Art Market

What’s Sold at FIAC

Anna Louie Sussman
Oct 20, 2017 7:00PM

Courtesy of FIAC.

As FIAC opened on Wednesday in Paris, gorgeous people of at least a half dozen nationalities sat outside the Grand Palais in a pedestrianized walkway, eating panini and hot dogs from food trucks, drinking tiny cappuccinos, and enjoying the sunshine and 75-degree October weather.

Inside the fair’s 44th edition, sunlight streamed in through the glass roof of the 1900 Belle Époque building, illuminating the artworks on view; open doors brought a warm breeze into the vast hall, creating continuity with the beautiful day outside and an art fair experience unlike any other.

The picture-perfect setting illustrated the simple reason many of the 193 dealers from 30 countries exhibiting here through Sunday cited for coming. Where else do you feel like you’re “on a holiday and not at an art fair,” said Andreas Gegner of Sprüth Magers. “It’s like you are at the seaside,” he joked of the weather.

A special kind of holiday, to be sure, where one could also sell a painting by Sterling Ruby for $125,000 to a collector in Switzerland, an untitled drawing from 2017 by George Condo for $300,000 to a foundation in Argentina, and a painting by Andro Wekua for €90,000 to a continental European collector. Gegner said he sees more American collectors at FIAC every year.

“Americans love Paris, I think they fall for the whole romantic myth of Paris, and they love to spend time here,” he said. (Pretty much everyone else falls for that myth—Paris is the third most-visited city in the world after Bangkok and London, according to data from credit card company Mastercard.)

Collectors’ moods were buoyed by President Emmanuel Macron’s pledge, shortly after his election in June, to lift the state of emergency imposed after terrorist attacks in 2015, said Laurence Dreyfus, a Paris-based art advisor and curator.

“We are totally in a new paradigm,” said Dreyfus, referring to the psychology of collectors and the French public more broadly, as the nation emerges from the cloud of terrorist threats. She credited the Interior Ministry for its work in making the country feel more safe. Legislation is also currently moving through France’s parliament that would give law enforcement expanded powers, while allowing for the state of emergency’s official repeal.

Dreyfus and others also described a paradigm shift amongst French collectors, with a new generation of patrons under 50 taking on more responsibility in the French market to support young galleries and contemporary art in general. She cited names such as real estate developer Laurent Dumas and Guillaume Houzé, a great-grandson of the co-founder of French department stores Galeries Lafayette, who are taking their place alongside the two luxury magnates Bernard Arnault of LVMH and Francois Pinault of Kering Group, which includes Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. The younger collectors, some of whom come from collecting families, others of whom are starting to dabble after finding success in other fields, feel a strong responsibility towards young artists and galleries, the adviser said.

Andrea Crespo, Splitting, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Downs & Ross, New York.

Andrea Crespo, Self-Portrait with Phantom Twin, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Downs & Ross, New York.


Parisians and visitors alike have benefited from the largesse of these private collectors: In addition to Paris’s many state-run institutions, such as the world-famous Louvre, the city boasts a number of private and corporate foundations, such as the Fondation Cartier or the Fondation Louis Vuitton, with more—including Dumas’s S17 and S18 cultural complex, set to be built on Paris’s Île Seguin—on the way.

“One cannot neglect the importance of this market,” said Jennifer Flay, FIAC’s director since 2003. “There’s a deep tradition of collecting here, and all the surrounding countries—Belgium, Germany, Italy. These people are very, very active.”  

A handful of these very important collectors, who are said to drop several million at the fair each year, are rumored to browse FIAC ahead of opening hours, taking a quiet, hassle-free tour through the fair even before the dealers get there. That’s a rumor that Flay vehemently denied, although she did note that FIAC is “the only fair in the world that two very large collectors attend,” presumably a reference to Pinault and Arnault. Chinese-Indonesian collector Budi Tek and Adrian Cheng of Hong Kong’s K11 Foundation were also in attendance this year, Flay said, and dealers said representatives from major French institutions were also present.

The institutional presence was a major draw for some of the younger galleries in the Secteur Lafayette, an upstairs section of the fair launched with the Galeries Lafayette group in 2009, following the financial crisis, to support emerging galleries. For the ten galleries selected, half of the fair costs are subsidized; housing is also provided for the gallerists throughout the fair. Without subsidies, booths at FIAC range in cost from less than €10,000 to more than €60,000, said Flay.

