The one domain that seems to have been saved from the culture of “French bashing” is art. The sudden yet spectacular revival of the Parisian art scene and the multiple events and inaugurations of international recognition taking place day by day across the capital have not gone unnoticed by the Anglo-Saxons, who this week pay testimony to this resurgence in the media with an unusual enthusiasm that deserves to be recognised.
It is in this resolutely optimistic context that the 41st edition of FIAC opens this year, a time when Paris offers art amateurs a myriad of spaces and events, some public — the reopening of the Musée Picasso and Monnaie de Paris — and others private, such as the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Paris: art capital?
The pick of Paris museums remains, without a doubt, one of the richest in the world, with tens of millions of visitors arriving every year; however, France’s place on the global art market has been in constant recession over recent years. It is in London (where the majority of important collectors live), New York or Hong Kong where most high-value transactions take place.
The French art scene is obviously not the most profitable in the world, yet France and Paris can nevertheless count on their different qualities. As Anny Shaw underlines in The ArtNewspaper: “London might appeal to the business head, but it seems that Paris appeals to the heart, and never more so than this year.”
Conversely to many perceptions, and despite Paris’ ‘sleeping beauty’ image, we have recently seen the giants of contemporary art (Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac and the equally famous Gagosian gallery) invest in the Parisian suburbs with the opening of vast spaces in the towns of Pantin and Le Bourget respectively. The inauguration of the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne and the proliferation of new projects elsewhere in Paris, for the most part private, are also consistent with the notion that the decided attractiveness of the capital is only waiting to be exploited.
This autumn, the rich public programming and the good health of FIAC have created an almost euphoric feeling. So what to make of it all? “Paris is suddenly in a very good mood for art,” said Jean-Philippe Billarant, an industrialist and longtime collector who plans to give tours of his collection, housed in a converted silo, during FIAC week. Le Silo sits 30 miles northwest of Paris. “The atmosphere of Paris reminds me of Chelsea 30 years ago, and that’s interesting.”
This enthusiasm is shared by Sunny Rahbar, co-director of the Third Line Gallery and exhibitor at FIAC where he is showing work by Ala Ebtekar, Amir H. Fallah, Farhad Moshiri, Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige, Rana Begum and Slavs & Tatars. The gallerist explains, “I can say that the fair has gone from strength to strength. We have participated for the last 3 years now, and every year we meet more and more collectors. And yes, it does feel that the market is getting stronger for sure. I feel the future for the market is only going to get better and stronger as there seems to be a renewed interest and a good energy around the fair here and contemporary art in general.”
Focus on FIAC
Since Jennifer Flay took over FIAC, media and art professionals alike have said that the fair has taken on a new life. The efforts made to drag the event from the drowsy atmosphere in which it found itself in the early 2000s seem to have paid off. With an obstinate desire to internationalise, the New Zealander has, over the years, drawn some of the biggest galleries in the world and their precious collectors to Paris. Whilst many fairs have taken off across the world and the competition is intense between the leading events, today FIAC is hot on the heels of competitors such as Frieze and Art Basel.
The 41st edition sees its doors open on 23 October into a more or less serene atmosphere, the rejection of subjecting works of art to wealth tax having arrived just in time to reassure French collectors.
Internationalism is the key word for Jennifer Flay. This year 191 galleries originating from 26 countries come together at the Grand Palais; amongst these, only 65% are European (compared to 73% in 2013). Featured are 48 French galleries, 26 German, with galleries from Norway and Portugal making their debut appearance, whilst 45 North American galleries are to exhibit (four from Brasil and four from Mexico). Furthermore, for the first time, we see the participation of Japan and Saudi Arabia.
Amongst new participants, and also those returning, include: Helly Nahmad Gallery (New York), Hannah Hoffman (Los Angeles), Antoine Levy (Paris), Vera Cortês Art Agency (Lisbon), Cory Nielsen (Berlin) and Wallspace (New York).
Artists at the Grand Palais
In light of this 41st edition, Artprice has released precise information on the key players at this event. This year we will see no less that 1,451 artists. Whilst big names such as Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and Gerhard Richter will be on display, one will be surprised to find that contemporary Chinese artists, on the other hand, are rather underrepresented: Luo Zhongli, Chen Yifei and Zhang Xiadong — amongst the ten most popular artists in the world — will not be exhibited at FIAC.
From international galleries to international names; amongst the 84 nationalities represented, American artists take the lion’s share with 25%, followed by Germany (12%), France (11%), the United Kingdom (9%), Italy (3.3%), Switzerland (2.9%), Belgium (2.8%) and China (2.7%).
Recent figures on exhibiting artists show that more than 80% of exhibited artists are still alive, the average age being 50 years old. The doyenne of this selection is Cuban Carmen Herrera, aged 99 years old, exhibited by Lisson Gallery London. As for the youngest, they are just 25 years old: Lucien Smith at Skarstedt and Phillip Timischl at Neue Atle Brucke.
