PARIS — After watching the fashion industry go more global and seeing fierce competition from New World wines, France is determined to resuscitate another stagnant national treasure: its art market.
Calling the decline "undeniable," Culture Minister Christine Albanel unveiled a plan Wednesday that includes zero-interest loans for art buyers, more tax breaks for corporate art buyers and measures to free up strict regulations on the auction business.
While France's museums pull in millions of art viewers, French auctioneers and gallery owners have long been struggling to attract art buyers. A study this week from market watcher Artprice crystallized their fears, with China taking France's traditional No. 3 spot in worldwide art sales.
The United States had 41.7 percent of sales in 2007, Britain 29.7 percent, China 7.3 percent and France was flat at 6.4 percent, the study said. A year earlier, China had 4.9 percent of the market, while France had 6.4 percent.
Contemporary art in France is in especially bad shape: France had a mere 2.8 percent share of worldwide sales in contemporary and modern art last year, Artprice said. On top of that, the culture minister said art was being "relentlessly drained" from the country.
"For every work that is imported (to France), two works are exported," she said.
The government's proposals must still be approved by parliament.
Albanel's recommendations were based on a report from art insiders led by Martin Bethenod, who runs FIAC, an international contemporary art fair in France. Auctioneers and gallery owners said it was a big step forward.
"This is coming really late, but at least it's here now," said Herve Chayette, president of the Symev union of French auction houses.
One sign of how slowly change has come: Only in 2001 did France allow foreign companies like Sotheby's and Christie's to run auctions in the country.
The art market sector employs at least 50,000 in France, Albanel said. Auctions bring in $2-billion a year, and private sales are probably five times that, she said.