© FIAC 2016. Photo: Marc Domage
For over four decades, the art world has descended on Paris for its annual rendezvous at FIAC. The lead up to this year’s edition—perhaps one of the most significant in its 43-year history—was a nervous one for dealers. Many worried of a downturn in attendance, given that it is the first edition of FIAC since the Paris terror attacks on November 2015. And, across the art market recently, global uncertainty has led to lower sales volumes and lacking urgency at fairs.
This year, FIAC sees 186 galleries from 27 countries spread across the historic Grand Palais—up from 170 in 2015. And following the closure of its emerging satellite fair Officielle (due to high cost and its remote venue), FIAC launches a new sector, On Site, with some 40 sculptures and installations extending across the street into the Petit Palais. The fair opens after weeks of speculation as to how this outing would play out, intensified by the nine-day gap between Frieze and FIAC to avoid conflicting with the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. But steady sales and strong attendance on the fair’s opening days would indicate that Parisian and European collectors were more widely undeterred in showing their unhindered support for FIAC, the French capital, and the art that has been the backbone of the city for centuries.
“After the terrorist attack, the French market was in danger because people were very afraid,” said Parisian art advisor Laurence Dreyfus on Thursday. For the past 11 years Dreyfus has mounted a collateral exhibition, “Chambres à Part,” in a hotel suite near FIAC. “French and European collectors were so shocked by what was going on, that this week people wanted to buy, to support,” she said. The advisor noted that because of the general market recession (not to mention the U.S. presidential election looming) dealers didn’t expect to see the number of international collectors that have historically populated the aisles.
© FIAC 2016. Photo: Marc Domage
This fear was realized when surveying those in FIAC’s aisles—but assuaged for dealers by sufficient transactions with French collectors. Dreyfus noted that Paris is lucky to have a “locomotive” of 10 particularly intrepid buyers that keep the city’s art scene afloat even in the toughest of times. “The temperature of buying, it’s not a huge amount of transactions, but it’s good transactions. It’s not like before when you could quickly sell one-million, two-million,” she said, describing the relatively more modest budgets of most Parisian collectors.
There are exceptions, of course. Kicking off sales in the seven figures, Berlin and Paris’s Max Hetzler sold two works each above the million-euro mark at the very start of the VIP preview. Both works, Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree Trunk (2015) and Albert Oehlen’s Rock (2009), sold to private collectors in France. “We are doing extremely well here,” said gallery partner and senior director Samia Saouma, who noted that the gallery was also seeing success with works by Toby Ziegler and Jeff Elrod, which had sold to collectors from Britain and Scandinavia. “The response is stronger than at Frieze,” Saouma said of FIAC. Across the street in the On Site sector, the gallery also placed Ernesto Neto’s animal nature (2013) with a French collector on opening day for a six-figure sum.
Saouma was not the only dealer to size up the two fairs. “Frieze was slower than in previous years; you could feel people were anxious and weren’t spending money very easily, so we came here with muted expectations,” said Sprüth Magers’s London gallery director Andreas Gegner, who observed that even foreign collectors who came to London had perhaps been psychologically affected by the discussion around Brexit—even if they hailed from more healthy economies. “The first day here was brilliant,” Gegner countered of FIAC; “there was a buoyant mood.”
© FIAC 2016. Photo: Marc Domage
Among a handful of early sales on Wednesday morning, the gallery placed George Condo’s Untitled (Head #2) (2016) with an American collector for $550,000. (Head #1, Gegner noted, hangs in Skarstedt’s booth.) The gallery also sold a photograph from Cindy Sherman’s latest series (Untitled, 2016) to a European collection for $375,000; an untitled painting from 2015 by Cyprien Gaillard to a European collection for €140,000; Karen Kilimnik’s fantasy portrait the fop in Scotland (2015) to a U.S. collection for $110,000; and Kaari Upson’s wall-hung sculpture Six Pack/Home Depot Bucket (2016) to a Middle Eastern collection for $45,000.
In other early sales, Lehmann Maupin gallery sold no fewer than four paintings by Angel Otero—Immediate Worlds (2016); Bestiary (2016); Sacred Chaos (2016); Teatro (2015)—on the range of $50,000 to $125,000. The gallery also sold Liza Lou’s Vis à vis (2016) to an American collector for $100,000–150,000, in addition to two untitled works from 2016 by Kader Attia for €50,000-100,000 apiece. Attia has had a particularly news-making week, winning the Marcel Duchamp Prize on Tuesday, after opening a new art center in the 10th arrondissement the day before.
Waddington Custot Galleries’ Stephane Custot noted the gallery sold a 1981 work by Jean Dubuffet, a 1945 wood relief by Jean Arp, a sculpture by Bernar Venet, and two sculptures by Pablo Reinoso for undisclosed sums. At White Cube, two paintings by Georg Baselitz were sold for over €500,000 apiece, in addition to Theaster Gates’s Water Proof anti-racist action painting (2016), which went for $375,000 during the fair’s first hours, and Miroslaw Balka’s sculpture Kouros (1988).
FIAC Booth 0.B12, with works by Ugo Rondinone, General Idea, Tomás Saraceno, Jean-Pascal Flavien, and Rodney Graham. Photo by Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy the artists and Esther Schipper, Berlin.
