PARIS — FIAC launched to busy sales and an energetic pace at the Grand Palais yesterday, with a VIP opening that stayed just shy of a stampede but still showed the recent increase in interest in the French art fair.
Local dealers had spent some recent sleepless nights after a proposal to include works of art in the country's wealth tax, but with the government nixing the idea, the fair was abuzz. "It was a very bad idea — and bad timing," said Paris gallerist Kamel Mennour. "Everyone was afraid. But I think the government will think about how Paris used to be a world center and not vote through this stupid law."
And so the sales began. Thaddaeus Ropac, who has been on double duty recently with the opening of his vast new space in Pantin, sold Antony Gormley's cast-iron bubble-bodied "Standing Matter XXXV" (2011) in the first minutes for £325,000. Also gone were Liza Lou's "Not Yet Titled" (2012) for $175,000 and two of Robert Longo photorealistic charcoal drawings for $275,000 each.
"From 10 a.m., collectors were coming in and ready to buy," Ropac said. "This is the best moment of the year in Paris, when FIAC brings all these international collectors, curators, and museum directors to town."
White Cube drew plenty of attention with Damien Hirst's dove in a large formaldehyde tank "The Incomplete Truth" (2007), an artist's proof for an edition of three, and a work that was part of Hirst's recent retrospective at Tate Modern. It was priced at £2.35 million, but had not immediately sold. The gallery did, however, part with Theaster Gates's "Flag (Tricolore)" (2012), made from a decommissioned firehose, which went to a French institution. Liza Lou was also a hit here, with her work "Untitled #6" going for $180,000. Kris Martin's collage "My Heimat (with moths)" went for $25,000, Gary Hume's "Plimsol Line" (2008) sold for £125,000, and a Tracey Emin also fetched £125,000.
"It's not a run on works like at Basel or Frieze," said the gallery's Denis Gardarin. "At Frieze people were harassing the guards to get in. Here, it's a different culture."
Hauser and Wirth anchored its booth with perhaps the most humorous and, to some, very provocative work. Paul McCarthy's rather innocently titled "Static (Brown)" has a cowboy boot-wearing former president George W. Bush copulating with a half-destroyed pig in a pile of what could be either chocolate or mud. It was, however, not a timely election-year commentary but rather a simply a case of a work that had been finished right on time to be seen at FIAC, said the gallery's Marc Payot. "Such a piece takes years until it's finished," he noted.
The McCarthy Bush, from the "Pig Island" series, was offered at $2.5 million. Within the first hours, the gallery had found buyers for another McCarthy sculpture, "White Snow Dwarf Head 3" at $1.75 million and a couple of the artist's cibachrome on aluminum works for $75,000 apiece. The booth was split between McCarthy and Rita Ackerman, whose "Fire by Days" paintings went for between $25,000 and $95,000.
At kamel mennour, one work was beginning to drip onto the floor by late afternoon. Michel François's "Deux temps" (2012) consists of one black marble cube and one identically sized cube of real ice, which melts in a commentary on the ephemeral and the perennial. The work had sold to a Dutch collector who will reactivate it with fresh ice when he sees fit, following the artist's instructions. Mennour had also found a buyer for Claude Lévêque's neon "Aveugle" (2012) and several other pieces, in a day of "very good work," at prices between €50,000 and €200,000. In a daring proposition, the Paris gallerist had also devoted a wall to Anish Kapoor's "Sister" (2005), a barely visible but mind-bending curve into the white surface.
In an odd occurrence, a young woman stopped by the booth and dropped a bag full of garbage at the dealer's shoes before stomping away. Mennour was bemused but kept his calm, noting that there were many artistic performances — both official and unofficial — happening at FIAC. "You have to be ready for anything," he said.
Emmanuel Perrotin's booth was playful, with Takashi Murakami's large carbon fiber sculpture-creature "Big Box PKo2" smiling out into the fair and KAWS's "Companion (Original Fake)" adding to the animation theme. At Karsten Greve, small oil-on-canvas works by Gideon Rubin sold like hotcakes. Vedovi, of Brussels, achieved a very nice and calming feel with its hanging of a single-tear, green "Concetto Spaziale" (1962-63) by Lucio Fontana alongside Alexander Calder's "Blanc et noir" (1962) mobile and a remarkable Picasso, "Portrait de Sylvette" (1854).
Sprüth Magers lined up a slew of sales, including four Cindy Sherman works from the "Bus Riders" series to a British collection for $20,000 each, two Barbara Kruger pieces ("Untitled (Good)" and "Untitled (Evil)" (both 2001) to American collectors for $100,000 each, Andreas Gursky's "Beijing" (2010) for €75,000, and Louise Lawler's "Pedestal" (2008-2010) to another American for $75,000.
The Salon d'Honneur, dark and cramped for the Biennale des Antiquaires, redeemed itself beautifully at FIAC, with more spacious booths and a handful of great works in several galleries. At Galleria Franco Noero, Lara Favaretto stole the show with an installation of two spinning, carwash-like buffers.
But the strongest impression came on the upper mezzanines, where again more ample space for each gallery made for an impressive show of the edgier, younger dealers and artists — and the quality was a sea change from last year. "We actually just sold out our booth. Which is crazy," said Javier Peres, of Berlin's Peres Projects, early Thursday afternoon. "Initially when they told me that they wanted me to go up here, I was like [expletive]. But they gave me a bigger booth for the space and it's really worked out."
Peres presented two recent gallery recruits, Brent Wadden and David Ostrowski, alongside the resurrected pioneer Mark Flood. Buyers were widely international and prices ranged from €5,500 to €30,000, the latter for each of Flood's acrylic-on-canvas works "Cheat," "Do Ass Youre Tolled," and "Bring A Gun" (all 2012). Peres added some portfolio sales to the tally and said there were similar sell-out reports coming from neighboring galleries. (He also revealed that he may have found a new space for his gallery in East Berlin's Karl Marx Allée and that a move from Mitte could soon follow.)
Further down the corridor, Amsterdam's Diana Stigter had indeed also sold out and were negotiating several catalogue pieces. Key to the booth was a charming installation by Aukje Koks, in remembrance of her parent's old house, as well as a reflection on the Netherlands's colonialist past and its people of mixed heritage. Optioned for £20,000, it comes with a stencil for recreating the its wall patterns. "I was actually expecting not to sell anything, to have some reserves and maybe at the end of the week, cashing some in. But it's been good," said the gallery's director, David Van Doesburg. Noting the French art tax debacle, he said similar things were happening in the Netherlands. "But since the New Year, strangely enough, it hasn't really affected business. The crisis has, of course. But since January, everything has picked up."
New York's Eleven Rivington were also at a near-sold out, with Valeska Soares's remarkable colorful tableau of vintage hardcover book jackets "The Sleep of Reason" (2012) going for $50,000.
"The quality of the fair gets better and better every year," said Hauser & Wirth's Payot, adding, "It's clearly not at the level of Art Basel, it's just one below. But it's absolutely on the level of Frieze. I would even say it is maybe slightly more serious than Frieze, but then Frieze is better in the young section."
"Paris every year gets more international and wins back the position it used to have," suggested Ropac. "It had a difficult period but it feels now like it's at the center of the art world."
On the outer wall of Yvon Lambert's booth, last year's Prix Marcel Duchamp winner Mircea Cantor had intervened with a work to be custom-delivered to any buyer by the artist himself, burning the words "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" ("Thus passes the glory of the world") into the white wall, in a reference to the papal inauguration rites. In art fair terms, though, the glory of the FIAC is definitely on the rise.
To see images from FIAC 2012, click on the slideshow.
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