Aleya Hamza of Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery, participating in the Secteur Lafayette for the first time, brought two pieces by Basim Magdy, one video work and one large-scale photographic work, with the aim of getting them into one of the major foundations and institutions in Paris. At the upstairs booth of New York’s Lower East Side gallery Downs & Ross, nearly all the works they offered by Andrea Crespo had been placed in major institutional collections within the first minutes of the fair. Gallery partner Alex Ross said that these conversations had been in process, but seeing the works and their materials helped seal the deal.

“We were able to bring these conversations to fruition once decision-makers and curators were able to access the works in the flesh,” he said.

Crespo is a transgender, neurodiverse artist whose work explores “non-normative identity formation and the visualization of alternative relationships to common social categories of ability,” Ross said, inspired by Crespo’s own experience. Although the conversation in Europe around gender fluidity and neurodiversity is not as advanced as it is in the U.S., Ross said, “These are important discussions for institutions to lead,” and Crespo’s practice can help advance this dialogue. Most of the roughly half-dozen works ranged in price from $10,000 to $20,000.

The general consensus was that in addition to the local institutions, the FIAC collectors—French, American, and those from continental Europe—tend to be more sophisticated than the Frieze crowd, which is a little looser and edgier.

Installation view of Lehmann Maupin's booth at FIAC, 2017. Photo by Robert Giowacki. Courtesy the artists and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

“It’s definitely a very specific type of collector, different than the collectors that go to Frieze,” said Jessica Kreps of Lehmann Maupin. “There’s not a lot of crossover, other than the advisors who go to both,” she said. “It’s an audience that we don’t necessarily get to see all the time.”

For FIAC, Lehmann Maupin’s booth was almost entirely filled with works by French-Algerian artist Kader Attia, who last year won the Prix Duchamp from the Centre Pompidou and was recently awarded the Joan Miró Prize in Barcelona. On Wednesday, the gallery sold Attia's latest work Untitled (2017), a mixed-media sculpture with two prosthetic legs and a chair, for between  €70,000 and €80,000. It went to an undisclosed private contemporary art foundation in France. Another of his mixed-media works, Eternal Conversation (2016) also sold for between €80,000 and €100,000.

Michael Kohn of Kohn Gallery in Los Angeles said FIAC was his preferred foothold in Europe, since it fit better with his roster of important West Coast artists and artists’ estates, compared with Frieze, where he said collectors are typically seeking younger artists.

“I get to meet French, Belgian, some German collectors that I’m not going to meet elsewhere...and now that the fairs are separated by ten days, there are two camps,” he said, referring to Frieze’s decision last year to push its dates a week earlier, thereby separating itself from FIAC.

“There are people, Americans for example, who are coming to Paris for mid-career and older, established artists,” Kohn said. He sold a John McLaughlin painting Untitled #34 (1960) for $425,000 and a 1965 work by Wallace Berman, whose estate Kohn represents, on the opening day.  

Berlin gallerist Esther Schipper also cited the broad mix of continental European collectors that tend to favor FIAC over Frieze. She pointed out that for people coming from places like Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland, Paris is a very easy day trip away by train. For FIAC, Schipper mounted a stunning solo booth of works by Tomás Saraceno, whose spiderwebs and mirrored clouds echoed the wrought iron roof of the building. Several works sold on the opening day, she said, but more importantly, a solo booth allowed for deeper dialogues around the artist’s work.

“It’s very different if you promote one position, because there are more conversations we can have than if you have a group show,” she said. “This is the first time I’m doing this, and it’s been very enjoyable, so I might continue to do that. It’s very rewarding.”

Installation view of Esther Schipper’s booth at FIAC, 2017. Photo by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy Esther Schipper, Berlin.

Kurt Mueller, a director at Los Angeles’ David Kordansky Gallery, also mentioned the “serious conversations” he was having with collectors, again crediting the spectacular setting for creating a sense of contemplation and consideration.

“It doesn’t feel like a market frenzy,” said Kurt Mueller. “You feel like people are being thoughtful...It is a beautiful fair, so it entices you to look. You want to spend time here.”