The next step: go international
If the scale of the event has undoubtedly risen over recent years, the ambition of becoming a rival to Art Basel is still a target to reach for.
Whilst it is certainly globalised, the art market is not totally closed off to locals. Yet we must wonder if the small number of high-level collectors residing in France (the consequence, as we saw above, results in the lack of luxury sales on French soil) does not represent significant obstacles for FIAC.
Despite a visible effort to strengthen their image as an international fair, a process which inevitably comes with a reduced number of French galleries, FIAC is still a long way from the renown of Art Basel, which remains unrivalled, except perhaps by the presence of Frieze, which is of course a younger fair; both of these events have successfully expanded to the United States (Art Basel Miami and Frieze New York) as well as Hong Kong (for Art Basel). So FIAC will take up residence in Los Angeles from 27 until 29 March 2015. The outcome of this Californian adventure is yet to be seen…
Around FIAC, and (OFF), and other offsite events
Amateurs and collectors, often weary of well known names who are mostly inaccessible for the majority of buyers, will this week have a wide range of coinciding events. With seven in total, the big newcomer this year is the launch of l'(OFF)icielle de la FIAC, taking place at the Cité de la mode et du design, in the Jakob + MacFarlane building. Jennifer Flay has highlighted that she wanted “a new event entirely, not just another satellite of the FIAC,” much in the same spirit as Liste, the much-valued event that takes place every year alongside Art Basel.
In the media space that FIAC and its surrounding events must share with the inauguration of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, the appearance of l'(OFF)icille raises many questions. For the 60 participating galleries, the success of a newly-created event is in no way assured, even if the opening on 21 October seemed promising.
Does the appearance of this parallel fair — equally as reliant on the powerful Reed Exhibition’s organisation — not risk suffocating a still-hesitant market, rather than leaving the competition in the same segment, leaving them in pieces? Furthermore the stand tariffs at l'(OFF)icille and its mother festival barely seem to differ (€445 against a Grand Palais’ €494 to €545), despite the huge difference in reputation. However, it is worth mentioning that these tariffs are often subject to negotiations. One may wonder if the aim of Reed Exhibitions, in the creation of this new event, is to partially open up FIAC to galleries who have for many years dreamed of participating and to let them in through a side entrance.
As for these external events, despite the cancellation of Cutlog (the director of which accused Reed of monopolising all available locations across the market and thus saturating it), the choice remains varied.
The event considered to be the most important of fairs “off-not-officielle”, is YIA — Young International Art Fair — taking place at the Carreau du Temple in the heart of the Marais quarter, from 23 until 26 October.
Claiming the need to mix up young galleries and more well-established players, YIA’s founder Romain Tichit refuses to deliberately be considered as an “off” event. Betting on the originality and creativity which, it is said, are at the heart of its success, the objective taken up by YIA is to set themselves apart, establishing their own identity in an environment which is, at best, more conservative. This proves a considerable challenge when the YIA has often been accused of unequal selection.
Not far from the Grand Palais, in Hotel le A, rue d’Artois, the first French edition of the Outsider Art Fair will take place. The fair, which was founded in New York 20 years ago, demonstrates the important position of Art Brut today, and more widely that of what Anglo-Saxons refer to as ‘Outsider Art’. Coincidence or not, the event takes place for the first time this year whilst Bruno Decharme’s key abcd collection is on display at Maison Rouge.
Other noteworthy events include Art Elysées (Champs Elysées, from 23 until 27 October) and Design Elysée which, having focused on the particular segment of ‘classic’ Modern and contemporary art and historic design from the post-war period, are also looking to make their mark.
Another fair working in the less competitive, but perhaps more difficult, sector of the avant-garde is Variation, formerly Show off, which takes place at the Espace des Blancs Manteaux from 21 until 26 October. This fair centres around contemporary digital creation, via the work of 40 artists who present photography, videos, 3D printing, sculptures and prototypes.
A sign of the desire for renewal and dynamism which can be noted in today’s atmosphere, the Slick Art Fair has also opted for a name change, rebranding itself this year as Slick Attitude. For its 9th edition, the event will take place underneath Paris’ Pont Alexandre III, bringing together 30 galleries with one common objective: to promote the young international art scene in France and to emphasise the work of new galleries which aim to research and uncover emerging talent.
Finally, new arrival Fair In Off, which is also to take place at the Espace Commines between 23 and 26 October, will try to grab the attention of amateur art-lovers in a landscape which already leaves very little room for competition. According to organisers, it is to be a “complimentary initiative”, bringing together 14 emerging artists standing staunchly at the fringes of traditional fairs. Fair In Off proposes to “bring the public closer to the process of artistic reflection.”