At the FIAC Art Fair, the ambitions are great. Can sales keep pace?

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PARIS – It’s hard to escape the feeling of rivalry between France and its cross-Channel neighbor, from the Battle of Agincourt to the Napoleonic wars, including President Charles de Gaulle block the entry of Great Britain into the European Economic Community. And now that Britain has left the European Union, France is looking to gain an economic advantage over its old enemy. London’s descending domination of the European art trade is one zone of opportunity.

“Paris thinks it can claim its capital again,” Lithuanian artist Augustas Serapinas said on Monday, standing next to a sculpture he had built in the Tuileries Garden for the 47th annual edition of the FIAC contemporary and modern art fair.

Like last week’s Frieze shows in London, FIAC was returning to an in-person format after a year of online equivalents imposed by the pandemic. Did the sculptor think that Paris could once again regain its heyday as a hub of the art market, as in the 1950s? “I don’t know. I’m an artist,” Serapinas said. “A millionaire should answer that question.”

In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, Britain was the second largest art market in the world, after the United States, accounting for 20% of the $ 64.1 billion in auctions and dealerships of the year, according to the Art Basel and UBS report on the global art market 2020. Sales increased in France in 2019, from 6% to 7%.

Since then, art auctions have developed in Hong Kong to the detriment of London. In the first half of this year, auction sales in Hong Kong increased 47% compared to the same period in 2019. In London, it fell by 21%, according to auction analysts. London-based Pi-eX art. UK dealers have also had to contend with a slew of additional taxes, administrative and shipping costs caused by Brexit.

Meanwhile, a procession of international galleries – like David Zwirner, Skarstedt and Mariane Ibrahim from the United States, White Cube from Great Britain and Galleria Continua from Italy – have opened spaces in Paris to enjoy the frictionless commerce within of the European Union. Established Parisian dealers, like Gagosian, Perrotin and Kamel Mennour, have broadened their footprint.

Although high quality exhibitions in shopping malls and museums are a major draw for visitors, fairs remain the centerpiece of the Frieze and FIAC “weeks”. In recent years, FIAC has been held in the Paris cathedral-like Grand Palais, but due to restoration works this year’s edition, with 171 galleries, has been moved to a frieze-like tent. near the Eiffel Tower, where it will be held until 2024..

“It’s basically the same presentation as Frieze, although FIAC is smaller and more European. More Americans are going to Frieze because English is spoken there, ”said Christy Ferer, managing director of New York-based Vidicom Inc. and a regular visitor to the art fair. She was one of the few international voices to be heard in a predominantly French-speaking crowd at the FIAC preview on Wednesday.

Ferer, like many visitors to Paris, said she was impressed by the quality of the museum exhibitions that coincided with the FIAC. “The exhibits we’ve seen here have been amazing,” said Ferer, targeting the Anni & Josef Albers exhibit at the Modern Art Museum and the Impressionist and Modernist masterpieces from the Morozov collection from the beginning of the 20th century to the Louis Vuitton Foundation. “The whole environment looks richer here right now,” Ferer added.

But with fewer wealthy Americans, FIAC has lived up to its reputation for slower sales at lower prices than Frieze. While the Thaddaeus Ropac gallery said it had found a buyer for Robert Rauschenberg’s 1963 oil and serigraph on canvas “Star Grass”, priced at $ 2.8 million, Zwirner, who owns galleries at four locations internationals, said that after “the dynamism of Frieze”, he was “a little disappointed” with the sales at the Paris fair.

“Paris is such a beautiful city for a fair, but FIAC has tended to underperform for us,” Zwirner said in an email. He added, however, that he was happy to sell several works for less than $ 500,000, such as the 1947 “Study for a Variant / Adobe” by Josef Albers (whose Zwirner estate represents) for $ 400,000.

The Parisian dealer Jocelyn Wolff said he sold the nine-foot landscape “Meine Wege 23.09.2018” by Swiss painter Miriam Cahn, for $ 200,000 in the first hour of the fair to a Parisian collector.

Wolff, who owns a gallery in Romainville, a suburb of the city, said he estimates there are at least 100 “international-minded” Parisian collectors with annual budgets of over $ 100,000 to spend. to contemporary art. “It’s a lot more than in London,” he added.

London, even after Brexit, has a “very bright elite,” Wolff said, particularly in the financial and music industries, and it continues to attract global super-rich who can spend millions on art. . “Paris is not a place with great heroes like Mick Jagger,” he added.

That said, stylish new galleries are now clustered around Avenue Matignon near the Arc de Triomphe: their owners are hoping for transformative visits from millionaires who come to view the trophies in nearby Sotheby’s and Christie’s showrooms and Stay at the Ritz or Bristol hotels.

For some collectors, the “FIAC Week” also offers judiciously organized “discovery” fairs, such as International Paris and Asia now. This year, the seventh edition of Paris Internationale, bringing together 36 dealers from 21 countries, was held in a vacant building in the 16th arrondissement.

On the fourth floor, the Tokyo-based gallery Misako & Rosen showed small works by Japanese painters Kazuyuki Takezaki and Reina Sugihara. Takezaki gives a new twist to landscape painting by rotating his canvases while working in the open air; Sugihara, who was trained in London, creates summaries that evoke intense bodily experiences, such as childbirth. Little known outside of Japan, their paintings were modestly priced at $ 1,500 to $ 4,500. As of Friday morning, seven of the nine works on display had found buyers in France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and the United States.

Misako & Rosen co-founder Jeffrey Rosen said he saw the sales as an endorsement of Paris Internationale’s “discovery” model. “People were looking for what they didn’t know,” he said. The prices were also attractively low.

On Wednesday evening, after the FIAC preview, President Emmanuel Macron gave a reception at the Élysée in front of around 200 exhibitors and organizers of the show, museum curators, artists and journalists. In a 15-minute speech, Macron thanked FIAC director Jennifer Flay for turning the fair into a “nerve center of the art world”, and verified the names of some of the international dealers who have set up shop. in Paris. It then welcomes in France artists, merchants, curators, sponsors, collectors and educators around the world. “Create and innovate! he urged.

The fact that the president devoted time to FIAC shows how seriously the French government (unlike its British counterpart) takes the international art trade. But the market continues to ask the question: can Paris convert creativity into millions of euros in sales?


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