FIAC 2017, elevating the fair to a fine art

Four days, 29 countries invited, 192 galleries and at least 70,000 visitors expected… Unfolding its 44th edition, the FIAC stands out, once again, as the major cultural event of this back-to-school period with the City of Light reflecting bright contemporary rays. FIAC lux!

Has the FIAC finally hit on the right formula? After years of hesitations and oscillations between programme strategies as diverse as they’ve been varied, the event now seems to have found a recipe that suits not only the general public, but also collectors, art critics… and even professionals. All the while reconciling artistic quality and broad accessibility. Like every year, the event’s epicentre is under the nave of the Grand Palais, where the General section is on show, gathering the most prestigious galleries on the contemporary-art market. Namely one hundred or so brands, both French and international names, in a proportion which seems to be the norm for events of this type: one-quarter are locals, the others hail from overseas. But does the distinction make much of a difference these days in the upper-market sector, where Parisian boutiques look much like those in San Francisco? In total, two-thirds of the galleries present are European in origin, which at least serves as a reminder of the discreet yet weighty role played by the EU on the world stage of the art market.

This year, the selection committee for exhibitors was composed of eight specialists, namely Olivier Antoine, Gisela Capitain, Mark Dickenson, David Fleiss, Solène Guillier, Jan Mot, Emmanuel Perrotin and Christophe Van de Weghe. Out of the 192 participants, 40 galleries are taking part in the FIAC for the first time, and six new countries are making their debut: Egypt, Kosovo, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Tunisia.

The cream of international galleries

And then there are the faithful. As is the case every year, we find, under the nave of the Grand Palais, names like Karsten Greve, Barbara Gladstone, Chantal Crousel, Nathalie Obadia, Larry Gagosian, Michael Werner and David Zwirner. Here, loyal and wealthy clients from all over the world can stock up on masterpieces whose price tags hold more than a few zeroes. As in 2016, the General section is joined this year by the participants of the Salon Jean-Perrin, which is welcoming around twenty galleries recognised for their promotion of major artists. Strollers can wind between the stands of galleries including Essex Street, Labor, Marcelle Alix, Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler or Clearing, presented for the first time.

As its name indicates, the Grand Palais is a big place. Those on the lookout for more obvious renewal should head for the building’s upper galleries, where the so-called “emerging” contemporary galleries are presented. Here, visitors will discover the stands of Thomas Bernard-Cortex Athletico, Shane Campbell, Chert Lüdde, Jérôme Poggi or Magnus Karlsson. But visitors may well wonder about the utility of the term “emerging” – a handy term that is bandied about today while saying so little. The gallery Thomas Bernard, to cite just one example, already presented, in 2015, works by a few artists who are back this year.

The novelty argument is also cast to one side for the now renowned Lafayette section, supported by the event’s official partner. Following in the trail of Vuitton, Cartier and Ricard, French group Galeries Lafayette is also opening its own corporate foundation at the heart of the Marais district, sometime in 2018. This year, the Lafayette section is showcasing ten international galleries said to be “young” – another vague description: read either “beginner” or “in the process of renewal”… Selected from a field of one hundred or so candidates, the ten galleries are each presenting the work of one or two artists. Gallery Gypsum, from Cairo, is unveiling the cynical poetry of artist Basim Magdy, coloured with sham declarations and post-apocalyptic atmospheres that hold contemporary relevance to say the least. Freedman Fitzpatrick (Los Angeles) is showcasing the creative universe of Stefan Tcherepnin, in which funny, colourful cuddly toys mingle with rundown industrial structures. Meanwhile, gallery LambdaLambdaLambda (Pristina) is offering a focus on the work of young artist Dardan Zhegrova, a creator of bizarre cushions in anthropomorphic shapes that lie slumped on the ground. Not far away, you can see the works of Andreas Selg at Bernhard (Zurich), Diamond Stingily at Queer Thoughts (New York), Agnès Moraux at Schloss (Oslo) and Kim Seob Bonisegni and Seyoung Yoon at Truth and Consequences (Geneva).

