Paris fair sheds its Frenchness

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Pinault and Arnault invitation to view Fiac ahead of VIPs pays dividends

The 41st edition of Fiac (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) at the Grand Palais in Paris

“For me, Fiac is like the Frieze Masters of contemporary art; you can, in the main, be assured of the quality of the works,” said an anonymous US dealer attending the 41st edition of Fiac (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) at the Grand Palais in Paris. The French billionaire Francois Pinault, whose collection is housed at two galleries in Venice, also put his faith in the French fair; he bought 30 works at Fiac and its new satellite event, (Off)icielle, at the Docks-Cité de la mode et du design.

The roll-call of curators, artists and collectors reflected the fair’s prestige, with the British artist Tracey Emin, the French artist Bernar Venet, the president of the Centre Pompidou, Alain Seban, and Beatrix Ruf, the newly appointed director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in attendance. Sources on the floor said that Pinault and Bernard Arnault, who is due to open his Fondation Louis Vuitton museum in west Paris later this week, entered the fair at a special pre-arranged time; a fair spokeswoman said that “out of discretion, both men came through a separate entrance a little earlier”.

The Paris-based art advisor Laurence Dreyfus said, however, that “there are not many spectacular works at Fiac this year, except perhaps for the Olafur Eliasson pieces on the stand of Neugerriemschneider gallery” (the German dealer’s solo presentation of works by the ubiquitous Danish-Icelandic artist proved popular, especially Dew Viewer, 2014, a cluster of 212 glass spheres; prices for the works were undisclosed). But a UK collector was overheard on the fair floor saying: “Fiac always plays it safe”.

Other art world professionals were evangelical about the elevated profile of the Paris fair. The dealer Michel Rein, who runs galleries in Paris and Brussels, said that Fiac has shed its reputation for being “too French”. There are 46 French galleries out of 191 galleries in total. “Of course Fiac is truly international,” said Rein who has participated in 23 editions of Fiac. “Why would you fill the fair with French dealers anyway?” he added. A 24-carat gold ATM by the Bulgarian artist Stefan Nikolaev on Rein’s stand, entitled Cry Me a River, 2009, was a hit, with two editions of the piece selling for €15,000 each. Nikolaev said that the work is “a comment on our relationship with money”.

A selection of works by Roni Horn at Hauser & Wirth gallery, especially a series of photographs of the French actress Isabelle Huppert, was also a draw (Portrait of an Image with Isabelle Huppert, 2005, $425,000). A gallery spokesman said that museums have expressed interest in the other Horn works, including one of the artist’s famous glass drums (I deeply perceive that the infinity of matter is no dream, 2014, $3.5m).

The VIP preview also proved profitable for the London- and New York-based gallery Skarstedt. It sold at least four works including a large-scale wall piece incorporating everyday detritus, such as buttons and beads, by the late US artist Mike Kelley (Memory Ware Flat no, 10, 2001) for “more than $1m”, said Bona Montagu, the director of Skarstedt London. “We’re seeing a lot more Americans here,” she said.

The younger galleries housed upstairs in the Salon d’Honneur section seem keen to graduate to the main floor of the fair where the established galleries showcase their works, but the mid-career dealers on the first floor still reported strong sales. The London-based gallery Campoli Presti sold two works by the US photographer Eileen Quinlan priced at $15,000 each.

But the final appearance of the veteran Paris dealer Yvon Lambert at Fiac struck a poignant note. Lambert will close his Paris gallery in December and plans to launch a new business next year devoted to art books and exhibition catalogues. The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, toured Lambert’s stand with the newly appointed culture minister Fleur Pellerin, giving Lambert the state’s stamp of approval before he bids adieu to the Parisian art scene.

Mike Kelley’s Memory Ware Flat no, 10, 2001) sold for “more than $1m” with Skarstedt

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