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FIAC, Paris: Suffering from the Frieze effect

Foreign collectors deserted the fair and the French only buy their own artists

Paris. Visitors to the Foire International d’art contemporain (FIAC) held 21 to 25 October, were quick to claim that the fair was better than last year and some even said it was the best FIAC they had seen in a long time.

FIAC did look much better, the offerings were more diverse than London’s Frieze Art Fair (held the week before) but it was hardly revolutionary. The fair was like a vast market, where visitors could either rummage on the smaller stands for minor works, or buy major pieces such as the superb sfumato Claudio Parmiggiani at Christian Stein (Milan), which was apparently reserved (at (220,000) by the luxury-goods mogul and Christie’s owner, François Pinault.

More the pity, therefore, that few foreign collectors attended FIAC, with the resulting negative impact on sales. Even Belgian buyers, once major clients at FIAC, had deserted Paris for London’s Frieze fair. Perhaps, instead of constantly courting the Americans, FIAC should try to attract more Europeans, particularly Italians who were also thin on the ground despite the presence of a number of Italian galleries.

“Buying fever”, the title of a Jacques André installation at Catherine Bastide (Brussels), was hardly apt. Sales were difficult, except for “French taste” works, such as Philippe Favier, who sold very well at Guy Bärtschi (Geneva). Tornabuoni (Florence) could not sell two major Alighiero e Boettis, but did place a Poliakoff. Galerie Malingue announced a number of sales, probably in the pipeline before the fair opened, in particular a Tàpies for €611,000 ($780,000).

The foreign galleries had a hard time, and James Mayor (London) and Giulio Tega (Milan) both said they would not be returning, while Michael Janssen (Cologne), who is a member of the committee, had not yet decided whether to do so or not. “French clients only ask for prices or more information about things they already know. They buy French art from the French dealers. Most of what we are selling is priced between €15,000 and €25,000 (£10,000 to £17,500), and this also seemed to be a problem”, said Ralph Wernicke of the gallery. Thomas Krinzinger (Vienna) was more positive, but did admit that his turnover at Frieze was three times higher. However, for Galerie Lelong (Paris), 80% of whose clientele is international, this year was a disaster.

The smaller galleries in the side hall did better, because their prices were lower and because there was more energy and enthusiasm here. “Those who bought in the side hall this year will be buying in the main hall in two to five years’ time”, said Hervé Loevenbruck (Paris). Galleries selling design did fantastically well from the beginning, somewhat curiously considering that collectors seemed hesitant about paying for art priced at over €30,000, and yet were prepared to pay huge prices for pieces in the design field.

FIAC’s new director Martin Bethenod, said “this year marked a fresh start, with a plethora of new ideas, and we must continue to work on developing the fair and raising its profile”.

The danger for FIAC is that is could become a purely local, French fair. Its great hope is that next year, when it is held before Frieze, it can do much better than this latest edition.

o FIAC: 6-10 October 2005; Frieze:

21-24 October 2005.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Suffering from the Frieze effect'