Palais Intrigue

Lillian Davies around the FIAC fair in Paris


Left: Pasquale Leccese and Yves Saint Laurent creative director Stefano Pilati. Right: Takashi Murakami, LVMH's Delphine Arnault, and Pietro Beccari, head of marketing at Louis Vuitton.

MY FIAC WEEK COMMENCED with a cold and rainy morning tour of the Tuileries sculpture installations led by fair directors Jennifer Flay and Martin Bethenod. Yet in spite of the cheerless weather, the fair itself opened with excitement last Tuesday afternoon in the Cour Carrée du Louvre. As VIP crowds pushed into the tent at 4 PM, someone shouted, “It’s better than Frieze—everything is sold!” I ran into the Rubells outside Frank Elbaz’s booth, where Mera Rubell gave accolades to the emerging Parisian scene; the globe-trotting collectors didn’t seem put off by the economic crisis: “The financial world has been turned upside down, but we’re still addicted to art. We’re not going to start looking for the best stocks; we’re going to continue to do what we’ve done for the past forty-five years: look for the best artists.”

Dealers under the Cour Carrée tent (where younger galleries set up shop) also seemed committed. Jocelyn Wolff, whose stand featured an installation by Franz Erhard Walther (one of the artists participating in FIAC’s debut performance program), noted: “I was skeptical half an hour ago, but now everything is fine. It’s slow, but it’s good—but that’s how we’ve always worked.” Commenting on the crowds, Cosmic Galerie director Claudia Cargnel noted that there were far fewer American collectors this year. But according to Berlin dealer Jan Wentrup, fewer outside collectors might not really be a problem: “London is play money, and Paris is serious money, serious collectors.” Foxy Production’s Michael Gillespie agreed: “It’s smaller than London, so there’s a hunger for new galleries coming in—it’s not oversaturated.” Isabella Bortolozzi, who presented a focused solo show by Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, credited Jennifer Flay for FIAC’s transformation: “Parisians today are more open to things coming from the outside—everyone’s speaking perfect English.” “Has the French art scene finally arrived?” I wondered aloud to artist Etienne Chambaud and curator Yoann Gourmel (of gb agency and 220 jours). Chambaud replied pragmatically: “It’s hard for us to say, because we’re the ones arriving.”

Left: Christophe Girard, deputy mayor of Paris, Lou Reed, and Fabrice Hergott, director of the Musée d'Art de la Ville de Paris. (Photo: Michel Dufour) Right: Meredith Dunn, Sandy Rower, and dealer Larry Gagosian.

At 7 PM, I grabbed a cab with Confort Moderne curator Yann Chevallier to the Marais for openings at Yvon Lambert and Emmanuel Perrotin. At Lambert, Glenn Ligon graciously led me on a tour of his three new works installed in the main gallery and neighboring project space. Checking my heels on the way down the stairs to his installation Tout doit disparaître (Everything Must Go), Ligon explained that the basement had been laid with cobblestones in sand—the way Parisian streets had been built until May 1968, when the stones, easily dislodged, were used as ammunition during the protests: “The whole show has an aura of nostalgia.”

Just a few blocks away, Perrotin was opening three solo shows: Bharti Kher in the main gallery and Pharrell Williams and Mr. (Takashi Murakami’s protégé) in the newer space on Impasse Saint Claude. Williams, expecting the birth of his first child on Sunday, was live from Miami via video conference. Manning the real-time video monitor and audio feed for almost five hours, the multitalented hip-hop star patiently entertained questions about the series of chairs he designed for his Perrotin debut. “I’m happy to be in the company of weirdos,” he said, flashing a signature hand sign. Later that evening, Perrotin took over Alain Ducasse’s Benoit for a seated dinner for one hundred, where Williams’s past and present collaborators—including Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, Pedro Winter of Ed Banger Records, and Delphine Arnault of LVMH—kept up spirits. The evening finished at Le Baron, but early, as the rest of FIAC was due to open the next day.

Left: Dealer Michael Kewenig with artist Kimsooja. Right: Collector Pierre Bergé.

VIPs were allowed into the Grand Palais on Wednesday morning at 11 AM, where a sober reflection on Frieze continued. Adam Sheffer of Cheim & Read argued that “FIAC seems more important than Frieze because there’s more of a mix of work, and there’s a bigger collector base for blue-chip work in France and Belgium." Kunsthalle Basel president Martin Hatebur continued: “The Grand Palais is very airy, and there are fewer people. At Frieze, you are surrounded by ten million people who are not buying. FIAC is more elitist.”

Inside Kamel Mennour’s booth, I ran into Ullens Center chief curator Jérôme Sans. “Paris still has to work to become intelligent and aggressively international,” he opined. “It needs a kick. There are some people giving the kick—galleries like Mennour and Perrotin. But it’s not enough.” Continuing my tour, I was struck by an elegant new installation by Sherrie Levine, based on Le Corbusier’s ideal color palette, inside Simon Lee’s booth. Meanwhile, Hauser & Wirth presented an unforgettable piece by Christophe Büchel: a bombed-out car rotating like an eerie afterimage of Richard Prince’s yellow hot rod shown at the 2007 edition of Frieze.

