Inside the FIAC Booth That’s ‘On Fire’: Galerie Gmurzynska Returns to the Paris Fair With Incendiary Style

Envisioned by French fashion designer Alexandre de Betak, the gallery presents a fire-themed booth.

Installation view of "On Fire," FIAC, 2018. Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.

Galerie Gmurzynska returns to FIAC this week, its first time participating in the fair since 2011. That year, the gallery presented a booth designed by Karl Lagerfeld. That’s a tough act to follow, especially with the time that’s passed. But Alexandre de Betak, the famed French designer, scenographer, and creative director behind this year’s booth, is up to the challenge.

Installation view of “On Fire,” FIAC, 2018. Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.

This year, de Betak presents “On Fire,” an exhibition of modern and postwar gallery works that relate thematically to fire or were themselves created by flame. You’ll find works such as a 1973 painting by Roberto Matta, depicting amorphous figures puffing on cigarettes, or a charred canvas by Otto Piene. Other artists include Joan Miró, Yves Klein, and Alberto Burri.

The booth—if you can call it that—resembles a futuristic firehouse. It has a dimpled metal floor and is wrapped in shiny red walls lined with pipe. In the middle is a circular tower of silver extinguishers which form an intimate viewing room. Inside, next to a silver hazmat suit on display, you can admire a large still life by Tom Wesselmann—it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a quiet, one-on-one experience in the hustle and bustle of the fair. The exhibition will also be accompanied by a booklet, with an introduction by art historian Germano Celant.

Installation view of “On Fire,” FIAC, 2018. Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.

De Betak, called the “Fellini of fashion” on more than one occasion, has created shows for a number of notable designers, including Dior, Celine, and Calvin Klein. He produced Miu Miu’s first show in the mid-1990s and was in charge of Victoria Secret’s shows for a number of years in the aughts. He’s also collaborated with museums, designing an exhibition of Rodarte garments at the MOCA in Los Angeles in 2011 and an ornate runway show for Berluti at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris in 2015.

The booth’s theme was actually conceived of by Krystyna Gmurzynska, the daughter of gallery founder Antonia Gmurzynska, and the mother of its current director, Isabelle Bscher. It also harkens back to the galleries inaugural space, a fire-red, cube-shaped building in Cologne, which it began occupying in 1965.

Installation view of “On Fire,” FIAC, 2018. Courtesy of Galerie Gmurzynska.

Indeed, these are some of the many tie-ins to the gallery’s own history.

“Our gallery was founded on the principles in which the Russian avant-garde artists believed—the idea that an artist is someone who participates in art, design, architecture, fashion, and photography,” Bscher tells artnet News. “It’s interesting how a creative genius like Alex displays art in a non-classical manner. Showing traditional Modern and postwar art in a radical context is very forward-thinking. Most of the featured artists were always trying to push the envelope and show art in a new, exciting way, and Alex’s installation honors their vision.”

FIAC is on view through October 21 at the Grand Palais in Paris.


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