It's the right moment for the French art scene. At least it is according to the publicists at Paul Ricard, the largest producer of pastis, and the promoters of FIAC, the Foire International d'Art Contemporain, which just opened here in Paris, Sept. 15-20, 1999.
Currently the Ricard company, with the help of FIAC and Beaux-Arts magazine, is sponsoring a brand new art prize for French artists under 40. The prize is earmarked for the artist whose work is most representative of the "French Touch." Ricard buys the winning artwork for 60,000F (the exchange rate is about $1 =6F), and exhibits it at the Pompidou Center.
Sounds like a good theme to us here at Artnet Magazine, since our report on FIAC last year led off with the question, "What is French about French art?" Back then, Paris dealer Daniel Templon just shrugged and pointed to a painting by Ben that read (in French), "In art all directions are good." This year, Templon's stand at FIAC again supplies an answer -- a cabinet full of perfumes by Arman titled Luxuese (1993). It's $100,000 and nothing if not French.
In any case, an exhibition of the 11 finalists for the Ricard award is on view at Espace Ricard, just around the corner from the chic Buddha Bar in the ritzy Matignon quarter of Paris. Titled "Propice," which translates loosely as "the right moment," the show presumably means to say that now is the right moment for young French artists to break out into the global art marketplace. Can't say we don't agree. It features works by Claude Closky, Stephane Magnin, Malachi Farrell, Mohamed el Baz, Sandy Amerio, Gilles Barbier, Didier Marcel, Florence Paradeis, Philippe Ramette and Hugues Reip. Keep an eye out for them.
As Templon grumpily noted, none of the finalists are painters. "There are plenty of good French painters," he insisted.
FIAC est française
As for FIAC, the fair has relocated from last year's semi-permanent tents at the edge of the Seine to the massive Pavillion du Parc in the Paris-expo center out at Porte de Versaille, in the 15th arrondissement. Though some gallerists were complaining that the newly out-of-the-way FIAC was too empty, French dealer Nathalie Vallois assured me that it just seemed that way because the space is so gargantuan.
With over 18,000 square meters to fill, FIAC has been able to add all sorts of goodies. These include a separate building devoted to large-scale sculpture and installations, an expanded "Perspectives" section of young artists and a (rather unimpressive) cyber-lounge.
Naturellement, there are also more booths for more dealers. FIAC has 182 this year, 40 more than 1998. Some 25 different countries are represented, and the fair includes a special subdivision devoted to Latin America. Finally, there's more photography and prints than ever before.
The "Perspectives" section, which is funded by the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, includes 24 galleries, six of which are Latin American. Among this group is Emmanuel Perrotin and Art: Concept, both from France, Damasquine from Brussels and Spencer Brownstone from New York, to name a few.
As is to be expected, the majority of exhibitors in FIAC are French. Dealers George-Philippe and Nathalie Vallois sold everything they had by Alain Bublex, a French artist who expresses his ideas about urban planning via architecture, engineering, drawing and sculpture. He proposes to build, for instance, replicas of Beaubourg in major cities around the globe, so the same shows can appear in the same form everywhere. He also designed a special auto, called Aerofiat 5.1, which the artist drove to the fair from Lyon. It sold right off the bat. Bublex is one of the artists under 40 included in "Propice."
A steady crowd buzzed around Pol Bury's giant sculpture Fontaine (1999) at the booth of the Paris gallery Louis Carré & Cie. Bury's impressive fountain (priced at a similarly impressive 1.2 millionF) is composed of 14 mirrored balls that slowly nod up and down as water is pumped into them and spills out of them. It's definitely one of the more captivating pieces at the show -- and the only work in the gallery's space, besides some of Bury's abstract bronze sculptures, which reflect nicely in the balls.
Fair visitors also liked the video installation by Pierrick Sorin sponsored by Galerie Rabouan Moussion in the spacious arena dedicated to sculpture. Titled The Man Who Lost His Keys (1999), the work consists of two different video screens, a smaller one on the floor and a larger one hanging a few feet behind it. The near video shows a man digging in his coat pockets for his keys. On the other screen is a tape of the same man -- it's Sorin himself -- smoking a cigarette and looking disturbed. Superimposed on that videotape is a close-up of the coat and pockets, being tossed about while the man searches through them. The combination of perspectives is amazing, and somehow freezes time in an infinite present. It's priced at 250,000F.
In another, smaller, Sorin video installation, an image of the artist running backwards is projected onto the wall above an actual record player. His feet seem to be making the turntable go around. As a special treat, the artist will customize the piece and insert a video of the buyer (or anyone else) in place of himself. Imagine, you could be running naked on a record player for 50,000F!
