FIAC Is the Art Fair Europe Wants
Swift sales and seriousness make the fair hard to beat.
Step into the back rooms of prominent galleries across the European continent over the past year or two and a similar grumble might likely have been the soundtrack. Many dealers are feeling the effects of Europe’s contracting share of the global art market. And they’re not particularly keen on the macro-level changes in our industry’s landscape that Europe, with its diminished influence, is forced to abide. There is a nagging view among many that the dominant, innovation-obsessed Americans and Brits have increasingly lacked a seriousness when it comes to art and have chased trends and hot young things up the price ladder to art history’s peril. Some are worried, others downright annoyed.
Yet at Paris’s FIAC this week, no such lament was heard. Sales were brisk, yes. The fair has, in the past half-decade, steadily increased its position as a market-catalyst. By many accounts, it now stands on equal, if not better, economic ground than its foil Frieze London, that took place one week prior. But dealers were equally exuberant about the quality of work on display at FIAC and the quality of collectors coming to buy.
“The fair is getting stronger and stronger,” each year, Sprüth Magers’s London director Andreas Gegner told artnet News. But, compared to other fairs “you have to show more elegant and sophisticated pieces” at FIAC, he added. In the fair’s first hours on Wednesday, the gallery sold, among others, several works by Louise Lawler, including Gallery 6 (2010/12) priced at $60,000, to an American collector. Two untitled Thea Djordjadze works from 2014 went for $28,000 and $12,000, also to American buyers. And several pieces by current art world darling Analia Saban were sold within the range of $11,000–40,000.
“Elegant and sophisticated” was a refrain to be heard again and again throughout the aisles of the Grand Palais this week. Continental collectors like cerebral, difficult works—and when in Pairs, foreigners tend to follow suit. Mirrored, selfie-bait sculptures are few and far between at FIAC. The Grand Palais itself, often host to museum exhibitions and Monumtena, lends its own air of institutional gravitas. It beats the corporate drab of most convention center art fair hosts any day. Galleries at the fair tend to embrace this vibe as well, typically favoring more closed-off stand architectures oriented like so many mini-galleries across the nave.
Victoria Miro capitalized particularly well on the trend, creating three solo shows in as many rooms within their floor space for Yayoi Kusama, Idris Khan, and Secundino Hernandez. By Thursday afternoon, sales director Elke Seebauer reported that the booth was almost entirely sold out, Kusamas having sold from $160,000–400,000, Hernandezes for up to £30,000, and Khans for between £12,500–115,000.
Over at Michael Werner’s stand—one of the fair’s most intimate—sales were equally upbeat. Director Harry Scrymgeour said greatest interest had been paid to works by Gianni Piacentino, several of which sold within the range of €150,000–300,000. Further sales of works by Markus Lüpertz, Per Kirkeby, A.R. Penck, Enrico David, and Aaron Curry rounded out a bang-up opening day for the gallery. Scrymgeour noted that he now “much prefers” FIAC to other fairs on the calendar. “You can see really high-quality pieces when walking around,” he added. Noting the gallery’s packed stand on Thursday—a rare sight for the second day of any art fair—he said the French general public see FIAC as a large-scale exhibition as much as they do a place to buy.
Where buyers are concerned, FIAC is a decidedly middle to upper-middle market affair—but one at which great volume can be achieved. Exemplary were results at New York’s Lehmann Maupin. A new addition to the gallery, Roberto Cuoghi’s Senza Titolo (Untitled) (2010) sold in the early hours for between €35,000–40,000. Three Billy Childish paintings went for €15,000–20,000. A Tracey Emin work on paper Sex 16 25-11-07 Sydney (2007) found a taker for between £10,000–20,000. Works by Angel Otero and others by Do Ho Suh were bought for $10,000–20,000. And a Kader Attia sculpture, Reenactment #2 (2014) was purchased for €30,000–40,000.
Truly astronomical prices are relatively rare in the Grand Palais. Stock of that range is still better left for Anglo-American marketplaces. But a good amount of six-figure-level business was being done in FIAC’s first two days. Lisson Gallery was particularly successful, selling a large Anish Kapoor for between £800,000–900,000. Carmen Herrera’s Dos Mundos (2010) was also quickly snapped up for approximately $200,000. The gallery’s Annette Hoffman told artnet News on Thursday that she was particularly pleased about just how much the level of collectors at FIAC had risen this year. She said there were a surprisingly higher number of American collectors buying in great volume at the fair. The undying romance of a Parisian holiday coupled with FIAC’s notably European take on the art fair were no doubt behind this to a great extent.
These re-imaginations of the Grand Tour certainly add zeros to the fair’s collective bottom line. But for most dealers polled, FIAC’s loyal French and Belgians—a large part of whom are French transplants, owing to President François Hollande’s extremely high wealth tax for high net worth individuals—remain the draw, even convincing some to quit Frieze altogether in favor of FIAC.
“I think the Parisian collector base suits our program more,” said Manuel Miseur, director of Berlin’s Johnen Galerie which skipped Frieze and is showing in the Grand Palais for the first time. “London has become increasingly about hype,” he continued on Wednesday. “The Parisians tend to look for something more intellectually stimulating.” The bet had paid off; the gallery sold a set of works by Prabhavathi Meppayil to Francois Pinault in the first hour of the preview. By Thursday afternoon, they had also sold a work by Wilhelm Sasnal on the booth and numerous pieces from their back catalogue.
(According to the Quotidien de L’Art, Pinault snapped up a total of 37 works on Wednesday morning. Rumored to be among them is a remarkably large glass sculpture by Roni Horn from Hauser & Wirth’s solo presentation of the artist.)
For most, however, it isn’t an either/or situation when it comes to Europe’s two most prominent fall fairs. “I see FIAC and Frieze as complementary,” said gallerist Esther Schipper during the preview. However, an appetite for installation at the fair—Schipper’s booth features one such work by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, among others—is unique. “This is a kind of booth I could only show here,” she added.
Others concur. Isabella Bortolozzi showed a single installation from Wu Tsang’s recent, critically acclaimed Gallery Weekend show. Neugerriemschneider enlisted Olafur Eliasson to create what quickly became the fair’s most popular booth, focused on two sculptures, but which are, in essence, a standalone installation in and of itself. FIAC is a kind of art fair only Paris’s mix of money, intellect, and pomp can deliver. But it’s one that many Europeans might secretly wish could stop being the exception and instead be the rule.