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PARIS À LA MODE
by Xavier LaBoulbenne
 
The Paris art world is probably best defined at the moment by its conspicuous collusion with the fashion industry. FIAC, the modern and contemporary art fair that took place earlier this month, Oct. 6-10, 2005, is a case in point, coinciding as it did with the prêt-a-porter fashion shows, the fashion industry’s most lucrative sector. In both news coverage and production values, the clothing trade has the edge.

FIAC was previously located in the Grand Palais, a monumental 19th-century artifact of the defunct universal exhibition that has since been turned into a museum. A couple of years ago, the fair moved to the Porte de Versailles, an exhibition hall on the outskirts of town. Meanwhile, the mega fashion productions of John Galiano for Dior and Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel were to be seen under the renovated cupolas of the Grand Palais, while FIAC was welcomed to this central location only for parties and satellite events.

A shortage of modern artwork characterized the 2005 installment of the fair, an especially notable shortcoming since FIAC’s specialty -- as Paris’ own art fair -- was formerly the display of hidden treasures from Francophone collections (Belgian and Swiss as well as French), rich in Cubist and Surrealist masterpieces. But the gluttony of the global auction market had made such riches more difficult to find and, indeed, this year almost none were to be found.

Instead, the sold-out solo exhibition of works by Georg Baselitz at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac at FIAC appeared as the new classic. (Fashion was present at Ropac’s Paris gallery, where the designer Heidi Slimane has organized an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe works.) Also a nouveaute was the presence of interior design -- furniture by Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouve were displayed like sculptures in the booths of Patrick Seguin and his former partner Philippe Jousse, at prices that equal nonfunctional art objects.

In the booth of Paris dealer Almine Rech, a 3D abstract painting by Anselm Reyle, seen earlier this year at Galerie Giti Nourbakach in Berlin, was snapped up during the first hour of the fair opening. Made with crushed and plissé silver green paper encased in Plexiglas, the imposing icon made an oblique point on the ambiguity of high art and industrial design.

Some art critics denigrated as "Art Fair Art" Raphael Julliard’s installation at Art & Public of 1,000 red monochromes, fabricated in China and displayed in shelf in a fashion that is reminiscent of both Ikea and Anselm Kiefer. Sold for €100 each, all were gone by the end of the first day. 

In an effort to bring some youthful energy to the proceedings, FIAC, as have most other fairs, has instituted a section of booths devoted to works by younger artists. A good idea, to be sure -- but one regret was the new young section was ostracized in a separate hall. The juxtaposition of younger dealers with more established ones would have been salutary.

François Pinault, who straddles the worlds of both French fashion and art, was spotted trolling FIAC’s alleyways. Later on, Pinault’s rival, Bernard Arnault, attended the opening of a new LVMH flagship store on the Champs-Elysees in the company of Sharon Stone. The luxurious emporium includes a darkened elevator installation by Olafur Eliasson, a light sculpture by James Turrell and, custom-made for the evening, a performance by Vanessa Beecroft with a cast of models whose skin tones echoed the chocolate and beige colors of the trademark LVMH logo.

While Beecroft arrayed her models at LVMH with the same sophistication as the display of Takashi Murakami bags (and on the same shelves), a more humanist approach to the human body could be found at the exhibition of melted and twisted torsos by Berlinde de Bruyckere at the Maison Rouge Fondation Antoine de Galbert, on view at the same time.

Are these connections designed to entice us to believe that fashion is art? Or that art is now fashionable? In any case, the association of Pinault and Arnault with the art market helps link fashion to art as high-priced luxury goods. 

Backstage at Olivier Theyskens’ nostalgic fashion show for Maison Rochas, the artist Xavier Veilhan sipped champagne with Olivier Zahm, whose Purple magazine has long bridged the gap between art and fashion. The day before, Jeff Koons could be found on the front row of the Stella McCartney ready-to-wear fashion show, while on the runaway his print adorned the very short dresses designed by the rock ’n’ roll heiress. At the Palais de Tokyo, former Jeff Koons assistant Sarah Morris displayed her slick neo-neo-geo paintings without irony, but with serious titles, like Capital.

On the gallery front -- those that had not hired out their spaces as a fashion showroom for the week, collecting in return a year’s rent -- well, one can admire the grand new quarters of Emmanuel Perrotin, who has relocated in the Marais in the former Cosmic Gallery space. Having had the foresight early on to include Maurizio Cattelan, Mariko Mori and Takashi Murakami in his stable, Perrotin enjoys a certain cachet in fashion circles.

More progressive was the showroom of Surface2Air, a collective of neo-goth graphic artists, whose debut (with a show of works by jailbird artist Alfredo Martinez organized by James Fuentes) evoked a New Age European version of New York’s now defunct Alleged Gallery, a home of graffiti art and other youthful hijinks.

At the Galerie de France, New York-based photography specialist Olivier Renault Clement organized an eccentric exhibition of artist portraits, ranging from the Comtesse of Castiglione to Cindy Sherman, a show that is scheduled to travel to Andrea Rosen Gallery in Manhattan.

Impressive as well was the installation by Christian Boltanski in the basement of Marian Goodman Gallery. Titled Le Coeur, the padded and darkened room held a single naked electric bulb that palpitated to the recorded sound of the artist's heart beat -- an unconventional and ominous artist self-portrait.

Throughout it all, the subway was on strike and discontent very perceptible in the street, in distinct contrast to the artificial optimism of the art-and-fashion champagne conspiracy. There are rumblings of Revolution in Paris.

XAVIER LABOULBENNE is a writer based in Berlin.