Having misplaced the envelope containing my VIP pass to the FIAC art fair, as well as all my invitations to the week’s various dinners, I decided to do the event “plain clothes,” traveling by Vélib, one of Paris’s famous free bicycles. I wondered whether collectors were also going to take up this new method of transport, which makes the city “so cool and so real,” in the words of visiting Brits happy not to be hampered by the massive public-transportation strikes (trains, subways, airplanes—you name it). But at least one Swiss collector expressed a lack of sympathy for the proletariat: “It wasn’t very thoughtful of the trade unions to strike during FIAC.”
On Monday, the fair commenced with a vernissage for new galleries situated in a tent in the Louvre’s courtyard. Martin Bethenod, FIAC’s elegant fair manager, whispered to me that he was particularly enthusiastic about the new generation of gallerists—including GB Agency, Hollybush Gardens, Raster, and Isabella Bortolozzi—all working with post-Conceptual, self-reflexive art. However, it was Marlène Moquet, a young, not terribly Conceptual French painter who looks like a character from one of her funny little paintings, who emerged as the new darling of Paris; Galerie Alain Gutharc sold all her work the very first day.
The next day, FIAC’s artistic director, Jennifer Flay, looking chic with her cane (“Function, not fashion,” she explained), welcomed more established galleries at the Grand Palais. The Gensollens, Marseille’s well-known collectors of Conceptual art, told me that in their milieu, everyone concentrates on certain artists—like Josh Smith and Anselm Reyle—who’ve been declared the best investments of the moment. Two hours after the opening, at the stand showcasing work by Smith that she shared with Luhring Augustine, Catherine Bastide was happy to confirm the fact. “We’ve sold everything,” she said.
“Sometimes, I just don’t get it,” confided Wiels chief curator Anne Pontégnie. “There is a wonderful, less expensive drawing by Robert Grosvenor at Paula Cooper, and it still hasn’t sold.” Emmanuel Perrotin, who was presenting new works by Xavier Veilhan, was also showing Wim Delvoye’s Cloaca “shit-making” machine and had even set up shop selling dolls by Delvoye. “Since very few people can actually afford to buy anything at an art fair, we are selling the dolls for only €239 each: People can finally buy something—and you can tell it’s not a Mattel.” Everyone agreed that, though the stands were expensive, the fair has been improving in quality each year since Chantal Crousel joined the selection committee. With 42 galleries returning participants (22 percent of a total of 179 exhibitors) and a design section, everyone seemed to sell their “less trendy” wares very well—perhaps, as rumor had it, even better than at Frieze, even if one weary dealer confided, “I keep saying, ‘Frieze instead of FIAC.’”
This year, the VIP program was particularly resplendent. As an added bonus, one could cut in line to see the Grand Palais’s sensational Courbet exhibition, where the queues were even longer than for the increasingly popular fair itself. I attended one of the special events, a visit from BSI, the Italian-Swiss bank that had asked the critic Luca Cerizza to buy works (by John Armleder, Bertrand Lavier, and Robert Barry) so that they could be hung on the walls of their offices near the Champs-Elysées.
On Friday, the traditional “Yellow Ball” took place in the chic Pavilion Ledoyen. (Invitations were exclusive and had been popping up for days on the black market.) Yellow is the signature color of the evening’s sponsor, Ricard, which also provided an artist’s prize (the winning work to be presented to the Centre Pompidou). The award went to Christophe Berdaguer and Marie Péjus, who were exhibiting in an area curated by artist Mathieu Mercier. The dress code was “flower power,” a strange enough theme for fall, but anyway, I had nothing appropriate to wear. I skipped the evening event to attend the John Baldessari dinner organized by Marian Goodman at the Georges restaurant in the Centre Pompidou. There, the crowd swelled with such artists as Lawrence Weiner, Niele Toroni, and Pierre Huyghe.
Mercier was also being celebrated at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, where his solo show opened on Friday alongside “Play Back,” a group exhibition of videos curated by Anne Dressen. Artists Los Super Elegantes, Brice Dellsperger, Michael Roy, and many others were there, and the event ended with an impressive concert by the Kingpins, a group of Australian drag kings.
The Marais galleries had all held their openings earlier in the week, so Saturday’s destination was Rue Louise Weiss. Thanks to the ongoing strike, the area was nearly deserted, but this just meant an easier time taking it all in, which I did, attending a bizarre vacuum-cleaner concert by Jim Shaw in Praz-Delavallade’s newly christened Paris space. Beyond that, Olivier Antoine from art:concept, presenting work by Vidya Gastaldon at FIAC, opened a solo show by Annelise Coste, while GB Agency exhibited recent photographs by the Finnish artist Elina Brotherus. And Air de Paris presented a magnificent exhibition of photographs by Bruno Serralongue documenting illegal immigrants at Calais, as well as works by Ingrid Luche and jewelry by Sarah Pucci, the mother of artist Dorothy Iannone. At the end of the night, I found them all at Zingots, the restaurant in the tenth arrondissement that often serves as the “cafeteria” for post-opening meals, and I decided, after an excellent oxtail terrine, that there wasn’t a better place in Paris to close the week.