As FIAC International Contemporary Art Fair drew to a close for yet another year, and the buzz and excitement of Paris calmed, the French capital makes a strong case for its potential to be a prime hub for the art market in the European Union.
TEXT: Kirsten Wang
IMAGES: Courtesy Kirsten Wang for CoBo Social unless otherwise stated
Strolling down the streets leading to the Grand Palais, everything feels just normal in Paris: cadres on the way to work, cigarettes poised daintily in hand, the rush of electric scooters buzzing along the boulevard, sidewalk cafés being readied to serve as a meeting point for leisure and conversation. Little seemed to be affected by FIAC’s VIP preview on the windy Wednesday morning, yet all eyes were on the French capital last week.
From Yayoi Kusama’s gigantic 10-metre-high pumpkin conceived for Place Vendôme and the opening of mega-dealer David Zwirner’s first space on continental Europe, to the 15 paintings by Yan Pei-Ming presented alongside Realist master Gustave Courbet’s major works at the Petit Palais, Paris is already going through what artnet has dubbed, a “cultural renaissance.” It was a high time in Paris last week, as notable cultural institutions and galleries presented their best and two other art fairs—Paris Internationale and ASIA NOW—concurrently took place, there was no shortage of art in the city. Now, as Brexit draws nearer, the potential of Paris to become the converging point of the future of the art market in the European Union appears more evident.
The 46th edition of FIAC International Contemporary Art Fair opened its doors at 11am on the 16 October, barely 10 days after Frieze London concluded. Reportedly welcoming some 74,580 visitors across five days, FIAC has long established its reputation as an institution attracting a largely European crowd, with 199 galleries from 29 countries. The biggest number of exhibitors hail from France (28%), followed by galleries from the United States (18%). European galleries in general took up 70% of the entire roster. The number of Chinese galleries participating went down from four in 2018 to just two this year; namely Magician Space (Beijing) and Vitamin Creative Space (Guangzhou/Beijing).
In recent years, FIAC has risen from being regarded as a regional fair to being among one of the art world calendar’s must-see events. Looking out at the throngs of people crowding the aisles, footfall was particularly strong at the preview. Although in 2017 the fair saw a significant drop in American and Asian collectors due to inland terrorism and Frieze’s earlier dates—facilitated and kept since 2016—the number of international collectors has been steadily growing over the past two years. The general response from gallerists, dealers, and collectors I spoke to while at the fair, felt that the crowd were even more international than ever this year. Nicolas Nahab, director of Marian Goodman Gallery and a veteran in the Parisian art scene noted that “The collectors coming from China, South Korea, United States, Peru, and Mexico were more international and present throughout the week.”
It’s always a good indicator when deals happen throughout the week. As ‘fairtigue’ has become a very real phenomenon, collectors nowadays tend to take time to ponder, and even more time to decide. Of the many galleries I spoke to, besides the slight hiccup in sales on opening day, they were delighted with the overall performance. On top of the notable sales made at the booths of mega international galleries, the high-quality selection and experimental formats of Paris-based galleries have resulted in solid sales on their home turf. kamel mennour (Paris/London)—who dedicated their three spaces in Paris to a survey of Ugo Rondinone—sold a series of works by the artist both at the booth and the spaces, with prices ranging from US$75,000 and US$500,000. They also noted the strong market demand of Christodoulos Panayiotou’s wall mounted works priced between US$25,000 to US$55,000, who also just unveiled a work specifically made for the Musee d’Orsay on the occasion of the exhibition “Degas at the Opera.”
Galerie Chantal Crousel (Paris) reported solid sales. Their usual stellar array of Haegue Yang, Seth Price, Jean-Luc Moulène, Wolfgan Tillmans, Wade Guyton and Gabriel Orozco also included interesting new works this time, with a hand-painted anime production background by Clément Rodzielski offered at an attractive price point, and Rirkrit Tiravanija’s miniature model of the bamboo binding structure first shown at the National Gallery of Singapore in 2018. This model was sold and is believed to have initiated conversations that led to more commissioned projects of this pivotal site-specific work.
Galerie Jocelyn Wolff (Paris)—who just opened their second space in the new art-and-culture complex Komunuma in Romainville—also felt the fair was a great success. All-time blockbuster Miriam Cahn aside, the booth presented installations and wall pieces by gallery artists Katinka Bock, Franz Erhard Walther, Santiago de Paoli, and Guillaume Leblon. “Sales was up to the last hour of the fair!” gallery director Nasim Weiler exclaimed.
When it comes to contemporary art, European collectors are recognized for being on the adventurous side. They tend not to shy away from those working with conceptual art practices and have the tendency to acquire pieces by younger local and international emerging and mid-career artists. In light of this specific taste, the programs presented by the two Chinese galleries have also been considerably experimental.
In the main gallery sector, Vitamin Creative Space mounted the single-channel video Vulnerable Histories alongside an extensive project of photos and corresponding artist’s notes documenting the collective acts Koki Tanaka carried out in various cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama, Rotterdam, London, Berlin and Hong Kong since 2012. The project, titled Precarious Tasks, was offered with just a single price point, to which buyers paid—not for the artwork—but for essentially making a financial contribution, giving fundamental support for the continuous development of the project.
Upstairs at Magician Space in the southwest gallery, a group of hand-coloured black and white photos by Shi Guowei explored the concurrent ambiguity and necessity of defining media in art. The uniquely elegant visual aesthetics charmed a European collector into acquiring half of the booth, with each work priced between €20,000 and €25,000.
From the exhibitions presented by surrounding Parisian institutions and galleries, to the overall artwork selection at FIAC and other forms of arts in the city—be it design, fashion, cinema, theatre, musical or otherwise—the French capital was buzzing with a certain degree of experiential and demographic diversity. Away from FIAC, during my time in Paris, I also saw a toddler in a stroller at Palais de Tokyo staring at the unnerving burlesque by Renaud Jerez together with her parents; the younger generation of art enthusiast experiencing VR sex and reading through the diary of an artist being stalked and harassed for over 3 years at Magasins Généraux; and a student couple discussing the surface texture of an iridescent cast aluminum table by Vincenzo De Cotiis at Carpenters Workshop Gallery.
Many exhibitors have expressed similar sentiments. As the passion grows, and peripheral events take place throughout the city, the local art scene enjoys, reaps the benefits and is able to further establish its reputation as an important city in the international art world. If FIAC is consistently dedicated to assuming this cultural and social role, the inherent dynamics of the French cultural world will likely become edgier whilst remaining inclusive. As the natural light shines through the large transparent dome structure and the glass ceiling of the Grand Palais, art pieces appear more stunning than usual. The Grand Palais will soon begin renovations starting from November 2020 through the spring of 2023, as a result, FIAC and other events, will soon be hosted from a temporary Grand Palais, to be built on the Champ de Mars, but matching the majestic beauty the Grand Palais offers will surely be a challenging task.