Winding through Paris’s slender ribbons of streets and majestic boulevards, the city objects to any suggestion of urban urgency or weekday efficiency—it’s just about impossible to rush anywhere, or anyone. So stepping into FIAC in the Grand Palais during the fair’s preview was completely crushing, as if just about everyone in Paris had paused, dropped whatever they were doing, and decided that they have to be at an art fair and consume everything it has on offer—every piece of eye candy brought by the 180 exhibitors, every plastic flute of Perrier-Jouët—all at once.
Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons sailed past in a quick stride in the opening minutes, joining the usual lively mess of collectors, artists, advisors, gallerists, assistants, installers, and arrivistes tangled in air-kiss meetings and 11 a.m. Champagne toasts. (Only a day later news would arrive that Simons is leaving Dior.)
The biggest booths—the biggest galleries—deliver a lot of what one has come to expect at art fairs: art-fair art. There was the very shiny—Alicja Kwade’s rose-gold glistening concave-covered orb at New York’s 303 Gallery; the very bright—the late, great Michel Majerus’s imposing single painting overdose (1997), standing two stories high at Berlin’s neugerriemschneider; the festive—plenty of lush fruit and flowers, served up in a toilet by Urs Fischer at London’s Sadie Coles and on a silver platter by Philippe Mayaux at Paris’s Loevenbruck; and the very big—Monika Sosnowska’s towering black coils resting on the floor and inky scribbles hanging in the air like menacing skywriting at Glasgow, Scotland’s Modern Institute. Those seeking even larger art could head to Gagosian’s Sterling Ruby show at its private-airport hanger space at Le Bourget a half-hour away.
By mid-afternoon, the Champagne bottles and whir of espresso machines were blanketed by the low roar of the crowd. The party had begun the night before, at the opening night for Paris Internationale, a new art fair where many of FIAC’s experimental younger galleries decamped this year, setting up in a charmingly weathered hotel particulier in the 16th arrondissement. Galleries like Glasgow’s Koppe Astner, Paris’s own Shanaynay and High Art (the latter one of the new fair’s cofounders), Los Angeles’s Paradise Garage and Michael Thibault, and Mexico City’s Lulu all shared in the open home of the artfully shabby townhouse, where glasses of Ricard were tipped back endlessly, though the cigarettes tended to be of the hand-rolled variety in contrast to the Gauloises one sees outside the Grand Palais.
New York dealer Steve Pulimood showed work by G. William Webb, Dario Guccio, and Ettore Sottsass, and revealed that he’s planning a Hollis Frampton exhibition at Room East, his gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Amazingly, it will be the filmmaker and photographer’s first show in New York.
Paris Internationale was packed, but it still felt like the most intimate party of the week; it was warm and welcoming in the open courtyard, against the sharp wind swirling on the street.
FIAC, for its part, has a satellite fair of its own, Officielle, an outpost of smaller galleries on Les Docks, which is a much quieter affair, on the water, and far removed in distance and feeling from the spirited air of the other fairs.
On the Palais’s second floor, hometown powerhouse Balice Hertling’s booth included work by Reena Spaulings and Neïl Beloufa. It is just one of a constellation of spots throughout Paris one can see Beloufa’s this week. An intricate installation he made is on view as part of the Prix Marcel Duchamp presentation downstairs (the artist is a finalist), and Francois Ghebaly (a French name but a Los Angeles gallery) also has work on display. Beloufa also organized a show at Occidental Temporary, just outside the city limits, which was the place to be on Sunday night.
Balice was having a very good first day. “Beside the international collectors who are coming in larger numbers, the local ones are incredibly cute—yes, that’s the word—because they really care about art,” he said. “People like to say that France is no longer a center for the art business, which is questionable. But if that’s the case, I’m happy to say that clients are not speculating and are buying art because they love it and they want to live with it. It’s a really refreshing feeling for a fair.”
Around the corner, Zurich gallery Karma International showed work by Simone Fattal (also taking part in Hans Ulrich Obrist’s generous participatory show “Take Me, I’m Yours” at the Monnaie de Paris, the stunning Paris mint, which has delved into contemporary art recently) and Melanie Matranga, who opened an exhibition of her own at Palais de Tokyo on Monday night—another raucous affair, with lines to get in snaking around the museum well past midnight, unnamed sheikhs demanding to enter through a side door, a dance party forming in courtyard outside the neighboring Musée d’Art moderne, and clouds of cigarette smoke drifting in all directions.
Karma’s Karolina Dankow also reported an energetic first day. “It’s always the nicest thing to go to work at the Grand Palais,” Dankow said. This is their sixth time doing FIAC. “This year, she continued, is special for us, since we have two French artists—Mélanie Matranga and Simone Fattal, who was born in Syria.”
As is the case with Fattal, it’s always nice to see historical works amongst the freshly produced art-fair art. Close by, New York’s Essex Street gallery was showing, among other works, a pristine canvas by the mysterious, pseudonymous Vern Blosum which was being offered by a collector who had purchased it from Leo Castelli 50 years ago—before today’s art fairs even came into being.
FIAC and Officielle run through Sunday, October 25, and Paris Internationale runs through Saturday. Then the market moved to New York for the auctions.