FIAC puts the squeeze on Frieze
Source:The Art Newspaper Author:Georgina Adam Date: 2008-10-31 Size:
Through a quirk in the calendar, France’s contemporary art fair Fiac (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) went head-to-head with London’s Frieze this year.


Through a quirk in the calendar, France’s contemporary art fair Fiac (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) went head-to-head with London’s Frieze this year. Dealers exhibiting at both events had just three days to pack up in London and scuttle over to Paris for the opening of Fiac, which ran 23-26 October.

Not all dealers had this tight schedule, though; a number had chosen to eschew Frieze and concentrate on Fiac, which in the last three years has just got better and better. Luhring Augustine, The Project, Air de Paris and Guild & Greyshkul all decided in favour of the French show, and there seemed to be an element of “anti-Frieze” among other dealers and art world players. “As a whole Frieze is not as compelling as I feel it should be,” art advisor Todd Levin told The Art Newspaper. “Over the last two years Fiac has become increasingly essential to me, next year I might skip London—but not Paris.”

This year Fiac saw a number of major new arrivals including London’s White Cube and Timothy Taylor, New York’s Sperone Westwater, Paris’s Hopkins-Custot and Los Angeles’s Patrick Painter. “Last year we heard Fiac was really good and so we decided to come,” said Angela Westwater. “And the setting is wonderful, tranquil and elegant.”

Fiac returned to the Grand Palais in 2006, and its immense ground area, under a lacy glass dome, means that art is seen under natural light, and the stands are well spaced out. A second location, in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre, groups the smaller galleries. “You can’t beat being right in the middle of one of the world’s top museums!” said exhibitor Javier Perez.

While location is one of Fiac’s trump cards, it has others. Its artistic director, the New Zealand-born, French resident and ex-dealer Jennifer Flay is universally praised for adding a more international dimension to the fair—this year 61% of exhibitors were non-French. She points out as well that France has good institutional support for art through its public Frac [Fonds regional d’art contemporain] and Fnac [Fonds national d’art contemporain] collections. This year the state spent E400,000 on 34 works at the fair including Anton Henning’s Portrait no197, 2007 from Arndt & Partner and Alain Declercq’s Border’s Coree Nord, 2008, from Galerie Hervé Loevenbruck. And France boasts a number of major collectors including, of course, Christie’s owner François Pinault but also a number of others at a lower level.

In addition, the global financial crisis may have worked in Fiac’s favour: its reputation for being less edgy than other fairs is suddenly an advantage, with buyers increasingly seeking established artists as a “safe” refuge and shunning untested names. “Frieze is a market-driven niche fair, but there is a much broader range of works on offer here,” said Adam Sheffer of Cheim and Read. Indeed, Fiac always had a modern section: this year saw a stunning presentation of works by Hans Bellmer at 1900-2000 gallery, German expressionists at Henze & Ketterer as well as solo shows of Viera da Silva at Jeanne Bucher and Calder at Nathalie Seroussi. “It’s a bit like Art Basel here, with better food and hotels!” said Mr Sheffer.

Sales, however, were very patchy. Some dealers reported selling out, including the hip young French dealer Hervé Loevenbruck in the Cour Carrée, Simon Lee showing Sherrie Levine and Luhring-Augustine showing Christopher Wool drawings at $80,000 each. Perrotin sold a swirling green-and-white abstract by the Indian artist Bharti Kher for E125,000. But for others, things were very calm with buyers taking a long time to decide.

Laurent Godin was exhibiting photographs of Plane Landing, 2008, by Aleksandra Mir (E8,000 each), showing a helium-filled balloon in the shape of a passenger jet, which was “landed” in various locations in Paris during Fiac; they had not found buyers by the fourth day. Other dealers talked of “lots of interest and reserves”, which in art-dealer-speak means “no sales”. Many were resigned. “You can’t expect the fair to boom with what’s going on in the financial markets,” said Diana Stigter of Amsterdam.

[Editor] Mark Lee