A programme full of beautiful discoveries, which don’t, however, overshadow the key event being promoted by the organisers this year: the great return of design under the Grand Palais’ nave. To get things rolling again, five French galleries have been summoned to strut their stuff: Jousse Entreprise, Kreo, Laffanour-Galerie Downtown, Éric Philippe and Patrick Seguin. Some of them had already taken part in earlier editions, for example Kreo which in 2015 presented, in the Jardins des Tuileries, the Bouroullec brothers’ kiosk, designed for the real-estate group Emerige; in 2016, Patrick Seguin showed Jean Prouvé’s famous cabin, also at the Tuileries. The “return” of design in the Grand Palais remains excellent news for this sector in which French creators and dealers have long excelled.

An open-air experience

But those who don’t think they’ll get their fill from the rich range of events inside the Grand Palais have no need to fear, for the FIAC is also running an outdoor programme. Over the event’s four days, a real tidal wave of creativity is invading the capital, allowing many artists to get out there and meet the public, in a positively positive dynamic of openness. It’s up to strollers to glean what they can in the time they have.

Near the Grand Palais, the On Site section is presenting around forty monumental installations and sculptures in the prestigious setting of the Petit Palais and its surrounding gardens, as well as on Avenue Winston-Churchill, which separates the two edifices. As in 2016, traffic is being blocked off from the avenue for the occasion. For this 44th edition, On Site has been concocted in collaboration with Christophe Leribault, curator and director of the Petit Palais, and Eva Wittocx, curator and director of the contemporary-art department of the Musée M in Louvain, Belgium. Among the dozens of works on display, visitors can appreciate the ramparts of cushions stuck to walls by artist Sheila Hicks, a self-portrait styled like an ancient vestige by Alina Szapocznikow, but also creations from Peter Buggenhout, Antonio Caro, Claude Closky, Johan Creten and Ida Ekblad.

An open-air experience that merely begs to be extended, thanks to the equally rich programme of the Hors les Murs section. The latter is also presenting a trail of outdoor works, assembled in three of the city’s emblematic spots. For ten years now, the Musée du Louvre has welcomed, in the Jardin des Tuileries, a selection of installations by internationally renowned artists. This year, the works have been selected by a jury made up of Vincent Pomarède (director of the Louvre’s mediation and cultural programme), Bernard Blistène (director of the Centre Pompidou) and Jean de Loisy (president of the Palais de Tokyo). Tireless strollers walking up the shady alleys of the garden designed by Le Nôtre can admire the astonishing dismountable house designed by Jean Prouvé, midway between a bungalow and a mountain chalet. They also risk being surprised by Erik Dietman’s affable iron bears, confidently vying with the noblest statues in French classicism. Unless they prefer the colourful panels by Claude Viallat or one of Hans-Walter Müller’s well-known inflatable structures. We also find works by Gilles Barbier, Julien Berthier, Samara Scott, Liz Glynn, Thomas Houseago and Ali Cherri… The pieces on display at the Jardin des Tuileries can be seen throughout the month of October.

Meanwhile, the Musée National Eugène-Delacroix is hosting, from 16 to 23 October, German artist Katinka Bock, currently in residence in Paris. She leaves her stamp on the Romantic painter’s former studio – transformed into a museum by Maurice Denis –, by presenting an installation on how the notions of temporality and spatiality have been appropriated by human societies. And then, as is the case every year, the big attraction of the Hors les Murs section is the famous carte blanche accorded to one particular artist, given the opportunity to revamp the space on the Place Vendôme. A section within the section that possibly deserves, one day, becoming the sole object of a critical study, so memorably have François Girardon and Gustave Courbet, long before Paul McCarthy in 2014, marked this highly symbolic spot with their taste for scandal. What is particularly noteworthy about the carte blanche on the Place Vendôme is the way that chosen artists rise to the occasion and match the theatrical spirit of architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. This year, the FIAC, in collaboration with gallerist Chantal Crousel, has decided to invite American artist Oscar Tuazon, whose installation is made up of sections of piping interspersed with tree trunks. Visitors invited to stroll through the space may be carried away by the many poetic suggestions that spring up, whether they cede to the charms of the classic nature/culture opposition or establish analogies between the strength of the tree and the power of the man-made column. Unless they prefer to take advantage of the walk along these strange pipes, evocative of water-treatment centres, to reflect on the troubling question of water shortage on a planetary scale… In any case, this installation rings out as a true consecration for Oscar Tuazon, some of whose works have already been shown at previous FIACs.

