After a period online, the FIAC is making a physical return, in a new space on the Champ-de-Mars. Dealers are optimistic, though fully aware of the crucial issues of this comeback.
Rokni Haerizadeh, Ramin Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian (Iran), 7 January 2015, 10 rue Nicolas Appert, 2019-2021, acrylic, oil, collage, canvas and wallpaper on tarpaulin, 195 x 242 cm/76.8 x 95.3 in.
Courtesy of the artists and In Situ gallery-Fabienne Leclerc-Grand Paris
It is the event of Fall in Paris: the one where collectors and amateurs get together, if only to get a feel for the trends. A ritual suspended by the pandemic, which forced the event to reinvent itself in virtual mode as "FIAC Online Viewing Rooms". But for its 47th edition, the International Contemporary Art Fair is returning to the real world, as it leaves the Grand Palais (undergoing refurbishment until the 2024 Olympic Games) and moves to a temporary venue built on the Champ-de-Mars. The move means losing a quarter of its area, and the number of exhibitors has dropped from 190 in 2019 to 160 today. But there is nonetheless a distinct whiff of optimism among the dealers. This can be attributed to two reasons: first, even if the virus is still lurking, the health situation seems to be under control; second, the financial results of the first physical fairs of September—Art Paris and Art Basel—have buoyed people's spirits. "Art lovers have not lost their appetite for buying, because they don't move in the spheres affected by the crisis," says Magda Danysz, a member of the CPGA (Professional Committee of Art Galleries). In short, you would almost think it was a normal new fall season, apart from the absence of American and Asian collectors.
The principle of FIAC itself remains unchanged. The event features a main sector in which modern and contemporary art coexist, with two others dedicated to young galleries and design specialists, joined this year by editors of multiples. And its exhibitors are as cosmopolitan as ever. 60% of them come from outside France, mainly Europe, with some from New York, Sao Paulo, Seoul and Tokyo. Meanwhile, the "Hors les murs" outdoor program, a true open-air showcase, is also returning. And—further proof of renewed faith—apart from the "Galeristes" salon, the "fringe" fairs are continuing: Asia Now, Paris Internationale and Art Elysées, renamed the Modern Art Fair.
Confidence Is Returning...
In any event, the stands at the Grand Palais Éphémère all sold easily, for the FIAC's return was eagerly awaited, despite maintaining its prices—unlike Art Basel, which, anticipating lower international attendance, reduced the price per square meter by 10%. However, says Franck Prazan, "the choice of an event isn't influenced by partial coverage of the cost of a stand. The crucial thing is how much you believe in its potential for success." Judging by the density of leading names gathering in Paris, many share his sentiment, including Perrotin, Obadia, Templon, Ropac, Zwirner and White Cube. Some of them have already participated in two fairs this Fall, or even three if you include Frieze, which runs until October 17 in London, just a few days before the FIAC.
Consequently, the Paris event has expanded its concept. Not only do all its exhibitors have access to the "FIAC Online Viewing Rooms", but the digital platform, equipped with new features, now has a special space for dealers not physically present on site. In addition to the participants on the Champ-de-Mars, some 50 galleries exhibiting exclusively online have been added, including Magda Danysz. Though disappointed to have been rejected for lack of space, she is delighted that the work of one of her protégés, Palestinian artist Abdul Rahman Katamani, has been selected for the "Hors les murs" exhibition, joining 20-odd sculptures on show in the Tuileries gardens. Finally, as usual, this section continues in the highly elegant Place Vendôme. Since 2012, each edition has featured a contemporary creation. For the first time, there will be a sculpture by a major figure in modern art: the American Alexander Calder, who died in 1976. Flying Dragon, a red work in steel six meters high and 17 meters wide (19.7 x 55.8 feet), will be a highlight of the 2021 edition, especially as it is being presented through the intermediary of Californian mega-gallery owner Larry Gagosian, and will also mark the opening of his third Paris branch nearby beneath the arcades of Rue de Castiglione. This simultaneously confirms the pull currently exerted by the French capital.
... But Anxiety Persists
Dealers are still keeping their eyes glued to the FIAC, though. "Recently," says Franck Prazan, "our galleries were rather like steam locomotives that continued under their own momentum even though the coal had run out." Thanks to state aid, slashed costs and personalized contacts developed remotely, they weathered the storm. Now, they have to put in "a lot of fuel to get started again," payback loans taken out during the crisis, find new artists, and begin investing again in the purchase or production of works. Many are also reviewing their participation in fairs. "Until the lockdown," says Franck Prazan, "I was attending nine per year. Now I will carry on with just five or six, concentrating on the essential." Fortunately, the FIAC is one of those key international events—probably more than ever, now. For the moment, everyone is betting on its success.