The mood was unexpectedly buoyant at the Grand Palais in Paris on Thursday October 20th, the opening day of the 38th International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC). Maybe it was the sunlight streaming through the vaulted glass roof of the Beaux-Arts hall, or the vast quantities of modern and contemporary art packed into it.
Whatever it was, it seems to have spawned a lot of early sales at FIAC, as the fair is known, including big-ticket items like two paintings by Nicolas de Staël; a collection of preserved fish by Damien Hirst; and one segment of a three-part red-white-and-blue neon sculpture by Dan Flavin, created in 1989 for the 200th anniversary of the French revolution.
FIAC, which opens each year just after the Frieze Art Fair in London, has long presented a mix of classic modern and bold contemporary, with a strong showing of late-modern (or early-contemporary) art. This year the catalog included 11 works by Richard Prince, 12 by Andy Warhol and 12 by Donald Judd.
Along with major international galleries, offering such low-risk, high-value fare, FIAC also attracts a younger group, which this year was able for the first time to set up shop in the Grand Palais’s upper levels rather than at a separate location.
By the close of the five-day event Sunday, 68,000 people had visited the Grand Palais for a 6 percent increase in attendance over last year, the organizers said.
FIAC, which returned to the Grand Palais in 2006, only recently pulled itself up back into the top rank of international art fairs. Although it is older than Frieze, which started in 2002, theLondonfair, with its unrelenting focus on the new, has gotten more attention in recent years. Now Frieze is planning to add a Frieze Masters show next year, featuring older works, which will bring it more in line with the Paris show. This may reflect a move away from the riskier edges of contemporary art, as collectors and investors are drawn toward safer, better-known artists.
Jennifer Flay, who’s been director of FIAC since 2004, says the combination of old and new has always been at the heart of the FIAC identity. “It’s very important in a city like Paris to maintain the presence of the past,” she said in The New York Times.
Fewer galleries were invited this year — 168 compared with 194 last year — because of the loss of space in the Louvre’s Cour Carrée, which is now closed for restoration.
Although the proportion of French galleries fell slightly, to about 32 from 38 percent, FIAC remains. 77 % of its galleries are European, as are a large proportion of its collectors. That may explain the resilience of sales here in recent years, compared with hipper art fairs more closely tied to the financial world. “There are a lot of doctors, lawyers, people from the fashion world, owners of supermarket chains, luxury-goods people, buying here,” Ms. Flay said. “It’s a very broad-based group, which is perhaps why we didn’t take the knock so hard.”