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FIAC Paris: Weaker Sales Amid Cautious Buying

The annual FIAC art fair (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain), held Oct. 22–26 at the Grand Palais and the Cour Carrée of the Louvre Museum, opened on the heels of softer sales at London’s Frieze Art Fair, as well as a spike in buy-in rates at October auctions at the major houses (ANL, 10/28/08).

PARIS—The annual FIAC art fair (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain), held Oct. 22–26 at the Grand Palais and the Cour Carrée of the Louvre Museum, opened on the heels of softer sales at London’s Frieze Art Fair, as well as a spike in buy-in rates at October auctions at the major houses (ANL, 10/28/08).

This year’s fair presented works from 189 galleries in 22 countries; 117 (61 percent) of the exhibitors came from outside France, principally from Germany, the U.S. and Italy. Fair officials reported 65,000 visitors over the five days (in past years FIAC has lasted for six days), or an average of 13,000 visitors per day—surprisingly, a 9 percent increase from last year’s edition (which was visited by 12,000 people per day).

While dealers agreed sales were clearly weaker than in previous years, overall it was “not too bad given the situation,” according to New York dealer Christophe Van de Weghe. Paris dealer Anne de Villepoix said the financial crisis was “calming things down” in the art market, adding, “We’re talking more about art, less about money.” Paris and New York dealer Yvon Lambert had a similar impression, noting a “return to essentials.”

“Collectors are going back to the classics, instead of looking for names that are in fashion,” said Paolo Vedovi of Galerie Vedovi, Brussels. Among his sales were two “Concetto Spaziale” paintings by Lucio Fontana.

The financial crisis notwithstanding, some galleries reported success with cutting-edge contemporary works. Contributing significantly to the energy at the fair, London’s White Cube sold March of the Banal, a major series of works on paper by Adolf Hitler that had been reworked by artists Jake and Dinos Chapman, for €815,000 ($1 million) to a private European collector less than two hours after the opening. The works, dated 2008, are “interventions” by the Chapman brothers, who transformed the original 1916–18 watercolors, which they bought at auction, with smiley faces, rainbows and other colorful psychedelic motifs.

At the booth of Galerie Hopkins-Custot, Paris, work by British artist Marc Quinn sold well, including maquettes for his gold statue of model Kate Moss in yoga poses, each priced at just under €200,000 ($250,000). Simon Lee Gallery, London, sold a series of monochrome paintings by Sherrie Levine, after colors used by the French architect Le Corbusier, for $300,000, as well as a cast-metal sculpture of a rocking horse by the artist for a similar price. New York’s Luhring Augustine gallery sold out of its Christopher Wool drawings, which were priced at $75,000/100,000 each.

Buying by French Government Energizes Sales

The French government also contributed to the success of the fair, with the Ministry of Culture acquiring 34 works by 30 artists, worth a total of €400,000 ($500,000). Among others, the ministry purchased Sregqrseg, 2008, an acrylic painting by Nicolas Guiet, from the Galerie Jean Fournier, Paris; Portrait No. 197, 2007, an oil painting by Anton Henning, from Arndt & Partner, Berlin; Index, 2007–8, an ensemble of 30 color photos by Suzanne Lafont, from Galerie Erna Hécey, Brussels; Barbed Salt Lamps, 2007, by Sigalit Landau, from Kamel Mennour, Paris; and an artist’s book by Lucas Samaras, 1968, from Galerie Florence Loewy, Paris.

Paris dealer Daniel Templon told ARTnews­letter, “In spite of the uncertainties weighing down the market, we had a very good FIAC 2008.” Among his sales at the fair, Templon noted a large charcoal drawing by Robert Longo priced at $180,000, a photograph by Gregory Crewdson listed at $90,000 and a bronze sculpture by Joel Shapiro for $135,000.

Other artists whose work found success at Templon’s booth include the young Chilean-American Iván Navarro, who will represent Chile at the next Venice Biennale, and whose work was priced at $27,000/55,000; French painter Philippe Cognée, whose work was priced at €10,000 ($12,500) and up; and the young Bulgarian-German artist Oda Jaune, whose works were priced at €2,500/20,000 ($3,125/25,000).

French president Nicolas Sarkozy is attempting to give his country’s art market a lift by seeking to partially eliminate the droit de suite, or Artist Resale Royalty (ARR) tax that French art owners must pay when they choose to resell an artwork. Sarkozy reportedly wrote to European Commission president José Manuel Barroso calling for the ARR to be limited indefinitely to works by living artists throughout the European Union.

Art fair spin-offs this year included the ArtistBook International fair, held at the Georges Pompidou Center; the salon Art Élysées; and the Slick contemporary art fair, held at Centquatre (104). A former state funeral parlor in northeastern Paris, 104 was completely renovated to create a ­cutting-edge contemporary-art center and ­artist-residency space, and opened just a few weeks before the fair.

FIAC had its share of scandal, as well. French police stormed the Grand Palais during the fair and seized photographs by Russian artist Oleg Kulik that they apparently deemed shocking from the booth of XL Gallery, Moscow. The photos, of performances from the 1990s, showed scenes of Kulik naked with animals, at times simulating acts of bestiality. The dealers, Elena Selina and Sergey Khripun, were taken in for questioning and detained at the local precinct in handcuffs. They were released later the same day, and the works were returned to the fair directors, but were prohibited from being shown.

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