Performance practices

As an event devoted to all forms of expression of contemporary creation, the FIAC couldn’t content itself with covering the visual arts without looking at the performing arts. This year, director Jennifer Flay has therefore once again made a point of promoting the disciplines of performance, music, contemporary dance and poetry recital.

Numerous Parisian cultural institutions, associated with the FIAC for the occasion, are thus playing host to a dense programme, not only on the site of the Grand Palais, but also throughout the capital. In this way, the festival Parades for FIAC is presenting the performance practices of 18 artists, visible in live action at several Parisian cultural hotspots. At the Grand Palais, the doors are opening wide to make room for performers, namely the habitually closed doors of the Salon d’Honneur, allowing visitors to slip into the neighbouring institution, the Palais de la Découverte. Over the few days of the event, we can thus hop from one palace to the other, for example, to see State of, a creation by an American artistic duo, Gerard & Kelly. State of can be described as a play on the echoes between shadow and light, architecture and transparency; or alternatively, an artistic stigma which reveals the harm caused by the rise of obscurantism. Also at the Palais de la Découverte, Frenchwoman Violaine Lochu will present Superformer(s) #3, an exploration of phenomena related to voice and language. Other artists will also be performing on the site – among them, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Imo Dimchev, Lionel Estève and Jeremiah Day.

Over at the Musée du Louvre, artist and poet John Giorno, a figurehead for the beat generation, will be offering, in the auditorium, his performance Let it come let it go (2017), in memory of America of the 1960-1970s and a Ginsberg-flavoured New York spirit. Using techniques such as the cut up, John Giorno’s poetry readings promise a moment of passion. Still at the Louvre, American artist Robert Whitman is presenting his Prune Flat from 1965, combining performance, film screenings and spectator participation, with a slow dissolution of the boundaries between fiction and reality – boundaries which also act as the links between the two domains.

Meanwhile, at the Petit Palais, you can attend Marc Crousillat’s performance Locus Solo (Trisha Brown Dance Company), conceived as a single piece of continuous action. The work challenges the notion of spatiality through a dance freed from artificial constraints, serving expressivity alone. And here and there, you can also catch performances by François Chaignaud or David Wampach, Raphaëlle Delaunay at the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Christian Rizzo at the Centre Pompidou…

A cultural marathon

Alongside the FIAC, numerous cultural institutions organise key events every year, many directly in conjunction with the fair. In this way, the festivities staged by the 192 galleries inside the Grand Palais are extended by the Nocturne des Galeries, organised on the first evening of the event, Thursday 19 October, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Dozens of Parisian galleries will be part of this night event, the public welcome to come and discover all forms of contemporary creativity. On the same evening, the Centre Pompidou will be hosting a big cocktail party open to the public, with performances scheduled in the exhibition spaces. And aside from this, there’s no shortage of choice… Art lovers who haven’t yet had enough can go on to discover the blockbusters of the moment: the David Hockney retrospective on at Beaubourg or treasures from the MoMA collections at the Fondation Louis Vuitton. We also recommend a visit to the Palais de Tokyo to check out Camille Henrot’s carte blanche, unless you prefer Malick Sidibé at the Fondation Cartier, Pierre Paulin at the FRAC Ile-de-France, Marin Karmitz at La Maison Rouge, or an exhibition on gender (female) and space (domestic) via “Women House” at the Monnaie de Paris.

