In a major ruckus in the art fair world, MCH Group, the owner of the Art Basel fairs, is to take over Fiac's slot at the Grand Palais in Paris to host a new contemporary art fair in October. The Swiss firm will now pay €10.6m for a seven-year contract (excluding technical costs), which will run until 2028.
This is big news—the Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain (Fiac), founded in 1974, is a Parisian institution and France's pre-eminent art fair.
At the end of last year, the Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais (RMN-GP), the French cultural body which manages the Grand Palais and its temporary replacement the Grand Palais Éphémère, unexpectedly put Fiac and Paris Photo's longstanding October and November slots up for tender.
Today, following a meeting of RMN's board of directors, it has been announced that the Swiss company MCH has been chosen to organise an international contemporary art fair in October while RX France (part of the Anglo-Dutch group RELX, which owns Fiac and Paris Photo) will continue to organise Paris Photo in November.
The events will take place at the Grand Palais Éphémère on the Champ-de-Mars this year and next, then at the Grand Palais on the Champs-Elysées from 2024. An Art Basel spokesperson says a new name is being developed for the Paris fair.
The seven-year contract is reportedly worth at least €20m for both slots.
According to a statement, in late November 2021, RMN received, "a spontaneous show of interest for the organisation of a contemporary art and photographic art fair on the dates usually held by the Fiac and Paris Photo. With no agreement currently signed with RX, the organiser of both of these events, the Rmn-Grand Palais, in accordance with the law, put out a call for proposals".
But RX France was not happy about that. On 4 January, its chief executive Michel Filzi wrote in a letter to Fiac and Paris Photo exhibitors that the situation had “very worrying consequences” for the fairs. RMN had made the announcement without consulting RX, Filzi said, adding that “summary [legal] proceedings have been initiated”.
The RMN statement says: "RX France and MCH have committed to promote a strong presence of French galleries at their respective fairs, and to maintain a controlled pricing policy. The Rmn-Grand Palais and the ministry of culture will closely supervise the respect of these engagements."
RMN refers to MCH as "a world leader in the field" capable of producing a fair suitable for "an increasingly competitive market," which will be organised "by a team based in France."
As for Paris Photo, founded in 1997, RMN says RX aims to: “revive a month of Parisian photography, expanded to new media, that is ambitious and galvanising for the capital”.
RX France had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel, tells The Art Newspaper the new fair will "definitely not be Art Basel Paris" and that MCH had approached RMN about taking on the October dates last autumn, "but we didn't expect the chance to come so soon". Fiac's October slot was "the only time that would work for us, as we already have the Art Basel fair in Hong Kong in the spring, Basel in the summer and Miami Beach in the winter".
RMN asked MCH to put together a letter of intent, outlining its plans and bid, which Spiegler says is a "significant investment and shows a serious long-term commitment on MCH's side".
This is the second announcement of a new fair investment in three days for MCH (on Monday, it announced a 15% stake in Art SG in Singapore). Such bullish behaviour is a far cry from the 2018-19 "period of retrenchment", as Spiegler calls it, when MCH backed off from investments in regional art fairs at a time of financial difficulty.
But since then has come investment from James Murdoch’s private investment company Lupa Systems which took a controlling stake in MCH in July 2020. Murdoch is "definitely engaged" in Paris expansion, Spiegler says.
MCH only found out that its Grand Palais bid had been successful this morning, so no hires have been made as yet, nor has a selection committee been appointed. "What I can say is that it will be run out of Paris, not Basel," Spiegler says.
RX France is not going down without a fight, however.
Later in the day, the firm issued a press statement saying that while it is pleased that Paris Photo will continue at the Grand Palais, it "strongly regrets" the decision taken "abruptly" by RMN to evict Fiac fair in favour of MCH's offer, "at the end of a procedure which RX believes was hasty and flawed."
Michel Filzi, the chief executive of RX France, says in the statement: "The procedure launched by the RMN-Grand Palais is not only a first that impacts the entire ecosystem associated with French contemporary art but also questions the programming of events at the Grand Palais. If it is confirmed that the most established events are thus at the mercy of decisions that are as brutal and unilateral as they are unpredictable on the part of the managers of the buildings that are likely to host them in France, it is clearly our entire sector that will be affected, to the great benefit of our European competitors. We reserve the right to challenge the decision concerning Fiac in court in favour of its competitor."