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by Walter Robinson
|Ah, Paris. Who wouldn't love a city whose fast food is café crème and crepes au sucre? Rich and sweet, a good theme for the 27th annual FIAC Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain, Oct. 25-30, 2000. At the end of its week-long run, the mostly French art fair -- of its 196 galleries, 89 are from France -- has clearly established itself as a formidable success, both in sales and the caliber of art on view.
This year as last, FIAC was sited in a modern exposition hall at the Porte de Versailles metro stop on the city's southern perimeter. Attendance was expected to total about 80,000 souls, which means FIAC was flooded with visitors on the weekend. Galerie Elisabeth und Klaus Thoman from Innsbruck figured it right when it filled its booth with several of Franz West's brightly colored aluminum sculptures from his "Sitzwust" series -- easily the most heavily populated artwork at the fair.
Exhibitors pay a basic rate of 1,200 FF ($1 = ca. 7.5 FF) per square meter for their booths; FIAC's total floor space is 12,000 square meters. The fair as a whole is operated by Reed-OIP, a branch of the international publisher Reed Elsevier (which owns Variety and the Lexis-Nexis database).
This year's selection committee was chaired by Yvon Lambert and included perhaps two dozen dealers from all over. The 18 galleries in the "Perspectives" section dedicated to younger artists were the responsibility of the Brussels dealer Rodolphe Janssen and Paris dealers Nathalie Vallois and Anne de Villepoix. FIAC also included 14 booths of print publishers.
In addition to the 89 French galleries, the fair included 21 from Italy, 15 from the U.S., 11 from Britain and a smattering of dealers from 19 other countries, including one each from Brazil, Lebanon and Monaco.
But statistics aside, the key to FIAC this time around was a curatorial one -- each gallery was required to mount a solo show of a single artist. Several of the dealers found this rule too limiting, and contrived to put on several one-person shows for a few days each -- which led FIAC organizers to boast of 217 solo exhibitions.
This conceit had several salutary effects. For one thing, it promoted increased participation by artists, who generally respond enthusiastically when they're alone in the spotlight. Perhaps most notable in this regard was the mini-pavilion designed by the French artist Fabrice Hybert at Galerie Erna Hécey from Luxembourg. Visitors could climb to the roof of the white-painted structure and look out over the top of the booths -- a comically uninspiring vista, to be sure.
The Berlin artist Anton Henning also created a special lounge for the London dealer Entwistle's booth, complete with supergraphic stripes on the walls, a video playing a cabaret accordion soundtrack, custom seating and paintings of Hollywood glamour queens that were a sly comment on the works by Francis Picabia on view elsewhere in the fair.
Other artists were on the scene, more than usual in such events. The Chinese Pop sculptor Wang Du was spotted at Art & Public with proprietor Pierre Huber, surrounded by his rollicking sculptures -- portrayals of U.S. warplanes in flight formation, Tom Cruise on his Mission Impossible motorcycle, a waving French prime minister Pierre Jospin.
Over at B&D Studio from Milan was the purple-garbed Dutch artist Micha Klein, who recently had a show of his super-glamorous, digitally tweaked Rainbow People photos at Mary Boone Gallery in New York. Klein is the very emblem of high spirits, and his photographs were moving fast at prices beginning at $5,000 for a 30-inch-square picture of an idealistically pretty girl on up to $35,000 for large works.
Also on hand was Gloria Friedmann at Galerie Cent8, Paris, wearing a T-shirt printed with parrots to match her colorful abstract paintings, done cliché verre style in hues that match the stuffed parrots that adorn their surfaces. "It's the karaoke effect!" said Freidmann, who has showed at Annely Juda in London but never in New York. Most of the works were sold at prices ranging from 50,000 FF-180,000 FF.
The solo-show-scheme also encouraged galleries and artists to debut new works. Gilbert & George, for instance, featured giant photos from 2000 specially made for the booth of their Paris dealer, Thaddeus Ropac. Dubbed the "Zig-Zag Series," they feature emblematic photos of bird shit, blood, piss and personal ads -- "Jed, hung, horny, boyish British punk, giving you "the best you're gonna get" -- along with pictures of the dynamic British duo, of course ($200,000-$550,000).
