Art Market

What Sold at FIAC 2021

Wilson Tarbox
Oct 25, 2021 7:18PM

George Condo, Inside Out, 2021. © George Condo. Photo by Lance Brewer. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

The return of Paris’s Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 was met with much trepidation. Despite the strong showing at this month’s Frieze Week in London and the relative success of online sales—which have become an absolute necessity for many galleries over the past year and a half—a mid-year review by Dr. Clare McAndrew on “Resilience in the Dealer Sector” found that French galleries had suffered a 6% decrease in sales due to COVID-19 restrictions, various new regulatory constraints (including the fallout from Brexit), and even political uncertainty, as the 2022 French presidential race begins to gear up. According to the report, over half (58%) of galleries from the major European markets of Spain, France, and Germany were skeptical about their chances of growth this year. However, the mood at FIAC’s VIP opening on Wednesday was one of cautious optimism that seemed to persist and evolve into a mixture of lukewarm satisfaction and even relief as the fair’s 47th edition drew large crowds to the Grand Palais Éphémère up through its closing on Sunday.

“It was really, really great. There is a good energy this year,” said Pierre Lannoy of Mendes Wood DM, a Brazilian gallery with locations in São Paulo, Brussels, and New York. “From day one the venue was full, and it hasn’t emptied out since. Over the course of the fair, we saw a mix of museum curators and collectors who came in person to look and, in some cases, to buy.”

Rashid Johnson, Seascape “The Last Night,” 2021. © Rashid Johnson. Photo by Stephanie Powell. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.


That sentiment seemed common among participating galleries and was echoed especially consistently by the biggest players. “We had a very strong fair at FIAC, and were particularly encouraged to see such a significant turnout from the international collecting community,” said Elliot McDonald, a senior director at Pace Gallery. “We made a number of major sales throughout the week to collectors from Europe, North America, and Asia, which is a testament to both this fair and the strength of the market.”

There was a consensus among gallerists that this edition of FIAC testified to a strong desire to recreate the exuberant energy of previous editions. There was a palpable energy and desire throughout Paris to avenge the pandemic conditions, which had seen the French government all but shut down the country’s entire cultural sector (even cordoning off book aisles at supermarkets).

“This year was really excellent. We couldn’t have hoped for a better start to FIAC,” beamed Mathieu Templon, son of Daniel Templon and co-owner of the eponymous gallery Templon, with locations in Paris and Brussels. “We nearly sold out on our first day. It was totally unprecedented, especially after almost two years of not being able to make regular contact with our friends and collectors.”

Rita Ackermann, Mama, The Storyteller, 2021. © Rita Ackermann. Photo by François Fernandez. Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

Jack Whitten, King’s Wish (Martin Luther’s Dream), 1968. © Jack Whitten Estate. Photo by John Beren. Courtesy of the Jack Whitten Estate and Hauser & Wirth.

He continued: “This year’s fair is a very good sign as far as the health of the French market goes. It has shown us that the reputation and prestige of Paris is well deserved, especially in light of new institutions that have sprung up in the past year.” Despite the pandemic, Paris’s cultural offerings have been expanding, from the opening of mega-collector François Pinault’s Bourse de Commerce to the growing momentum behind the Komunuma gallery complex in Romainville, a suburb of Paris.

Other gallerists shared this enthusiasm, but seemed more ambivalent about the temperature of the French market. “We are very happy to be back in Paris for FIAC with collectors and friends who have a shared respect for this great, well-organized fair,” said Mathieu Paris, a senior director at White Cube. “Although we’ve had a high number of steady sales both at the fair and in our viewing rooms at 10 avenue Matignon, the majority have been under the half-million euro mark, and we’ve noticed that it has been harder to place the higher-value works.” In the first three days of FIAC, his gallery had registered some $1.8 million in sales.

Etel Adnan
Brume Matinale, 2019
White Cube

There were, however, some galleries that seemed to have no trouble placing higher-value works. Hauser & Wirth reported eight major sales on the first day alone, with gallery president Marc Payot noting a mix of local and international buyers, both private collectors and institutions. “So many collectors have made a dedicated trip from across Europe and the U.S. to experience le grand retour of FIAC, many more than we expected,” he said. “This year, the interest from French and European foundations has been particularly strong, and we’ve placed works by Avery Singer, Rashid Johnson, Ed Clark, and Rita Ackermann in the most respected collections. Paris is certainly riding high and as ever the exhibitions in institutions in the city are simply outstanding.”

