The ambitions are high at the FIAC Art Fair. Can sales keep up?


PARIS – It’s hard to escape the rivalry between France and its cross-channel neighbor, from the Battle of Agincourt to the Napoleonic Wars to President Charles de Gaulle block Great Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community. And now that Britain has left the European Union, France is trying to gain an economic edge over its old enemy. London’s declining dominance of the European art trade is one Range of possibilities.

“Paris thinks it can claim to be the capital again,” said Lithuanian artist Augustas Serapinas on Monday next to a sculpture that he was in the Tuileries Garden for the 47th time FIAC Contemporary and modern art fair.

As with last week’s Frieze fairs in London, FIAC returned to a personal format after a year of online equivalents forced by a pandemic. Did the sculptor believe that Paris could return to its heyday as a premier art market hub, as it was in the 1950s? “I don’t know. I’m an artist,” said Serapinas. “A millionaire should answer that question.”

In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, the UK was the world’s second largest art market after the United States, accounting for 20 percent of $ 64.1 billion in dealer and auction sales for the year 2020 Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report. In France, sales rose from 6 percent to 7 percent in 2019.

Since then, art auctions in Hong Kong have expanded at the expense of London. In the first half of this year, auction sales in Hong Kong increased 47 percent from the same period last year. According to the London art auction analyst Pi-eX, there were 21 percent less in London. Traders in the UK also had to deal with a lot of additional taxes, administrative and shipping costs from Brexit.

Meanwhile, a procession of international galleries – such as David Zwirner, Skarstedt and Mariane Ibrahim from the United States, White Cube from Great Britain and Galleria Continua from Italy – opened rooms in Paris to take advantage of the smooth trade within the European Union. Established Parisian dealers such as Gagosian, Perrotin and Kamel Mennour have expanded their presence.

Although high-quality exhibitions in commercial galleries and museums are a big draw for visitors, trade fairs remain at the heart of the Frieze and FIAC “weeks”. For the past few years, FIAC has been held in the cathedral-like Grand Palais of Paris, but due to restoration work, this year’s edition of 171 galleries has been relocated to a frieze-like tent near the Eiffel Tower, where it will take place until 2024.

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

Like many visitors to Paris, Ferer was impressed by the quality of the museum exhibitions that coincided with FIAC. “The exhibitions we saw here were overwhelming,” said Ferer about the Anni & Josef Albers exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne and the masterpieces of impressionism and modernism from the Morozov collection of the early 20th century Louis Vuitton Foundation. “Right now the whole area feels richer here,” added Ferer.

But with less wealthy Americans, FIAC lived up to its call for slower sales at lower prices than Frieze. While Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac said it had found a buyer for the 1963 Robert Rauschenberg oil and screen print on canvas, Star Grass, which cost $ 2.8 million, Zwirner, who has galleries in four international locations, said after the “liveliness of the” Frieze “, he was” a little disappointed “by the sales at the Paris fair.

“Paris is a great city for a trade fair, but FIAC tended to perform below average for us,” said Zwirner in an email. He added, however, that he was pleased to sell several works for under $ 500,000, such as the 1947 study “Study for a Variant / Adobe” by Josef Albers (whose estate Zwirner represents) for $ 400,000.

The Parisian dealer Jocelyn Wolff said that he had sold the three-meter-high landscape “My Paths 23.09.2018” by the Swiss painter Miriam Cahn to a Paris collector for 200,000 US dollars within the first hour of the fair.

Wolff, who runs a gallery in Romainville, on the outskirts of the city, said he estimated there were at least 100 “internationally minded” Paris collectors with an annual budget of more than $ 100,000 for contemporary art. “That’s a lot more than in London,” he added.

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

Elegant new galleries are now clustered around avenue Matignon, near the Arc de Triomphe: their owners are hoping for business-changing visits from the millionaires who fly in to see trophies in the nearby showrooms of Sotheby’s and Christie’s and at the Ritz or Bristol to stay hotels.

For some collectors, “FIAC Week” also offers carefully curated “discovery” fairs, such as Paris Internationale and Asia now. This year’s seventh edition of the Paris Internationale with 36 retailers from 21 countries took place in an empty block of villas in the smart 16th arrondissement.

The Tokyo-based gallery is on the fourth floor Misako & roses showed small works by the Japanese painters Kazuyuki Takezaki and Reina Sugihara. Takezaki gives landscape painting a new twist by rotating his canvases while working outdoors. Sugihara, who was trained in London, creates abstractions that evoke intense physical experiences like childbirth. Little known outside of Japan, their paintings were priced at a modest price of $ 1,500 to $ 4,500. By Friday morning, seven of the nine works on display had found buyers from France, the Netherlands, Great Britain and the USA.

Jeffrey Rosen, co-founder of Misako & Rosen, said he viewed these sales as advocating the Paris Internationale’s “discovery” model. “People have been looking for something they don’t know,” he said. The prices were also attractively low.

On Wednesday evening, after the FIAC preview, President Emmanuel Macron gave a reception for around 200 exhibition exhibitors and organizers, museum curators, artists and journalists in the lysée-Palast. In a 15-minute speech, Macron thanked FIAC director Jennifer Flay for turning the fair into the “nerve center of the art world” and reviewed some of the international dealers who have settled in Paris. He went on to work in France as an artist, trader, Curators, sponsors, collectors and teachers from around the world. “Create and innovate!” He admonished.

The fact that the President took time for FIAC shows how seriously the French government (in contrast to the British) takes the international art trade. But the market continues to ask: Can Paris convert creativity into millions in sales?

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