With an Unprecedented Crush of Art Fairs in Europe This Fall, FIAC Is Banking on Paris’s Mounting Market Momentum to Stand Out

FIAC debuts this week with a new venue—the Grand Palais Ephémère—and an international lineup of exhibitors.

The lawn of the Champ de Ephemere, where FIAC will be located this year. Photo: Christophe Archambault via Getty Images.

Art dealers have needed more than a bit of stored-up energy to handle this fall’s crush of art-market events, which concludes (at least for a fortnight) with the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) in Paris this week.

The starting gun went off in September with the rescheduled opening of the Armory Show in New York, followed by Art Basel’s marquee Swiss fair—and there has been little reprieve since. Last week, Frieze returned with strong reviews; it coincided with KIAF in Seoul. (Never before have Europe’s three biggest art fairs been held so close together.)

Now, it’s FIAC’s turn. On October 20, VIPs will file into a temporary building sited a stone’s throw from the French fair’s usual location, the historic Grand Palais, which is closed for renovations. 

Some 170 galleries from 25 countries are expected to attend, but VIPs are being more selective. The talk of the fair aisles this season has revolved around who’s showing up and who isn’t. It’s a relatively new problem prompted by health concerns, shifting travel rules, and a packed calendar—but it may also portend larger and longer-term shifts in collectors’ approach to these events. 

“Earlier this year, we were a little apprehensive looking towards the fall programming of art fairs—especially with two expensive fairs like Art Basel and FIAC taking place so close to each other with Frieze in between,” said Florence Bonnefous, the owner of Air de Paris. The gallery is presenting, among other works, a $20,000 oil painting by Eliza Douglas, who scored her partner and collaborator Anne Imhof’s current exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo.

Many dealers are banking on FIAC for one simple reason: they know people love Paris. The city has enjoyed an artistic revival in recent years. “Art Basel was not too bad in terms of sales, but FIAC looks even more promising with many more international collectors registering as travel restrictions are being lifted globally,” Bonnefous said.

Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Untitled (Autumn 2019) (2020), will be on view at Layr at FIAC. Courtesy the artist, Layr, Vienna

Paris Revival

Not all dealers decided to risk attending the three fairs in Europe. Frank Demaegd, owner of Antwerp gallery Zeno X, skipped Frieze. “Art Basel was a success for us,” he said, emphasizing that the international cohort of buyers absent in person were active remotely. He expects the same will be true at FIAC, where the gallery is debuting the art of former fashion designer Martin Margiela (prices range from €10,000 and €60,000). 

Viennese art dealer Emanuel Layr decided on FIAC because it has always cultivated a majority-European audience. “There are serious collectors in Paris who are very important to us,” Layr said. A few South Korean collectors are planning to go, Layr expects, but Chinese buyers remain at bay if they are not already in Europe due to the strict quarantine rules back home.

At the fair, he is presenting two works by Lili Reynaud-Dewar (€25,000–38,000), the French artist who won this year’s prestigious Prix Marcel Duchamp. She also has work on view at the Bourse de Commerce and the Centre Pompidou.

Georg Baselitz Romischer Grus (2004). Courtesy White Cube.

Georg Baselitz Romischer Grus (2004). Courtesy White Cube.

Many dealers are working to capitalize on the buzz created by Paris institutions’ packed fall programs. White Cube is presenting Georg Baselitz’s sculpture Römischer Gruß (2004) (priced at $1.3 million) to coincide with the artist’s retrospective at the Pompidou. Hauser & Wirth is showing a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois similar to one on display at the Jardin des Tuileries and a 1967 body print by David Hammons, who is the subject of a retrospective at the Pinault Collection.

Jennifer Flay, FIAC’s director, wants to avoid drawing comparisons among her fair, Art Basel, and Frieze. She noted that Frieze board director Victoria Siddall called her earlier this spring about the London fair’s new dates (it moved back a few weeks from its early October slot) and they mutually agreed it would be a fine idea. There are plenty of far-flung VIPs who are taking advantage of the tight schedule to make a two-city trip, Flay said.

Philip Guston <i>Musa</i> (1975) © The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy the Estate and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jon Etter

Philip Guston Musa (1975) © The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy the Estate and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Jon Etter

Those who complete the trek will get a sneak preview of the 2024 Olympic Games venue, the Grand Palais Éphémère, which doubles as FIAC’s temporary space until 2023. Its layout is a bit more equitable than the traditional Grand Palais, which hosts the section for new galleries out of the way and upstairs.

One of the buzziest elements of this year’s fair, however, won’t be inside at all, but at the Place Vendôme, where Gagosian has installed a major work by Alexander Calder that Flay predicts will become the “face of FIAC 2021.”

Flying Dragon (1975) also marks the debut of Gagosian’s new Paris gallery—its third—at 9 rue de Castiglione, which is launching with a show dedicated to the late modernist. (The gallery would not disclose the price of the sculpture, but it last sold at auction for $5.6 million in 2006.)

Bourse de Commerce—Pinault Collection. Photo ©Patrick Tournebœuf/Tendance Floue for the Pinault Collection, Paris.

Bourse de Commerce—Pinault Collection. Photo © Patrick Tournebœuf/Tendance Floue for the Pinault Collection, Paris.

A City Transformed

The French capital’s art market has undergone a transformation in recent years, bolstered in no small part by Brexit. The growing excitement around FIAC has coincided with a period of rapid growth in Paris’s auction market, which expanded by almost 50 percent in 2019.

Dealers have been eager to get a foothold. Earlier this year, Italian dealer Massimo de Carlo opened a small space in the Marais and Chicago’s Mariane Ibrahim unveiled her new gallery on the city’s Avenue Matignon. Other recent arrivals include White Cube, David Zwirner, and Galleria Continua.

The long-term impact of the  U.K.’s exit from the Europe Union is still coming into focus, but Paris’s investment in the arts is undeniable. Two major collections are on view in the capital this week: billionaire businessman François Pinault’s holdings at his new Bourse de Commerce and the storied Morozov Collection at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, founded by Bernard Arnault. (The collector also recently reopened a five-star hotel in Paris, Le Cheval Blanc.)

“Paris is not the old dusty place that everyone thought it was not so many years ago,” Flay said. “Galleries need to show and people need to get back together. There is clearly an appetite.”

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