France is sex
FIAC is full of nudity and pornography -- penises in mouths, in particular. Could that be the "French touch?" Some of the best erotica is at Patricia Dorfman, where French artist Thierry Agnone has these goofy looking pâpier-maché heads of what look like dogs. Their tongues hang out of their gaping mouths. The heads are covered with a collage of tiny pornographic images cut from magazines. The beasts are shiny and colorful, silly and kind of scary. Somehow they seemed pretty French to me.
Another French artist to watch is Yvan Le Bozec, who shows with Polaris-Bernand Utudjian. Le Bozec is a cartoonist of sorts, appropriating cells from newspaper comic strips and pairing them with texts from different strips. The result isn't necessarily supposed to make sense. On view at Polaris is a small canvas titled It seems that… (1999), a black and white drawing of a disgruntled man sticking his head out the window of his apartment. It says (in French) "It seems that the one-legged man of the building has great success with women." Sometimes the images are drawn on different backgrounds, like plaid. They cost 4,000F each.
Roger Pailhas, who has galleries in Paris and Marseilles, had some fun pieces by the French Atelier van Lieshout. Van Lieshout makes brightly colored fiberglass toilets and sinks that actually function (shades of Sarah Lucas!). The cheery Pailhas, who for the past three years has organized the Marseilles art fair Art Dealers, including only eight galleries, sold several of the sinks by FIAC's second day. They're $1,000. Van Lieshout's toilets, which don't come with installation included, cost $4,500.
One of the bargain collectibles at the fair was at the booth of Anton Weller. Canadian artist Dana Wyse makes plastic pouches filled with pills, elixirs and powders that resemble those vitamin packets you can buy in New York by the cash registers in a grocery stores. They're 50F each. There are pills that ensure instant heterosexuality, capsules that enable you to immediately speak with a German accent and a powder that gives you your virginity back. One that includes a syringe is called Enjoy Life Forever. My favorite is Don't Have Ugly Children. It contains six promising blue and white capsules.
Latin America at FIAC
Work by Latin American artists was in abundance. For instance, work by Vik Muniz, the New York-based photographer who replicates the light-and-dark outlines of famous photographs using things like chocolate, brown sugar, syrup and tiny candies, seems to be around every corner.
One of the most chic Paris galleries, Espace D'Art Yvonamor Palix, featured paintings by another Latin, Victor Rodriguez. Obviously a lot of fun and full of youthful energy, Rodriguez's works are already going for around 45,000F.
Patricia Ortiz Monasterio of Gallery OMR from Mexico had high hopes for Pablo Vargas Lugo. Whether the French collectors will agree remains to be seen. In any case, Lugo's work is fresher than a lot of other stuff on display. For sale at OMR's stand were two light boxes by the Mexican artist, one orange and one blue, for $3,000 each. Painted on the clear, plastic boxes are what look to be line drawings of crumpled up pieces of paper, done by computer. In fact they are meant to be portions of maps made three-dimensional. One is called Mexican-British Relations and the other Mexican-Japanese Relations.
Less political is the work of Puerto Rican artist Dhara Rivera, whose installation of five rolled-up mattresses was set up in the largely unpeopled sculpture section. Nestled in each spiral of a blanket is a small, round video screen playing a tape of what looks like red water rushing down a drain. Rivera claims her work isn't feminist or Latina, but silent.
Silent it was, and soothing -- a nice antidote to the fair, where crowds of journalists, photographers, secret service men and fairgoers were just beginning to crowd around Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the main hall, as I made my way out. Perhaps I should have asked him what the "French touch" is.
One of the biggest complaints about FIAC is that it's too expensive and excludes many galleries and artists. Well, those who haven't able to participate have finally organized an alternative, called Art Paris. It runs Sept. 17-20, at the elegant Carrousel du Louvre.
Art Paris has about 60 international gallerists, showing everything from modern masters -- Miro and Matisse -- and French staples, like Cesar, to more contemporary art and decorative sculpture. Galleries include, Pixi Gallery (Paris), Dewart Gallery (Brussels), Farideh Cadot (Paris), Galerie Maeght (Paris), Galerie du Centre (Paris), Charles and Andre Bailly, Mathieu (Lyon), Mennour (Paris)
One stand-out is Project Fuzz by the French artist Kriki. A weird made-up creature that is gray and furry and looks kind of like a gremlin, Fuzz was on view in a cage in the Art Paris foyer -- apparently sleeping. Kriki is working with parfumiers at Jean Patou to develop and odor for it, and is consulting with various scientists to figure out other aspects of its biology and behavior. It was a great hit at Art Paris.
Another notable presence was Bernard Pras, who like Vic Muniz makes photos by assmebling a bunch of stuff, though Pras uses all kinds of junk, including keyboards, barbie dolls, book shelves, clothespins, clothes -- you name it. At Galerie Bruno Delarue of Paris is a portrait of van Gogh, priced at 55,000F. Almost all of his things were sold.
MEREDITH MENDELSOHN is associate editor of Artnet Magazine.