Monday, October 31, 2011


Fiac steps up its game
France’s international fair is becoming a worthy competitor to Art Basel, but needs to address issues concerning space

By Georgina Adam | Web only
Published online 21 Oct 11 (Market)

PARIS. This year’s Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (Fiac, held 12 to 16 October) has been hailed by dealers and visitors alike as one of the best editions ever of the 38-year-old event, if not the best.

Coming as it does in the week following Frieze, comparisons are inevitable. The two events are different, however, in that the London fair mainly focuses on living artists, while Fiac has a far broader sweep, with a number of galleries such as Le Minotaur, Galerie 1900-2000 or Ubu offering early 20th-century material, from surrealists to German expressionists.

Nevertheless, the Paris event beat London into a cocked hat. Inevitably, price points are also higher in Paris, such as a 1952 Nicolas de Staël seascape at Galerie Applicat-Prazan on offer for over €2m, a Picasso Musketeer at $6m-$8m with Gagosian or a Max Ernst at $6m with Ubu.

Sales were robust from the start, from the $1m set of drawings by Louise Bourgeois sold by Cheim & Read to a Saudi collector, a Murakami screen placed by Galerie Perrotin with a European foundation (price between €2m and €3m), and a Mircea Cantor installation sold by Yvon Lambert for €60,000, while Hauser & Wirth quickly found buyers for Rashid Johnson’s work, including Napalm, 2011 ($95,000).

“Everyone has brought their best things to Fiac, and it shows how Paris is really on the up,” said the French dealer Michel Rein: “Just look at the number of foreign galleries setting up here.” These include Gagosian and the Italian gallery Tornabuoni, both installed within spitting distance of the Champs Élysées.

Fiac’s general director Jennifer Flay continues to internationalise the fair, with new arrivals from New York including Matthew Marks, Eleven Rivington, Andrew Kreps, Michele Maccarone and Friedrich Petzel. This has led to some grumbling from French galleries that the fair is too “American”, something that Flay refutes robustly, noting that: “We are the most national of the international fairs, with 32% of [exhibitors being] French dealers: Frieze, for example, has only 25% as British galleries.”

Fuelling this fire was the fact that some good French galleries were excluded this year, the reason being a squeeze on space. Fiac has moved its younger gallery section onto an upper floor of the Grand Palais (they were formerly in a tent in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre), and had to reduce numbers from 194 to 168. Next year, more space will become available, but this year some dealers were dismayed by their position, and their tiny stands. “Quite frankly, I wouldn’t have come if I’d known where I’d be,” said Gregor Podnar of Berlin and Ljubljana. But, said Darren Flook of London’s Hotel gallery, “It’s much better that all the galleries are together,” and sales were immediately made on the upper level: Brussels dealer Catherine Bastide, showing young American artists, sold virtually everything during the first hour, when VIPs were sent upstairs before the main area in the nave opened, as did Berlin’s dealer Johann König, whose solo show by Helen Marten was snapped up by collector Guillaume Houzé, the heir of the Galeries Lafayette department store fortune.

Downstairs, sales had started the night before the fair’s opening, with art advisers Patricia Marshall, Caroline Bourgeois (François Pinault’s curator) and Suzanne Pagé (who buys for Bernard Arnault) and many others openly browsing during setup. Dealers were not happy with this—and were further incensed when they heard that Pinault and Arnault popped into the fair in the evening, while they were all at a €750-a-plate dinner at the Musée d’Art Moderne (“Listening to some Légion d’Honneur make speeches,” hissed one dealer. “We came here to meet these collectors face-to-face and we missed the opportunity.”) But fortunately, frayed nerves were soothed by the level of sales and the feeling that this fair is a now worthy competitor to the august Art Basel.

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