In addition to European market trends, the fair’s new venue—a temporary structure situated on the Champ-de-Mars, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower—was a topic of some concern. The slightly different configuration of the Grand Palais Éphémère required booths to shrink in size and all occupy the same level, rather than the multi-floor configuration of yesteryear, by extending the space’s nave with a pavilion called the “Galerie Eiffel” in an effort to improve circulation. But you might not have guessed it from the swell of visitors that seemed to grow with each successive day.

Avery Singer, Sculptor & Robespierre, 2021. © Avery Singer. Photo by Lance Brewer. Courtesy of the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.

The fair’s new temporary space conveyed some of the regal luster of its Beaux Arts predecessor (albeit of a more modern than Napoleonic character). Like the original Grand Palais (closed for renovations through 2024) and comparable turn-of-the-century structures, the Grand Palais Éphémère conveys a sense of wanting to respond to the expectations of its moment in history. Its 44 monumental arches were assembled in only three months, a speed that brings to mind the impressive engineering feats of Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace, built in only five months for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. It echoes a widespread desire to return to “normal” after the past year and a half of pandemic disruptions, but it also acknowledges that this “new normal” brings with it new responsibilities, notably to the environment. Hence the building’s modular, reusable, and reconfigurable structure; its wood sourced from “sustainably generated forests”; and its carbon absorption capacity, stated to be 1,956 tons. In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, another would-be temporary structure, the Grand Palais Éphémère clearly has the ambitions to be a building for the moment.

“The Palais Éphémère is better in some ways,” commented Mira Bernabeu, an artist and owner of the Madrid-based gallery 1 Mira Madrid, which was participating in its fifth FIAC. “It is nice to have all the exhibiting booths on the same level. The spatial dividers are not as dramatic as they were in the Grand Palais, with upstairs and downstairs and the smaller or emerging galleries in a different space from the larger, more established ones; collectors often missed the smaller galleries, they couldn’t see everything.” Smaller galeries like Bernabeu’s seemed, in general, to have fared slightly better than in years past. In 1 Mira Madrid’s case, the gallery sold works by both of its artists on display, Fernando Bryce and Mladen Stilinovic, for prices between €45,000 and €55,000 ($52,000–$64,000).

Yves Laloy, Sans titre, 1971. Photo © Claire Dorn. Photo by Claire Dorn. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.

Many gallerists shared Bernabeu’s positive outlook—some confidently, others with visible relief. Concerns about the health of the French market, the whims of collectors, and uncertainties related to the smoothness of health protocols were assuaged by a slew of strong sales, especially toward the beginning of the fair, with some booths selling out within hours of opening.

For Emmanuelle Orenga de Gaffory, a senior director at Perrotin, FIAC’s ability to draw important collectors and museum professionals eager to return to pre-pandemic conditions made it the perfect venue for a showcase of works by the late French painter Yves Laloy. A familiar name to historians of the Surrealist movement (one of his works illustrated the 1965 edition of André Breton’s book Surrealism and Painting), he is nonetheless an artist who remains little known among a wider audience. He will be the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the gallery’s Matignon space in January.

“We are very happy. There is a very good energy, lots of foreign visitors, notably Americans,” commented Orenga. “Frankly, we haven’t noticed a remarkable difference with 2019; it is as if things picked up where they left off, although we do have far fewer Asian clients than in previous years. Still, we are happy to see people come back, happy that they are interested in discovering our new artists.”

Georg Baselitz, Bad im Flur, 2021. © Georg Baselitz. Photo by Jochen Littkemann. Courtesy of the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac.

Alex Katz, Olivia 1, 2021. © Alex Katz / Adagp, Paris, 2021. Photo by Thomas Müller. Courtesy of the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac.

Buyers—cautious and impulsive alike—turned out in great numbers for FIAC this year, with major collectors including Miami’s Don and Mera Rubell and Swiss patron Maja Hoffman making the trip. Notable sales reported by galleries at the fair included the following:

  • Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac sold Robert Rauschenberg’s Star Grass (1963), a large silkscreen print on canvas retouched with oil paint, for $2.8 million, and Bad im Flur (2021), a giant new canvas by Georg Baselitz, for €1.2 million ($1.4 million). The gallery also sold a large-format portrait by Alex Katz titled Olivia 1 (2021) for around $600,000; two cast iron sculptures by Antony Gormley for £400,000 ($550,000) each; and a new black-and-white Yan Pei-Ming painting, Golden Eagle (2021), for $280,000. Alvaro Barrington’s very Rauschenbergian work Street dreams are made of this, series the voice of his streets (2021) sold for $80,000, and Rachel Jones’s tortured canvas SMIIILLLLEEEE (2021) went for £15,000 ($21,000).
  • Hauser & Wirth sold Avery Singer’s large acrylic painting Sculptor & Robespierre (2021) to a French foundation for an undisclosed price. George Condo’s large mixed-media work Inside Out (2021) sold for $1.55 million. A painting titled Seascape “The Last Night” (2021) by Rashid Johnson—an artist who has been very visible in Paris, with work in a group exhibition at Reiffers Art Initiatives and a feature on the cover of the French magazine Numéro—sold for $850,000. A historic work by Jack Whitten dedicated to the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., King’s Wish (Martin Luther’s Dream) (1968), sold for $750,000. An untitled painting from 1954 by Ed Clark sold to a respected European foundation for $650,000, as did a work by Rita Ackermann titled Mama, The Storyteller (2021), for $475,000.
Kenneth Noland
Verdet, 1981
White Cube
Isamu Noguchi
Thanatos, 1958
White Cube
  • White Cube sold an untitled work from 1976–77 by David Hammons—an artist whose profile in France has recently risen thanks to a solo exhibition at the newly opened Bourse de Commerce, as well as a guest appearance in Anne Imhof’s ongoing exhibition “Carte blanche” at the Palais de Tokyo—for $285,000. The gallery also sold Etel Adnan’s Brume Matinale (2019) for €80,000 ($93,000); Park Seo-bo’s Ecriture (描法) No. 10-79-81 (1981) for $775,000; and Isamu Noguchi’s steel sculpture Thanatos (1958) for $250,000.
  • Brussels-based gallery Xavier Hufkens sold a painting by Alice Neel for approximately $1 million; a sculpture by Lynda Benglis for approximately $700,000; and another by Antony Gormley for approximately £400,000 ($550,000). A sculpture by Louise Bourgeois sold for approximately $400,000, and a large gouache by the artist sold for approximately $225,000. The gallery also sold a full edition of six sculptures by Tracey Emin for £65,000 ($89,000) each, plus a neon work by Emin for approximately £55,000 ($76,000).
  • On the fair’s opening day, Antwerp-based Zeno X Gallery sold Luc Tuymans’s large painting Dad’s Heat (2013) for over $1 million, and two works by Marlene Dumas (who is currently being shown in a special exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay): the small ink drawing Die Kaapster (1990) for $50,000, and the large watercolor Leo (2001) for over $150,000. Zeno X Gallery’s most impressive early sales—albeit not its most expensive—were of works by Martin Margiela, the fashion designer who has only recently begun exhibiting his beguiling tactile sculptures, most notably with an ongoing solo show at Lafayette Anticipations. The gallery sold Margiela’s flesh-toned oddity Kit (2020) for €20,000 ($23,000), and six editions of sculptures each priced between €40,000 and €50,000 ($47,000–$58,000). On the fair’s second day, the gallery unloaded Dumas’s Le Désespoir de la Vieille (The old woman’s despair) (2020) and Landscape (2020)—two works currently on view at the Musée d’Orsay—for over $1 million and $500,000, respectively.
  • Templon sold a large painting by Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of Jesenia Pineda & Sable Boykin (2021), for $500,000. The gallery also sold Gérard Garouste’s surreal figuration Les puits, la belette et le Shulamit (2021) for €110,000 ($128,000); a luminescent painting by Omar Ba for €115,000 ($134,000); and an eccentrically shaped painted relief by Robin Kid a.k.a The Kid, It’s all your fault - XVII (2021), for €80,000 ($93,000).
  • Mendes Wood DM sold out its booth devoted to the London-based Dutch artist Maaike Schoorel, with prices ranging from €7,000 to €40,000 ($8,000–$47,000).
Park Seo-bo
Ecriture (描法) No. 10-79-81, 1981
White Cube

Several dealers noted that part of what contributed to the overall positive mood at FIAC was the robust programming aligned around it. Satellite fairs like Asia Now and Paris Internationale vied for attention with FIAC’s hors-les-murs offsite programs in the Jardin des Tuileries, the Place Vendôme, and the Musée National Eugène Delacroix. Three auctions that took place at Christie’s on Thursday and Friday evenings, however, didn’t see the same robust results as in 2019.

“We feel very lucky to be back in this city, especially whilst we are surrounded by such a strong museum program, including the fantastic Georg Baselitz exhibition at the Pompidou and David Hammons at the Pinault Collection,” said Paris of White Cube. One could add a slate of intense, four-hour performances by Anne Imhof and her crew at the Palais de Tokyo from October 21st to the 24th, whose presence at times seemed to eclipse FIAC, particularly on social media.

Whatever mixed feelings might have accompanied the sales at FIAC, there was a pervasive gratitude at being able to once again meet with clients and colleagues in person in a physical space. “We can’t complain. The big fairs have only just recently made their return,” grinned Bernabeu. “Collectors are coming back and are spending better than expected.”

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