Last Wednesday, I was looking forward to the opening of the Nan Goldin show at the Centre Georges Pompidou. I arrived at the festive museum in central Paris on time, oblivious of the strikes that had shut down some of the city's most important public museums and monuments, including the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay and the Arc de Triomphe. I was brutally reminded of the militancy of French labor unions when I found myself stopped by the closed doors of the museum (the workers, some of whom are still on strike, seek a 35-hour work week).
After a resentful glance inside and some sotto voce muttering, I decided to head south to the Porte de Versailles and visit FIAC (International Fair of Contemporary Art), which opened for previews on Tuesday, Oct. 9. After taking the subway to Concorde station, I waited on the line 12 platform for the next train to come, just to hear the speakers announcing… a strike on line 12. So, I decided to abandon my new plan and try again the next day.
It was Thursday afternoon before I reached my goal, on a bright sunny day and by bus.
The keynote for this year's FIAC is "fewer galleries, more quality." Indeed, the number of exhibitors has been reduced to 163 from the 196 last year, and the quality does seem to have improved. Notably, too, FIAC deserves more than ever the "C" in its anagram, which stands for "contemporary." In all, 17 percent of the galleries in this edition are new, among them, for the first time, a gallery from China -- Shanghart from Shanghai.
Also new is a 500-square-meter Video Cube, a viewing space devoted to the cathode medium, which is widely represented in the gallery booths, too. And many exhibitors decided to adopt the controversial concept, imposed last year, of representing a single artist.
Recently Paris has succumbed to something of an infatuation for Pop Art and "Nouveau Realism," sparked by the exhibition "Les années Pop" at the Centre Pompidou. Consequently, many galleries featured works from these two movements in their booths. Solo shows of works by Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana and Mimmo Rotella were organized respectively by Susan Sheehan (New York), Guy Pieters (Knokke le Zoute, Belgium) and Tornabuoni (Florence).
Similarly, classic photographs by Nan Goldin were to be seen at Yvon Lambert (Paris). However, one had to head to White Cube (London) to discover her more recent work, exhibited, as intended by the artist, unframed and displayed in "positive grids" covering an entire wall.
Yayoi Kusama also benefited of the publicity generated by institutional and private shows, among which a recent exhibition at the Maison de la Culture du Japon in Paris. For the 2001 edition of FIAC, Pièce Unique (Paris) choose to focus its exhibition exclusively on the obsessive universe of the Japanese artist.
Among the modernist artists featured at FIAC, London dealer Crane Kalman made an original impression with a stand dedicated to Alexander Calder's tapestries and works on paper. Crane Kalman has long defended this secondary medium; 12 years ago he held an exhibition of tapestries by some of the great moderns -- Calder, Delaunay, Miró and Picasso.
A renewal of interest in textile works among contemporary artists is fairly well represented at this year's edition of FIAC. Woven pictures of the late Alighiero Boetti in the different Italian booths, soiled textiles scrawled with harsh scenes drawn with a blue ballpoint by British artist Tracey Emin at White Cube, fantastic or cruel modern stories embroidered by Corinne Marchetti, a 27-year-old artist, from the south of France, at Roger Pailhas (Marseille). Only the knitted pictures of Rosemarie Trockel were missing.
Also very interesting were some of the thematic exhibitions, especially the one organized by Jerome de Noirmont (Paris) on contemporary interpretations of the memento mori. Artists as different as Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, MacDermott & MacGough, David Mach and Pierre et Gilles were represented with illustrations of that perennial theme. Among these works, a very impressive installation by Tony Oursler and a Selfportrait by Jean-Pierre Raynaud representing his own skull, reproduced on two rows of ceramic tiles, deserve to be pointed out.
A final note: the winner of the competition among the eight video artists of the Video Cube, organized by the French TV channel la Cinquième, is Wang Jian Wei. It is a well-deserved victory for this Chinese artist, whose work shows the influence of the Western world through television on what is otherwise a fairly secluded culture. For his installation, he projected two videotapes on facing walls, the first showing Chinese families sitting and reacting in front of what we guess to be their TV set and the second showing romantic or violent scenes from sometimes-censored American movies.
After six hours of wandering, I exited FIAC, beat but happy, and was actually able to catch the Metro home.