Down the aisle at Xavier Hufkens from Brussels the mood was more reserved, as the American sculptor John Chamberlain had sent along seven small new works in painted steel with titles like Singing Boxer and Lilly Labiat. All seven sold the day of the opening, Hufkens said, priced in the $25,000-$30,000 range. Also sold (for an undisclosed price) was a seven-foot-tall sculpture called Pickled Phoenix, easily among the most beautiful works at the fair. Dated 1982-99, it seems like a ribbon of red-painted steel had been recently added to a classic crushed-metal work in cream and silver.
With almost 90 solo shows by French artists, one might expect to come away from FIAC with some kind of profile of the state of French art today. Barring that, at least I can give you a list. There were some classic moderns -- Francis Picabia at both Vivita from Florence and Zwirner & Wirth from New York, Man Ray at both Galerie Marion Meyer, Paris, and Zabriskie Gallery, New York.
And some Pop artists -- Niki de Saint-Phalle at Guy Pieters Gallery from Knokke, Belgium; Pierre et Gilles at Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont in Paris; Robert Combas at Galerie Rachlin Lemarié in Paris; Ben at Galerie 1900-2000 in Paris; and Bertrand Lavier at Yvon Lambert, also of Paris.
And the minimalists and post-minimalists and color abstractionists -- Jean Legros (1917-1981) at Galerie Lahumière, Paris; François Morellet at Galerie Sollertis, Toulouse (on canvas and paper), and Galerie Catherine Issert, Saint-Paul de Vence (in neon); and Daniel Buren at Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris and New York, who installed a 12-foot-tall mirrored pavilion (price: 700,000 FF).
There were painters -- expressively impastoed nudes and portraits by Eugène Leroy at the Galerie de France from Paris -- and sculptors -- faceted wood volumes by Jean-Pierre Pincemin at Oniris from Rennes-- and conceptual photographers -- Sophie Calle at Arndt & Partner from Berlin.
And there were young artists, or unfamiliar ones. At the Paris Galerie Xippas were the high-key black and white photographs of Valerie Belin, a French artist who was born in 1964 and who has never showed in the U.S. Her subjects include male bodybuilders, wrecked automobiles and meat hanging in the slaughterhouse. Prices begin at 15,000 FF.
One final effect of all these booths filled with works by a single artist can be called, as Emilio Steinberger of Galeria Ramis Barquet pointed out, the "Rothko Chapel effect" -- given by a somber installation of a group of large, related works in a confined geometric space. "It's like a cathedral," Steinberger said, referring to the Julian Schnabel paintings at Gian Enzo Sperone, for which the notion is strangely apropos. Schnabel's group of works, framed in white, ornately carved frames and which feature clots of violet or green brushstrokes and scrawled phrases like "Bill Gaddis" and "Christ's Last Day" against pale blue or sunset orange grounds, are exceptionally suggestive of a kind of Neo-Ex annunciation.
The same can be said of the church-like installation of several other booths, including the cycle of post-apocalyptic figurative paintings by Odd Nerdrum at Forum Gallery (two had sold prior to my visit, for $210,000 and $250,000) and the large, semicircular runelike paintings of Jose Bedia at Barquet (among the buyers, for around $45,000, is the Guggenheim Museum).
Even the installation at Lisson Gallery of abstract paintings by the "Sensation" veteran Jason Martin is suggestive of a chapel -- though a secular one, thanks to the nylon ropes on stanchions, put up by gallery staff in a vain attempt to stop visitors from touching the paintings' luminescent, ribbed surfaces. More or less everything was sold, said a gallery staffer, at prices of £12,000 for a 180-cm-square work and £28,000 for a mural-sized painting -- and collectors don't like fingerprints.
Finally, before I go off for some canard or poulet or something, I must mention the series of new photographs by veteran French shutterbug Jean-Luc Mouline at Anne de Villepoix. It seems that French workers, when they go on strike, express themselves with irreverent versions of the products they usually manufacture -- and these are what Mouline has documented. The image of the blood-red Galoises pack is sold out at 15,000 FF. Other works from the series include a copy of the front page of the International Herald-Tribune published with no pictures, and an evening gown with a hem soaked in red. They don't do that in the U.S.!
For more images from FIAC, click here.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.