Others may seek to flee the crowds by looking for art in unlikely spots. Why not the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, currently showing Brazilian artist Arthur Lechner, or the ICM (Brain and Spine Institute), a discreet partner of the FIAC which is presenting a performance by Léonore Baulac and Benjamin Lacombe, based on research by scientist Stéphanie Baulac on epileptic syndromes… All these are opportunities to (re)discover original sites in an atypical context. And if you’re still hungry for more, you can always venture into the unknown by crossing the Parisian ring road to The Suburbs. Many cultural spaces in the vast territory outside the city centre are also organising events to echo the fair: at Ivry-sur-Seine, the CREDAC is presenting exhibitions on Alexandra Bircken and Hugues Reip, at Vitry-sur-Seine, the MAC/VAL is showing work by Élisabeth Ballet, in Pantin, Les Magasins Généraux is holding its “House of Dust” exhibition…

And at the end of it all, exhausted art enthusiasts can rally together one last time at the famous Bal Jaune held by the Fondation Ricard, on Friday 20 October. A fine opportunity to drink a few pastis cocktails in honour of the new art prize being awarded by the foundation every year in October… before stumbling into bed, all senses sated!





FIAC, Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain. From Thursday 19 to Sunday 22 October, opening on Wednesday 18 October. Grand Palais and Petit Palais (Avenue Winston-Churchill, Paris 75008), Jardins des Tuileries, Place Vendôme and Musée Eugène-Delacroix.






Conversation Room

In its “Conversation Room”, the FIAC is organising, from Friday 20 to Sunday 22 October, a three-day series of talks dedicated to the year 1989. Topics will namely include globalisation, the fall of the Berlin Wall, disruptive innovation, and the spread of the World Wide Web… Highly symbolic in many regards, the year 1989 crystallises all the evolutions set in motion since the end of World War Two. A full programme… established in collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute and the 89plus platform, created by Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist.




3 questions for… Eva Wittocx

FIAC’s On Site section was launched in 2016. What, in your opinion, is its added value?

I think that On Site’s major asset is the unique space for freedom that it offers artists at the fair. By showing their works in the open air and for the public’s pleasure, artists can present their most emblematic, most monumental, most complex creations, without worrying about restrictions or modulations. In the most visible way possible, On Site allows the FIAC to enter into harmony with a few emblematic cultural and historic sites, namely the Petit Palais, the Grand Palais, the gardens and the Avenue Winston-Churchill.

You selected the works with Christophe Leribault, curator and director of the Petit Palais. How did you work together?

We worked conscientiously on the selection of applications sent in by candidate galleries. We started off by studying the propositions individually, independently, to form our own personal opinions. The task may seem simple, but it’s not quite so in reality… When you study an application, there are many parameters to take into account: is the quality of the works proposed up to standard? Are the gallery’s identity and the candidate’s personality compatible with the fair’s spirit? What message is conveyed to the public if we choose to present this or that work? Personally, I also contacted several galleries that hadn’t necessarily prepared applications, but which, in my opinion, had every chance of being accepted. Secondly, Christophe Leribault and I worked diligently on the scenography. The space of the On Site section is vast, and offers many possibilities. But here again, many questions crop up. How should works be presented in order to obtain a coherent whole? How can the creations of each artist be highlighted in the best possible way? What thematic connections can be emphasised?

Can you present the selection of works to us?

The selected artists can be classified in two major categories. On the one hand, there are the creators who are attached to the objectal nature of the artistic medium, to the material, to the texture, to the colour. On the other hand, we also promoted creators who are more interested in intangible concepts, such as culture, poetry, philosophy. For these artists, art is almost a metaphor. Whether they are up-and-coming artists or big recognised masters, all the creations presented offer a roundup of the best of modern and contemporary art.


Eva Wittocx is curator and director of the contemporary-art department of the Musée M in Louvain, Belgium. She is associate curator of the FIAC’s On Site section.