Brazilian gallery Mendes Wood DM had a banner start to the fair. “We sold the majority of the booth by 11 a.m.,” said Martin Aguilera, the gallery’s head of sales. From a three-artist booth priced between $10,000–32,000, early sales included five of six 2016 paintings by São Paulo-based artist Paulo Nimer Pjota. As of Thursday afternoon, the last painting, as well as a floor sculpture by Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, was on reserve, the latter to a European institution.
As to whether he’d noticed a gap in collectors from those deterred by Frieze and FIAC no longer being separated by a few days and a two-hour trip on the Eurostar, Aguilera noted the gallery had expected this and planned accordingly. “We knew a lot of collectors were choosing one or the other. It’s been about half and half.” Further, the gallerist said that among the predominantly European group who’d come through the booth, “a lot of the collectors we haven’t seen in the last few months at a lot of the fairs showed up to FIAC. “I think it’s because it’s Paris,” he said, smiling.
Aguilera was not the only gallerist to acknowledge the city’s charm as a legitimate draw to FIAC. “Everybody likes this week in Paris,” said Lisson’s London director Claus Robenhagen. He added that despite some collectors undoubtedly having had to choose between fairs, the pace “feels the same as last year.” Based on the gallery’s strong sales over the fair’s first two days—works by Cory Arcangel, Angela de la Cruz, Lee Ufan, Joyce Pensato, and Anish Kapoor on the range of £25,000–250,000—that’s a pace to be desired. “We’ve done generally well,” said Robenhagen, whose highlight of opening day had been the sale of Susan Hiller’s Secret Wars 1984–87 (1984), a rare painting that went to a European collection for £60,000.
Korean gallery Kukje/Tina Kim, a FIAC participant since the fair’s inception, saw early success with work by Kim Yong-Ik. On the heels of presentations at Frieze Masters and KIAF, and ahead of his November exhibition at Kukje Gallery, two of the works by the artist on view (all Untitled 1990–2016; around $100,000) had sold to museums in Europe and the U.S. on Wednesday morning, with the third on reserve as of Thursday afternoon. The gallery also sold a work from Ha Chong-Hyun’s “Conjunction” series for around $170,000–200,000 to a private collector in Europe. A series of Ugo Rondinone sculptures, on view in the Place Vendôme, were presented through a collaboration between five galleries for FIAC’s Hors Les Murs public art parcours.
FIAC Booth 0.D34, with works by William N. Copley, René Magritte, and Bjarne Melgaard. Courtesy of VENUS.
In contrast, a number of dealers spoke of the relaxed pace that has come to be expected in the city. “Paris has always been a slower one to start,” said Esther Schipper, who had sold Jean-Pascal Flavien’s Model / Mask 2 (2016), reminiscent of the artist’s “Folding House” series built in the museum of Monaco, for €14,000 excluding VAT. “At Frieze, after two days, if you have not done your whole business, forget it. But this fair’s opening is a very big Parisian social moment; it’s not only about coming in and getting the work as fast as possible.”
Likewise, Rosemarie Schwarzwälder of Vienna’s Galerie nächst St. Stephan described a relaxed but steady pace across the fair. “It’s another audience; in Paris very often things are slower.” By Thursday evening, the dealer had sold two works from Daniel Knorr’s 2016 “Depression Elevation” series for €15,000 and €39,000, as well as the artist’s copper sculpture, Reconstruction (2016), for €10,000 excluding VAT. Walter Swennen’s Trop Mots (2016) sold to a Portuguese collector for €30,000; and Michal Budny’s Ascension (2013) went to French collector for €22,600. “I don’t see many Americans,” Schwarzwälder said. “I miss them.”
“We’re selling to all Europeans; there are very few Americans here. For some reason Americans are afraid to come to France. It’s weird. They want bodyguards,” said Venus gallery owner and collector Adam Lindemann, from one of the fair’s most striking booths, juxtaposing the paintings of William N. Copley and his friend and mentor René Magritte and featuring Bjarne Melgaard homages to Copley ala Allen Jones. The presentation coincides with Copley’s retrospective at the Fondazione Prada and Magritte’s exhibition at Centre Pompidou. According to Lindemann, the booth, after pioneering L.A. collector-cum-gallery owner Copley, mirrors his own personal trajectory as a collector opening a gallery. “William Copley’s gallery lasted for two years and then it closed. Nobody bought anything. We’ve been relatively successful, we’re still around, so in that way we part ways.” Works in the booth ranged in price from $100,000 to $7.5 million and Lindemann noted, “many things in the show have sold.”
While talk of the lowered number of Americans across the fair was impossible to ignore, it appears the solidarity of the European collectors did a fine job at filling in the gaps. “The fair is quite good for us because we are home,” said Marie-Laure Gilles of Parisian gallery Chantal Crousel,” who’d sold Danh Vō’s giant copper sculpture We The People (detail) (2011–2013) for around €250,000. “Even if there are less collectors here this year, in terms of sales we haven’t really seen a difference.” Whispers swirl of the Grand Palais renovation in coming years, meaning the fair could find itself needing to decamp from its iconic location for at least one edition, and it remains to be seen what the future will hold for FIAC as the art fair calendar continues to shift. But any expectation of a bust at FIAC this year and that Frieze would take the crown on the fall fair lineup, has proven false.