Interview: Jennifer Flay

At this 44th edition of the FIAC, director Jennifer Flay is presenting 192 galleries. On top of its many stands, the fair is developing through its outdoor installations, scattered across the Jardins des Tuileries up to the Place Vendôme, as well as a performance festival. An interview.

For this big yearly contemporary-art parade, once again, the fair’s boss hasn’t done things by halves. Voguish aesthetics and art-business rhetoric… Jennifer Flay is leading the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain – along with its paintings, sculptures, performances, installations – towards new summits. Namely with a staunch desire to anchor contemporary art more solidly in the Parisian space. The aim? To make this exciting event, held between Art Basel in June, and Miami Beach in December, one of the most stylish musts on planet Art.


This year, the fair is welcoming 40 new exhibitors – that’s quite a number!

No, not really if we think back to the FIAC’s big overhaul period when I arrived in 2004, when we’d go up to 60 new galleries a year. Forty is a figure that has popped up quite naturally in the last few years. The new exhibitors are mainly young brands – including galleries in the Lafayette section, whose goal is to support emerging players – as well as design galleries who we’re delighted to bring back this year. This figure also demonstrates a certain stability: today, the FIAC is in the midst of a consolidation and stepping-up phase. Our event needs to be fresh and progressive – something that comes out especially through its state of mind. Last year, our big achievement was to close Avenue Winston-Churchill and to open up the sector to the Petit Palais, hence offering a new geography for the FIAC, but also for Paris.


In market terms, was the On Site section, which presents exceptional or atypical works, successful? Even if this isn’t the only aim…

Indeed, the section’s main aim was to reveal works to the public; this, incidentally, is the case for all projects presented at the FIAC. Selling comes at a second stage, and it so happens that this new section was very well regarded by exhibitors and visitors, and gave rise to exchanges that we know were important for galleries. The Tuileries section, which we “historically” initiated in 2006, also works very well in commercial terms. Sales encouraged other exhibitors to apply, whether for the Tuileries or On Site sections. This year, we’re delighted to be presenting a fuller programme at the latter, with around forty projects, in the North and South galleries, the garden and the esplanade.


Can you tell us about a few pieces?

A historic work by Matt Mullican, made up of four banners measuring four metres by five, installed directly onto the Petit Palais’ facade, will visually redefine the architectural ensemble as it was conceived when it was created for the Universal Exposition. This work presents part of the system of symbols and chromatic associations with which Matt Mullican tirelessly describes the world, and it is work that gains its full meaning in the urban space. Sculptor Richard Nonas has also designed a site-specific installation which will take up quite a bit of space on Avenue Winston-Churchill. The public can also discover a magnificent pair of figures by Joel Shapiro.


This shows that we won’t just find ultra-contemporary works, but that they continue to be backed by key historic figures…

I’ve always looked at the modern artists: we can’t think about contemporary art without this base, which represents memory. My aim, for years now, has been to reinforce the presence of modern art with galleries such as Landau Fine Art, Nahmad Contemporary or Edward Tyler Nahem. The Design section will also be dominated by modernist galleries, along with Kreo, directed by Didier Krzentowski, which is more specialised in contemporary creation. It was together with him and Philippe Jousse that I thought of introducing this section in 2004. Design objects interrogate form, so there is a real interest in matching them with contemporary artistic creation. Due to the stop placed on exhibitions at the Cour Carrée and the multiplication of events that were already gathering these design galleries, we decided to pause this initiative in 2010. But the connection was always maintained through the introduction of architectural projects, namely at the Tuileries, such as Jean Prouvé’s Maison Ferembal and many others. We’re happy to see these galleries back at this edition, in the space once dedicated to the Prix Marcel-Duchamp.


When we look at the general programme – and even if the US scene is still very active – isn’t there a honing in on more European names?

Following France, the United States is the country that is the most represented by our galleries. This year, we are also welcoming new US exhibitors, such as David Kordansky, Downs & Ross, David Lewis, Karma… But we are attached to our fair’s European identity, which also reflects how the market is evolving. So I’m thrilled to have two Portuguese exhibitors, Pedro Cera and Vera Cortês, who attest to the recovery of the country’s economy. With the arrival of Nogueras Blanchard, for example, we also have more Spanish galleries, which is important, because I’ve regretted not being able to show any for several years. We’re also showing Kosovo this year, with LambdaLambdaLambda. I should also point out the presence of the Egyptian gallery Gypsum, Selma Feriani from Tunisia, and Imane Farès, whose gallery is in Paris, but who has strong ties with Senegal, where she is very active. This link with the African continent seems essential to me.


The market has slowed down a little recently. In what ways can a fair react to this tendency?

I’ve seen different cycles throughout my career, and my experience shows me that it’s all a flux. Until now, we’ve been lucky enough to be spared from a market collapse and severe crisis, as in 2009. As a fair, we should listen more to our exhibitors at times like this and promote whatever helps them to carry out exchanges, namely by paying attention to bringing in collectors. We have therefore strengthened our VIP service, with advisers working on different geographical zones, helping us not just to take care of our existing network, but also to make direct contact with people likely to be interested in the event.


We can observe a decline in auction-sale figures as well as a growth in private sales for auction houses. How are the big galleries exhibiting at the FIAC handling this situation?

It’s true that we have a loyal core of big galleries, and if they come back, it’s because they manage to sell! Incidentally, White Cube pulled off its best FIAC results last year, and Gagosian was also very successful. This potential is developed parallel to everything else that Paris and its lifestyle have to offer. We do everything we can to make the market sparkle, and the magic works. Oscar Tuazon’s exhibition at the Place Vendôme or Katinka Bock’s at the Musée Eugène-Delacroix are going to be incredible events. The Musée du Louvre now wishes to strengthen our programme in the Jardin des Tuileries and in parallel, the performance festival Parades is developing, namely through partnerships with the Centre Pompidou and the Festival d’Automne, collaborations with the Opéra de Paris and support from Van Cleef & Arpels. This enables us to reach out to a public of those in the know, but also to widen the conditions of access to art. For when we strengthen the market for galleries, we fulfil our other mission, which is to spread art. With our different sites, we’ve managed to turn this FIAC week into a time when creation shines throughout Paris, and perhaps beyond. If we’d stayed inside the walls of the Grand Palais, we wouldn’t have been able to have the same reach.