As darkness fell over the Grand Palais, Radio Classique interviewed Pierre Bergé, legendary partner of Yves Saint Laurent, on the mezzanine just below the VIP lounge. Between excerpts from Schubert and Tchaikovsky, Bergé discussed “the sale of the century”—his showman’s term for the auction of works from his and Saint Laurent’s collection—to be conducted by Christie’s at the Grand Palais at the end of February: “We were in Paris, so it’s natural that the sale is in Paris.”

Left: Artist Etienne Chambaud and curator Yoann Gourmel. Right: Dealer Frank Elbaz.

Thursday evening began with Steve McQueen’s opening at Marian Goodman, where the artist was showing “one new, one newish, and one old” film. McQueen’s feature-length movie Hunger (which won this year’s Caméra d’Or at Cannes) will soon be released in Paris, but the artist does not see a difference between the film and his art practice: “No separation at all. One is narrative and one isn’t.”

Checking the time on my phone, I raced over to Galerie Patrick Seguin for Richard Prince’s opening. The work—chairs, desks, couches, and bookshelves, appropriate for Seguin’s mostly design-based program—incorporate Prince’s signature iconography. A white armchair, for example, takes the form of a nurse’s cap. For the occasion, Larry Gagosian and Seguin hosted a dinner at Georges, on the top floor of the Pompidou Center. I found a table with Darren Flook and Christabel Stewart of Hotel Gallery—still in town because Flook had lost his passport the night prior on the dance floor of Le Baron. Flook was smitten with the city: “People say Paris is bourgeois, but what’s wrong with bourgeois?” Despite word of a contagious virus arriving from Frieze (as goes the international jet set, so go international flues), everyone looked healthy that evening, enjoying Billecart-Salmon champagne and Smith-Haut-Lafitte Pessac Leognan. Collectors Kamran and Negui Diba joined our table as well, lamenting the recent transformation of the art world: “Instead of artists, curators, and museums, today it seems it’s the collectors who are the stars. We miss the time when it was a small, cozy club.”

But in fact, following the star-studded dinner, McQueen’s dancing and desserts party at Le Télégraphe in Saint Germain felt like just that. We were about twenty people on the dance floor—twenty-one if you counted Marian Goodman director Agnes Fierobe’s golden retriever. Shoes were kicked off, and guests sang aloud to Talking Heads' “Once in a Lifetime.” Same as it ever was.

Left: Collectors Kamran and Negui Diba. Right: Foxy Production's Michael Gillespie.

Left: Dealer Anne Barault and Annick Charpillon. Right: IBID Projects's Magnus Edensvard.

Left: Artist Mr. Right: Kunsthalle Basel president Martin Hatebur and collector Guillaume Houzé.

Left: Hotel Gallery's Darren Flook and Christabel Stewart. Right: in situ Fabienne Leclerc dealers Camille Courtinat and Fabienne Leclerc.

Left: FIAC artistic director Jennifer Flay with Martin Bethenod, general commissioner of FIAC. Right: Marc Jacobs, Sadie Coles director Pauline Daly, and artist Richard Prince. (Except where noted, all photos: Lillian Davies)

Left: Collector Anna Luppi and dealer Isabella Bortolozzi. Right: Cecile Breccia and dealer Tony Shafrazi.

Left: Artist Larry Clark, Simon Lee Gallery's Claudia Milsic, and René-Julien Praz, creator of the dinner for the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. (Photo: Michel Dufour) Right: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris curator Anne Dressen and 2008 Prix Fondation Ricard nominee Julien Discrit.

Left: Dealer Yvon Lambert with artist Glenn Ligon. Right: Artist Takashi Murakami with dealer Emmanuel Perrotin.

Left: Cosmic Galerie directors Claudia Cargnel and Frédéric Bugada. Right: Artist Bharti Kher, Ullens Center director Jérôme Sans, and artist Subodh Gupta

Left: Cheim & Read director Adam Sheffer with collector Anouk Martini. Right: Gagosian Rome's Pepi Marchetti Franchi, Sandy Rower, and collector Adam Lindemann.

Left: Chantal Crousel director Niklas Svennung and dealer Chantal Croussel. Right: Marie-Laure Bernadac, curator for contemporary art at the Louvre, with Henri Loyrette, president and general director of the Louvre.

Left: Artist Steve McQueen with his daughter. Right: A view of FIAC.

Left: Musician Bryan Ferry with dealer Patrick Seguin. Right: Artist Pierre Bismuth with Palais de Tokyo director Marc-Olivier Wahler.

Left: Collectors Don and Mera Rubell. Right: Pharrell Williams.