize) and rising stars (Gelatin, Paola Pivi, and Elmgreen & Dragset), Perrotin seemed also to be marking (albeit unofficially) his fifteen-year ascent from running his first gallery out of a tiny apartment on rue Turbigo to his breakthrough as an international player—a “Gagosian à la française,” as the Journal des Arts hopefully gushed.

Despite the comparison, the party lacked the visual stimulation and behavioral excess characteristic of Perrotin’s would-be American cousin. An all-too-tame crowd of French, Italian, and Belgian collectors rubbed elbows with gallery artists (many flown in for the occasion), a handful of celebrities (including Delphine Arnault of the LVMH dynasty, film producer Claude Berri, and Monsieur et Madame Lavin), and a few curators, journalists, and Ministry of Culture types. With this cast of characters, the whole affair felt like a Robert Altman film (think Pret-à-Porter for the Christie’s crowd). Against a backdrop comprising a 360-degree view of Paris’ rooftops and the glittering Eiffel Tower, snippets of table talk: Perrotin’s apparent ascension provoked competitive fluttering about the French place in the international art world (paralleling chatter about Chirac’s foreign policy). Did London’s Frieze Art Fair intend to squeeze FIAC out of existence? Is it true that the real Gagosian is opening a Paris branch? Will the Guggenheim beat out the Pompidou for a chance to build an annex on Hong Kong’s new museum island? Will Perrotin’s departure from the Thirteenth do damage to the galleries left behind? Why does Koons command such high prices? Why doesn’t Fabrice Hybert? Il est vraiment celebre, even in New York . . .

While the French love to hate ostentation à l’américaine, Perrotin didn’t seem to elicit any visible disapproval with his grand social gesture—just a few jealous whispers. Perhaps no feathers were ruffled because no unspoken social codes were broken. French mondanité dictates that discreet networking, absolute politesse, and good taste must be maintained at all times. One hoped for a little less restraint from the likes of Perrotin—who is, after all, a champion of such self-promotional gurus as Murakami and Cattelan. Does growing up here have to be so—adult?

On the left, a view of Perrotin's Miami space; on the right, Le Monde art critic Harry Bellet (left) with Emmanuel Perrotin in Miami.

Alison M. Gingeras