Same city, new venue: Fiac returns to Paris, but eco-conscious galleries say they plan to cut back on art fairs

Sales at the French fair were generally healthy, but David Zwirner felt it lacked "the vibrancy of Frieze"

Galerie Templon's stand at Fiac

Photo: Nicolas Brasseur

Galerie Templon's stand at Fiac

Photo: Nicolas Brasseur

Dealers at the 47th edition of Fiac (Foire internationale d’art contemporain, until 24 October) in Paris say they are prioritising which art fairs they will take part in following the Covid-19 pandemic, citing ecological considerations and cost cutting as reasons for reducing the number they attend. But others are taking part in more than before in a bid to expand collector bases and explore new markets.

Oktem Aykut gallery from Istanbul, which is in Fiac’s “young galleries sector”, participated in 19 fairs from 2018 to 2019. “We have reduced the number and will participate in four before the end of the year, including Artissima in Turin,” says Tankut Rasit Aykut of the gallery who stressed that Fiac is “key”. The gallery’s solo presentation is dedicated to the Turkish-Swiss artist Dorian Sari whose sculptural installation Margins is priced at €18,000.

In the survival of the fittest fairs, the main players will endure it seems. Ellen de Bruijne of the eponymous Amsterdam-based gallery says that Art Basel and Fiac are still, for her, the most important ones. Pre-pandemic, she took part in around seven fairs annually and now plans to do four each year. “We’ll do more fairs locally,” she said, highlighting the trend for local events over global gatherings, whose enormous carbon footprints are increasingly coming under fire.

Iwan Wirth, the co-founder of Hauser & Wirth, says that sustainability is partly driving his plan to reduce the number of fairs they attend by around 50% (the gallery did around 19 fairs in 2019). The business model is subsequently changing in the wake of Covid-19, he says, as galleries consider how they reset relationships with collectors and crucially, artists. 

“I want to be considerate, meaningful and precise, and put more focus back on our gallery shows,” Wirth says. Following the return of in-real-life fairs, “artists are now asking about art fairs—that didn’t happen before!” The gallery’s sales included Rashid Johnson’s The Last Night seascape (2021) to a French foundation, priced at $850,000, and Takesada Matsutani’s Point de Contact (2020) to a foundation in Asia ($140,000).

Conversely, Document gallery of Chicago is increasing its fair tally; its stand at Fiac is devoted to the US artist Erin Jane Nelson, with works on show ranging in price from $4,000 to $14,000. “Fairs are an investment for us, they provide an opportunity to meet our collector base and new people,” says Sibylle Friche, the gallery director who has four fairs lined up over the next few months including Art Basel Miami Beach. The Breeder gallery from Athens also pledged to continue with the same number. “We are loyal to the fairs we love such as Fiac, Frieze and The Armory Show,” Stathis Panagoulis says. 

Fiac's new venue in the Grand Palais Ephémère

Courtesy of Fiac

Meanwhile, Anne-Claudie Coric of Galerie Templon (Paris and Brussels) points out that “we are actually going to participate in more fairs than before. My analysis is that collectors are less willing to travel around the world for art right now.” Since September the gallery has participated in Art Paris, Art Basel, Frieze Masters, Fiac and Asia Now. “We are adding smaller fairs in countries where we have important collectors such as Art Antwerp in December or I-54 in Morocco in March,” she says. Coric adds: "Environmental considerations are of course essential but I believe that for gallery like us, based in only two cities, doing smaller art fairs instead of encouraging mass travel with thousands of collectors travelling around the world non-stop is probably better."

Galerie Templon are among 174 galleries showing at Fiac which was cancelled last year. Its rebirth in a lavish new venue, the Grand Palais Éphémère in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, received mixed reactions however. “It’s a little too dark,” said a UK dealer located in the main blue chip gallery fair venue, which will remain in place for the 2024 Olympic Games. The rear extension meanwhile constructed especially for Fiac, known as Galerie Eiffel, houses emerging dealers. 

“We are missing the grandeur of the Grand Palais [which is undergoing renovations],” said an anonymous French dealer, “but this is a good substitute; it’s very well organised and feels a lot more democratic. Usually, we’re nestled away on the upper floor of the Grand Palais [in a section for younger galleries].”

Notable sales include several works by the Belgian fashion designer Martin Margiela at Zeno X gallery, including three editions of the Torso III (pale) 2018-21 piece at €50,000 each; two works by Martha Jungwirth at Thaddaeus Ropac including Metope VI (2021), €45,000; and also a work in the accompanying Hors les Murs public art display by Lionel Sabatté, Chouette Chevêche des Tuileries (2021), for €70,000 (Ceysson & Bénétière gallery) according to our sister publication, Art Newspaper France. White Cube in London also sold various works on paper by Tracey Emin, priced at £22,000, along with her neon works priced between £55,000 and £75,000. The gallery also sold Thanatos (1958) by Isamu Noguchi ($250,000).

Amongst the usual flurry of sales reports issued by PR companies at the close of the VIP preview, one stood out. New York dealer David Zwirner said in a statement: "I am a little disappointed, after the vibrancy of Frieze, with sales at Fiac. Paris is such a great city for a fair, but Fiac has tended to underperform for us compared with other major fairs. Nonetheless, we were happy about the sales of works by Josef Albers, Francis Alÿs, Harold Ancart, Lucas Arruda, Carol Bove, Oscar Murillo and Lisa Yuskavage for prices between $100,000-$400,000.”