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Fiac '07 fair report: Fiac makes a strong comeback with new location at the Grand Palais

Collectors and dealers praise the quality of art on offer

Even before the leading French fair Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (Fiac, 18-22 October) opened to VIPs on 17 October, leading collectors had been in and made several purchases. LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault, Christie’s owner François Pinault, Miami collector Martin Margulies and Todd Levin, curator of US hedge-fund manager Adam Sender’s collection, were spotted trawling the aisles under the lacy glass dome of the Grand Palais, where the fair returned last year from an unattractive, out of the way, exhibition centre.

“We finally had to tape up the stand to keep people away while we finished installing the show,” said Alix Rice, associate director of New York’s Luhring Augustine. The gallery’s solo show of new Josh Smith paintings, all untitled and priced at $20,000 each, was sold out even before the fair had opened.

Luhring Augustine was one of 38 new exhibitors at the fair, 11 of them from New York; they included other big names such as Marianne Boesky, Sean Kelly, Cheim & Reid and David Zwirner. Why had they chosen to come to Paris now? “The fair’s return to the Grand Palais was one reason, and France is getting better and better in the field of contemporary art, with more and more collectors. Pinault and Arnault, who of course we already knew, are just the tip of the iceberg, there are other very ambitious collectors here and we want to meet them on their territory,” said dealer David Zwirner. Was the weak dollar an inducement to come to France? “Not really,” said Marianne Boesky. “It’s so expensive for us to come here, but our prices are a little easier as a result.”

The quality of the fair this year was universally praised. “Fiac used to be at the level of Art Basel, then it lost its pre-eminence—now it has come back strongly. I think next year there will be great competition to get in,” said Michael Hue-Williams, director of London’s Albion Gallery, a long-time participant at the fair. Many felt Fiac compared more than favourably to London’s Frieze, which closed just two days before Fiac opened. “There is more resale material here than at Frieze, which is more for emerging artists, but the quality is higher,” said Miami collector Mera Rubell, visiting Fiac for the first time with her husband Don.

Fiac is split in two, with the younger galleries housed in a tent in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre museum “It’s fun here, and that’s not a bad thing for art,” said Don Rubell, admiring a mirrored trompe l’oeil installation by the French artist Nicolas Grospierre (Endless Corridor, 2006, E19,000, $27,000) on the Raster stand (Poland).

The Grand Palais offered a more classic selection, featuring a number of major secondary market galleries such as Krugier, exhibiting what was probably the most expensive work in the fair, Picasso’s 1946 Femme Allongée, a study of a reclining woman in soft greys and greens, priced at $30m. At the other end of the price and taste spectrum was Michel Blazy’s Afga Rose, 2007, an afghan hound made of pink noodles, quickly sold by newcomer Art Concept to a Parisian collector for E10,000, ($14,200).

Sales were extremely strong, and many booths were virtually sold out on the opening day including newcomer Bortolami from New York and the Parisians Anne de Villepoix and Vallois.

The French Ministry of Culture made a number of purchases from its annual E400,000 ($568,000) budget for acquisitions at the fair, including French art star Kader Attia’s Skyline, 2007, a group of 19 mirrored refrigerators (E65,000, $92,300) from Anne de Villepoix, which was one of the highlights of the fair.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Fiac makes a strong comeback'