So… Paris or London, FIAC or Frieze? After months of anticipation, the 46th Fair of International Contemporary Art animated the city of lights from the 17th to the 20th of October.
Still managed with brio by Jennifer Flay, the FIAC welcomed 199 participants from 29 countries and the highest number of newcomers ever. There was a grandiose selection of artworks scattered among the Parisian’s hottest spots for its “Hors les Murs” exhibition, as well as a number of the MENA artists and galleries - for instance, Dastan Gallery (Téhéran) and Cecile Fakhoury (Paris, Marrakech, and Dakar) represented Iran and the Ivory Coast for the first time. The fair and its impressive side events have certainly contributed to upgrading Paris as a key place for the market: as Nathalie Obadia claims, “Collectors were coming to Paris for FIAC [ ...] it’s the first time I’ve felt that ‘FIAC week’ was considered to be at the same level as in London or Basel”.
This clearly came out in the Fair organizations’ results: compared to last year the number of visitors increased by 3%, reaching 74 580 visitors in its 5-day run.
From a sales perspective, London stays ahead, even though the art selection was impressive and the results were satisfying. For Mathias Rastorfer, CEO and co-owner of Galerie Gmurzynska, FIAC attracts an exceptional cohort of collectors and museum representatives and is a perfect opportunity to inspire awareness among private and institutional buyers.
I- The French touch - Art Fair
While dealers at the Frieze marked a return to the safe haven of American modernists’ paintings, FIAC’s booths praised the great names of French modern art. Of course, dealers were aligned with the programmes of French (but also international) institutions. For instance, Patrick Seguin dedicated his space to Charlotte Perriand’s designs whilst an extraordinary exhibition was honoring her at the Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Lisson Gallery (London, New York, Shanghai) focused its booth on the French artists Laure Prouvost who was selected to represent France at the Venice Biennale this year. Ceysson & Bénétière (Paris, NYC, and Luxembourg) chose to display 60’s/70’s conceptual art with the French artist Noël Dolla; the artist is well known for his lines and crosses squeezed and squashed as a rebellious reflection on the tradition of painting. Hors les Murs, Dolla also paid homage to the French pioneer of modern art, Monet, by twisting his Nympheas with umbrellas that he immersed in the pond of the Jardin des Tuileries.
If they didn’t show French artists at their booths, dealers were aligned with Paris’ outdoor exhibitions programme. For instance, Victoria Miro’s booth with the major freestanding flowers realized by Yayoi Kusama echoed the artists’ gigantic pumpkin settled in place Vendome (the setup was organised with the help of David Zwirner and Ota Fine Art).
II- What sold at FIAC 2019
From a strict sales perspective, below you will find a non-exhaustive list of what sold at the FIAC booths this year: Hauser&Wirth sold 16 pieces the first day, including a 2008 collage from Louise Bourgeois ($1.8M), a painting from Mark Bradford ($1.2M), a canvas from Ellen Gallagher ($750,000), a work on paper by Philip Guston ($200,000), and a 2019 canvas by Rita Ackermann ($165,000). In the first three days, Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery made a profit of $6.9M; amongst the pieces that were sold, there was a 1990 work from Robert Rauschenberg ($1.7M), a large new painting from George Baselitz ($1.3M), 3 metal sculptures by Antony Gormley ($519,000 each), and two large Yan Pei-Ming paintings ($625,000 each). Pace Gallery also sold a Robert Rauschenberg for $1.1M, 3 works from Sam Gilliam ($180,000 each), 13 works on paper by Yoshitomo Nara (between $70,000 and $90,000), and a sculpture by Kiki Smith ($75,000) that is currently being exhibited at Monnaie de Paris.
Some other examples of great sales were realized at David Zwirner’s booth: 3 works by Sherrie Levine ($320,000 and $750,000), six by Lucas Arruda ($75,000 and $80,000) and an unspecified number of works by Wolfgang Tillmans ($35,000 to $150,000). The Brussels-based gallery Xavier Hufkens sold, among other pieces, a large glass sculpture by Roni Horn ($1M approximately) and a work by Tracey Emin (between $400,000 to $500,000). Galerie Nathalie Obadia also reported having sold 30 works including multiple paintings by Benoît Maire and a Laure Prouvost installation that was on view at the Petit Palais.
III-The appeal of the surroundings
The Grand Palais glass ceiling plays its own role at the event every year. Indeed, the iconic architecture built for the 1900 universal exhibition epitomizes Beaux-Arts style. As Wirth (from Hauser&Wirth) said: “The atmosphere in the Grand Palais is unrivaled and makes FIAC the ‘Crown Princess’ of the European art fairs” . However, this was the penultimate edition taking place under the iconic glass roof of the Grand Palais, since from 2021 to 2024 the fair will have a new home on the Champs de Mars, in a giant cross created by Wilmotte.
Dealers noted that part of what contributed to the art market momentum behind FIAC was the robust programming around the fair. Satellite fairs like the Outsider Art Fair, Asia Now, and Paris Internationale vied for attention with major evening auctions—including one at Christie’s, where a Nicolas de Staël painting sold for $22M. Ropac said: “There is a real feeling that Paris is having a renaissance, now it’s Paris’s moment, but the substance and infrastructure to make this happen has been put in place over the course of many years.”
Also, the Hors les Murs program provided a unique experience for anyone strolling around Paris: a gigantic pumpkin from Yayoi Kusama in Place Vendôme managed to erase the terrible memory left in our collective consciousness by Paul McCarthy’s “butt plug”; two incredible mobile architectures of Jean Prouvé settled Place de la Concorde and last but not least we can wander among installations of Lois Weinberger, Katinka Bock, and Jenny Holzer amid the Jardin des Tuileries.
Paris’ status as the European capital of art seems to have gained a strong momentum with the FIAC. We are keen to see how France will manage to grasp this opportunity to shine as an important Art hub and how will the art market evolves in the years to come!