“Art is what helps draw us out of inertia.” On the street in front of the Grand Palais, where the dynamic 43rd edition of the FIAC or Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain, Paris’s international art fair, is being held from October 20 to 23, one can read the words of philosopher Henri Michaux. Spelled out in Michaux’s personal alphabet of symbolic letters, the phrase is the work of Jacques Villeglé, the 90-year-old French affichiste and multimedia artist best known for his lacerated posters.
The words are apt for this year’s fair, which, offering up a bold response to a lukewarm art market and a fragile European economy in a city wounded by the recent terrorist attacks, boldly spills out beyond its usual four walls, into the streets and beyond.
In the most important change this year, the fair’s director, Jennifer Flay, told ARTnews she was especially proud of “reclaiming this public space for art”—she obtained permission from Paris’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, to close the street in front of the Grand Palais, the majestic Avenue Winston Churchill, to traffic, transforming the street into both a pedestrian zone as well as a showcase for new pieces, including Villeglé’s philosophical phrase and commissioned works by Lawrence Weiner and Ernesto Neto.
The street also leads to a completely new sector, On Site, for sculpture and installations, both contemporary and modern, hosted opposite FIAC’s main venue in the smaller, graceful Petit Palais (which, like its neighbor, was erected for the Exposition Universelle in 1900). Flay considers the sector, agreed upon after four years of discussion with the museum, “the fair’s most significant initiative.” She added, “FIAC is, I believe, the only fair that provides our participants with real museum conditions. We have already used outdoor venues for large-scale sculptures, but this is the first time we have been able to do it indoors.”
Organized in collaboration with Christophe Leribault, director of the Petit Palais, and curator Lorenzo Benedetti, On Site presents nearly 40 sculptures and installations by 35 artists in a more classic “museum” context, creating surprising juxtapositions in the palace’s elegant galleries and gardens or on the esplanade in front of it. Funny, jarring, subtle, and outlandish, the show brings together such works as Atlantis, by Mandla Reuter, a large-format, inflatable balloon; Alain Bublex’s eclectic, boxy installation dealing with different architectural viewpoints; new, white plaster horse “skins” by Guillaume Leblon; and works by Jan Fabre and Barry Flanagan. Others works on display include Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise—“because we don’t just deal with the super-contemporary,” said Flay; Damien Hirst’s Anatomy of an Angel (inspired by Alfred Boucher’s 1920 sculpture L’Hirondelle, but revealing anatomically human cross-sections of the angel’s body), Abraham Cruzvillegas’s Empty Lot light sculptures; Lee Ufan’s minimalist Relatum; and Not Vital’s stainless-steel Head No.4.
As part of another initiative, “Parades for FIAC,” which introduces a program of performative, cross-disciplinary practices, the fair had already begun showcasing unusual works in new spots three days before its opening. The program, which began with Corbeaux, a performance at the Louvre by Moroccan dancer and choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen, also includes bird chants by Louise Hervé & Chloé Maillet and a poetry reading by Alex Cecchetti on the theme of heaven and hell, as well as versions of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” performed by drummer Nicolas Fenouillat, dressed in a full suit of medieval armor. The performances are being held in the Grand Palais and in empty spaces of the Palais de la Découverte, an old Paris science museum behind the Grand Palais (which has opened up the doors connecting the two spaces); the Gare du Nord train station; and the courtyards of the Louvre.
This year’s FIAC is also continuing to sponsor numerous “Hors les Murs” exhibits around town, although for the moment, it has postponed its sister fair, Officielle, a satellite event that had been showing younger galleries along the River Seine, further from the Grand Palais, at Paris at the Docks / Cité de la Mode et du Design.
At the Tuileries Gardens, this year’s visitors can see Thomas Kilpper’s working lighthouse for Lampedusa, intended to welcome refugee; a hair flag by Claude Closky; Ron Arad’s entitled crazy shell structure, Armadillo Tea Pavilion, which looks like an enormous caterpillar; Mircea Cantor’s intersecting metal flags; and a pair of resin trees by French duo Christophe Berdaguer and Marie Péjus. The Place Vendôme (where Paul McCarthy’s scandalous butt-plug controversial tree was shown two years back) has now become a monumental forest by Ugo Rondinone—according to Flay, “the largest artwork he has ever made… five sculptures of olive trees, a monumental symbol of peace and nature, along with five anthropomorphic figures in stone”; and the Musée Eugène Delacroix has been invested by Stéphane Thidet with a living sound sculpture reminiscent of Thoreau’s Walden.
And inside the Grand Palais, the fair itself is also spilling over into the Salon Jean Perrin, a roughly 3,200-square-feet space with a cathedral-like ceiling 33 feet high, where nine galleries are presenting solo shows of late 20th-century artists whose work is “currently undergoing critical reassessment and therefore participating in the movement to reevaluate under-appreciated artists,” said Flay. Those galleries include Endre Tót, Darío Villalba, Irma Blank, Henri Chopin, Tetsumi Kudo, György Jovánovics, and writer William S. Burroughs (whose painting Out of the Closet, for instance, is on display).
In all, the fair’s lineup brings together 186 galleries from 27 countries—up from last year’s 173 galleries from 23 countries—including 43 new exhibitors, including first-timers from Hong Kong, Hungary, Japan, and Poland. Heavy hitters include Perrotin’s mostly black-and-white installation of work, curated by Elmgreen & Dragset; Sadie Coles HQ’s display of Urs Fischer’s vibrant snakelike sculpture and foam chairs; and Gagosian’s hyperrealist couple on a bench by Duane Hanson. Ten emerging galleries, in the fair’s Lafayette Sector, who receive financial support to appear, include Paris’s Galerie Allen and TORRI, London’s Arcade and Hollybush Gardens, Experimenter from Kolkata, Freedman Fitzpatrick of Los Angeles, Dubai’s Grey Noise, joségarcía, mx from Mexico City, and Berlin’s Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler (with monumental works by Guan Xiao) and Micky Schubert.
“There may be a slowdown in the art market, but we are not in crisis,” said Flay. Her statement is so far holding true for several galleries, including Sprüth Magers, who reported strong sales on opening day, including George Condo’s Untitled (Head #2) for $550,000 and a Karen Kilimnik painting for $110,000. Skarstedt Gallery also reported selling a George Condo, Untitled (Head #1), for $500,000, and Mike Kelley’s Three Part Yam Stack, from 1990, made of found stuffed animals, for $275,000.
Several other galleries also reported sales of work, including a Jean Dubuffet by Waddington Custot from London; pieces from Tornobuoni, Lehmann Maupin, and White Cube; Lisson, including works by Cory Archangel and Lee Ufan. And around the city, from the streets in front of the fair and radiating outwards, the city is buzzing everywhere with activity, from the YIA (Young International Artists) fair at the Carreau du Temple to Asia Now, the Outside Art Fair (now in its fourth edition), the Paris Internationale fair, Private Choice, and Rooms Part, along with “La colonie,” the new space by Kader Attia, winner of this year’s Marcel Duchamp prize, a sort of bar/restaurant/think tank in northeastern Paris, at a pleasant remove from the freneticism of FIAC.