From the FIAC to the auction rooms

[27 Oct 2015]


Each year, the FIAC (Paris’s International Contemporary Art Fair) is becoming denser. With its Officielle, Art Elysées, Slick, Cutlog, Yia, Outsider Art Fair, Asia Now and the Zurcher Salon among others, the fair is accompanied by a whole range of parallel events, professional initiatives (Chambre à part, Private Choice), blockbuster exhibitions (Andy Warhol at the Museum of Modern Art, Picassomania at the Grand Palais), curated itineraries and – of course – auction sales. The driving force behind this supply-side explosion (and the concomitant appetite for art and culture) is obviously the FIAC, the biggest Contemporary art fair in France, with its own official off (the Officielle) that hosts 69 emerging galleries from 17 countries.

With a tougher and more international selection than ever, the FIAC now resembles many other major international art fairs, inviting the large Anglo-American galleries like Michael Werner, Hauser and Wirth, White Cube, David Zwirner and the Pace Gallery. However, this tougher selection has undoubtedly enabled the FIAC to improve its image this year and attract a number of highly demanding buyers. Despite the crowds and high prices, the FIAC exudes a high level of elegance and finesse that is substantially amplified by the magnificent venue itself, the Grand Palais.
The FIAC is no longer aimed at “all” collectors: the cheapest work on offer costs several thousand euros – or rather, several thousand dollars – because the US dollar has now imposed itself on the market, even in Paris. With very few drawings and silkscreen prints on offer, the vast majority of the works cost over $50,000, and that is if they are not already sold, because, according to the gallery owners, their stands were almost completely sold out in the first few hours of the fair.
Still, it was a very agreeable experience to wander down the aisles and admire the selection of works, and, perhaps equally, their often remarkable organisation, because the galleries had clearly put a lot of thought into the juxtaposition and logic of their presentations (giving the impression that the FRIEZE had not robbed them of his best pieces).

It wasn’t difficult to identify the market trends: we encountered statues by Antony GORMLEY and Anish KAPOOR several times and different galleries were offering paintings by Ufan LEE, Alfonso Torsoni and Hernan Bas. The latter’s work, currently showing at the Perrotin Gallery (the most influential gallery in the Marais district of Paris) was presented by two other galleries at the fair: Victoria Miro and Lehmann Maupin. The market of the young Hernan BAS (b. 1978) was somewhat deflated in recent years and his auction prices fell below $50,000; but prices appear to have doubled for his latest series of paintings.

Prices are always very high at prestige art fairs, and the young artists promoted by the powerful galleries sometimes sell more expensively than the established signatures offered just a few miles away in auction rooms. For example, at Cornette de Saint Cyr or at Christie’s, we have clearly seen the recent vitality of the Surrealist market with recurrent appearances of works by artists like Leonor FINI, Oscar DOMINGUEZ and Roberto MATTA. This autumn, the French auction companies have also been focusing on Picasso (with prices ranging from €2,000 to over a million), Miro and Fujita.
A pleasant surprise also occurred at the Hotel Drouot where the auctioneer Morand-Morand piggy-backed the FIAC effect to organize a prestigious exhibition and announce the forthcoming sale of five sculptures by Germaine Richier (3 November 2015).

Germaine RICHIER, a pupil of Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), is one of the most important female artists of the 20th century, but her work is still relatively cheap (the five sculptures have been announced at between €100,000 and €300,000) especially when one sees the prices asked at the FIAC for much younger signatures. In short… if you are looking for discoveries, it is a good idea to broaden your gaze to include not just the art fairs (and their side events), but also the famous secondary market.