The gallery had sold more than half their booth by the end of Wednesday’s vernissage, including a new sculpture, Fiberglass Sculpture with Incense Smoke by Evan Holloway for $85,000, which wafted frankincense and sandalwood throughout the booth. They also sold a new ceramic work by Ruby Neri, Untitled (Traditional Pot) for $22,000; Untitled Mask Collage (2017), a mixed-media panel work by Rashid Johnson for $215,000; and a new neon work, the Fragonard, by Mary Weatherford for $220,000.

Thaddaeus Ropac also called FIAC his favorite fair, not least because it’s on his home turf—two of his five locations are in Paris. He said he admires the fair’s selection of galleries, which offer something for everyone, as well as the breathtaking cultural offerings that surround the fair.

“I mean, it’s Paris, it’s the Grand Palais—oh my god!” Ropac said, gesturing around him. “It’s my favorite fair because it has this mix of young and sophisticated. It’s less underground than London, but I think it’s the right mix of classical works, and young artists when you look upstairs...and what you have in Paris at the moment right now, it’s art feels so much at home.”

He was referring to the extraordinary range of museum shows happening around the city, which included Paul Gauguin and Irving Penn shows on the other side of the Grand Palais; Camille Henrot at the Palais de Tokyo; a new show at the Musée Picasso; the traveling David Hockney retrospective at the Centre Pompidou; and a show about the development of MoMA and its collection at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, among many others. From his busy booth by the entrance, Ropac sold a painting by Georg Baselitz for €320,000, Yan Pei-Ming’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe d’après Manet for €300,000, an Antony Gormley for £350,000, and an Imi Knoebel for €175,000, all by the afternoon of the vernissage.

Alfonso Artiaco, a Naples-based gallery, has been attending the fair since 1990. Artiaco said Paris attracts many European collectors, with a very faithful, strong clientele. He said business was going well, with six works sold by the afternoon of opening day: two to new collectors and the rest to buyers he already knew. Among them were works by Niele Toroni and Ida Tursic & Wilfried Mille. Prices at the booth ranged from €10,000 to €120,000.

Installation view of David Kordansky Gallery’s booth at FIAC, 2017. Photo by Mark Blower. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.

Anthony Allen, a director at New York’s Paula Cooper Gallery, said the gallery has been doing FIAC for at least ten years, a stretch that has allowed them to “have developed a presence here even though we don’t have a space” in Paris. He said those relationships allow the gallery to introduce some of their artists who are less well-known in Europe, such as Bruce Conner, whose rare triptych had the prime spot in the booth, or Alan Shields. They were presented alongside more well-known names such as Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, and Donald Judd.

“It’s a major fair, it’s been a consistently high level, but now it’s one of the fairs that people go to, like Basel, like Frieze,” said Allen. “The clients here are very high level, very knowledgable, they know the that’s a pleasure.” On opening day, they’d sold paintings by Cecily Brown, Tauba Auerbach, and Dan Walsh, and sculptures by Carl Andre and Sol Lewitt. Prices in the booth ranged from $6,000 to over $1 million.

“Every segment of the market is represented,” said Jocelyn Wolff of Paris’s Galerie Jocelyn Wolff, echoing Ropac in noting the mix of galleries that attend, which range from small and medium-sized to global mega-galleries. But unlike other fairs, Wolff added, the mega-galleries “don’t take 150-square-meter booths,” making a more even playing field for medium-sized galleries like his.

“You don’t feel like a little dwarf facing a big giant,” he said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, several works had sold, including 2017 (2017) by Guillaume Leblon, a mixed media installation, for €24,000, and a concrete sculpture by Christoph Weber, Beton (lehnend) (2017), for €8,000. A more expensive installation piece by Franz Erhard Walther from 1962-1963 was on reserve. Wolff said a medium-sized gallery like his was able to survive because several of his artists were gaining traction in the market, which helped support the entire program.

But he said if they were to leave him for a big gallery, he’d be in trouble. “The only thing holding it together is I have some artists that are very successful,” he said.

Jennifer Flay, the fair’s director and a former gallerist herself, said that’s something that’s been part of the art world as long as she’s been in it.

“It’s never been easy,” she said. “It’s not easy now. But that’s just the reality of dealing with something as complex and demanding as art.”

Anna Louie Sussman