Often making it to top-bookstores-around-the-world listicles and guidebooks, the Canal Saint-Martin bookstore is currently celebrating its twenty years
Open 363 days a year, Artazart doesn’t stop to take a breath — except perhaps on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Most bookstore owners around the world would know it. Many have likely formulated their identity around that of the Parisian hotspot. After all, like the nearby Comptoir de L’Image, it is a cult favorite and its constant foot traffic is the best indication.
It was orange — not its current red — when it was first opened by Carl Huguenin and Jerome Fournel in 1999. They had launched the first «online library» dedicated to graphic design. Then they expanded towards brick-and-mortar on the canal and opened Artazart, «la librairie de la création». Graphics and visuals are the backbones of the store, hence their slogan Galerie dédiée à l’Image — or the gallery dedicated to the image. At the time, the neighborhood — Canal Saint-Martin — was nowhere near as busy or popular as it is today in a classic scenario of industrial-then-gentrified. «The Village Saint-Martin, and the neighborhood gives as much to the bookstore as the bookstore gives the neighborhood. A shop and its neighborhood work in the same way as in things work in love, the relation is mutual», says communications manager Maëlys Troivaux.
In 2008, Serge Bensimon — one of the two Bensimon brothers behind the eponymous tennis shoe brand — joined Huguenin and Fournel and enlisted the bookstore into his portfolio of various endeavors based on the Art de Vivre. The exhibition space, knick-knacks on sale, and fashion books are all Bensimon touches. The moment he joined in was the moment the exterior was painted the red the Parisians have come to know and love today — the change in color glorifying a new era.
Their stock spans from design to photography, signed and rare books. The team behind Artazart, and specifically, Laetitia de La Laurencie, the bookstore manager — is picky when it comes to selecting publications. «With twenty years of experience, what we know is that the container is nothing without the content and vice versa. The greatest talent will not sell if the book cover is not chosen wisely and if the editing work is not excellent». It is a visual-oriented business after all. «The publisher must sublimate the talent of the illustrator or photographer through the cover, the design, the typographical design choice, the choice of paper, and finally the printing… It all forms a whole».
The industry does not worry them. «We’re quite optimistic about the future of art publishing because it’s a micro-market that shouldn’t be moving around so much anymore. The book becomes an object a bit like Stephen Shore’s last photo book, Mack, where you discover — on the penultimate page — a small print with his signature».
Beyond printed matter, Artazart Paris is also a celebration of the illustrated and the crafted Made in France. Available for purchase are fabric pots by the French design brand Bacsac, keychains by the «magnet maniac» El Flech, Tarot de Marseille by illustrator Victoria Dorche, Morandi-hued prints by Agnès Hostache, amongst a wealth of local artists.
Much of their success stems from their proactive energy in hosting exhibitions and events and welcoming collaboration. When asked about their most memorable moment across their twenty years, they have a difficult time picking just one. «Each opening is a magical moment but we inevitably have memories of exceptional launches. We can quote for example, the one for the book Stencil Graffiti by Tristan Manco in March 2002. We let all the artists featured in the book express themselves directly on the walls of Artazart, from Jerôme Mésnager and Miss-Tic to Space Invader via Banksy. Some stencils are still preserved on the walls of Artazart and will remain there forever. The launch of Martin Parr’s book Luxe is also a memorable moment. For the occasion, the sidewalk was covered with a red carpet, a giant portrait of Martin Parr was enthroned on the second floor and bagpipers hurt the ears of all the guests. Lots of champagne and laughter».
Artazart Paris plan on throwing a party to celebrate their two decades — should Covid-19 allow it — at one point during the year. In the meantime, they have exhibitions of «artists they like» organized to mark the moment: Camille de Cussac, BACKTOTHESTREET, Kiblind, Grand hôtel de Michel Lagarde, Beatrice Alemagna, Lili Scratchy, and Harry Gruyaert.
83 Quai de Valmy