Testing the upper limits of the most initiated audience in terms of appetite, this year’s marathon FIAC (International Contemporary Art Fair) draws its public’s mercilessly selective attention to what creates turmoil in the small world of art. Collectors and amateurs could discover as much as 184 exhibitors representing 25 countries at the Grand Palais, but also associated outdoor projects in the Tuileries Garden, the Jardin des Plantes and along the Seine River. Going from strength to strength since Jennifer Flay took the reigns as Director of the fair, focus now lies on promoting the FIAC to an international audience.
That said, it’s also important to remember that the FIAC doesn’t aim to satisfy a penchant for innovation at all costs. It primarily embodies the standard course of glamour, monumental works and blockbuster artists, as well the highest, heaviest and more expansive art, while also being a wanderlust for a dose of spectacular, odd sights and irreverent pranks. There has been significant revision of the contemporary art dogma, though. Indeed, the commercial side and speculative flavour of the fair has given way to friendly gallery owners, increasingly willing to curate their own stands. One of the main reasons is the desertion of the bigger galleries, now relocated to regions with high volumes of trade. The Peter Freeman’s booth was the most striking example of a bold curatorial choice, arranging the floor in the baseball bats by David Adamo with a Giacometti sculpture at the centre of the installation and photos by James Welling on the walls. In the emerging section, the solo booth project by Société Réaliste, named CLASSi-FICaTION and curated by the promising Jérôme Poggi, looked like an exhibition room with a proper hanging. The Parisian cooperative founded by Ferenc Gróf and Jean-Baptiste Naudy in June 2004 is booming and demonstrates that contemporary artists are not uncultivated, with a penchant for artworks historically referenced and mischievously formed. A well-executed job to the benefit of a universal language ensuring a delight of the eye and spirit.
In the wake of that, at the Young International Artists Art Fair (YIA), the attractive and iconoclastic collective Nøne Futbol Club, lying uncomfortably between joy and denunciation through its emphatic proposal. In ‘Work n°888’, the slogan “GET RICH” is written in sparrow droppings, relieved from letter-shaped perches, the second-degree humour a gateway to a socially and politically engaged subject.
At the Bastille design center (YIA), Lyes Hammadouche was an interesting find which almost went unnoticed, among otherwise unexciting projects. A finalist in last year’s Tous pour l´art – Alles für die Kunst (All in Favour of Art) –a documentary television series aired on Franco-German TV channel, ARTE –and protégé to jury-member Caroline Smulders, Hammadouche’s main source of inspiration is time, smartly dissected, monitored, and challenged. Superb in its simplicity, ‘1/60’’ shows a second hand breaking down into as many pieces as seconds elapsed.
When entertainment itself doesn’t bring an artist to the fore, it may drive them in their practice, as with Korakrit Arunanondchai, starting his European career with Brooklyn’s C L E A R I N G gallery. Inspired by his favourite Thai performance artist Duangjai Jansaunoi, mostly known as the Thailand’s Got Talent ‘boob painter’, Arunanondchai decided to experience painting using his body for a whole year. From there, emerge paintings created using digitally-printed flames, superimposition and texture-mapping with bleached pieces of denim resembling earth from outer space. Obviously, we’re in the presence of a new form of digital expressionism.
But the focus on performance also turns to the Internet. The Berlin-based net artist Constant Dullaart, at the XPO Gallery stand of Loft Sévigné (YIA) is a case in point. Here, his famous webpage ‘Revolving Internet‘ features the Google search page spinning to the tune of Dusty Springfield’s ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’, as she sings, “the world is like an apple, whirling silently in space”, alluding to those backroom dealings that fool no one, while lulling them to sleep. For the prank, Google blocked the i-frame and removed all the comments from Dullaart’s millions of hits in 2011, citing security reasons before developing their own rotating page –just type “do a barrel roll” in the search field and see.
Photography was notably absent from FIAC overall, the best pieces no doubt reserved for Paris Photo Art Fair, coming in two weeks. Nonetheless, outside of the overrun grounds, there was the work of the Belgium’s Geert Goiris at Private Choice in a historic Parisian house. Describing his work as “traumatic realism”, the artist captures authentic places cleared of any recognisable geographical, social or physical features to generate purely mental images.
Though there’s little truth to the presumption that one learns through comparison, you could argue that the FIAC is an object in itself, to be admired in the same way as a masterpiece like Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’. The single most important factor to make such a comparison is the undeniable mimetic desire at work. It is not about desiring the thing itself but being like everyone who saw the thing. The fact that so many visitors emerge for celebration creates a feeling that it’s worthwhile. And there is no reason to expect that this would change. Buried in the Porte de Versailles Métro station only ten years ago, since then the FIAC has flourished into a fully-mastered curatorial service with a clear and distinct identity, while its exceptional setting in the Palais and its fitting natural light exert beneficial immunology effects. The on- and off-site events are like the yin and yang of what has been labelled ‘Paris Art Week’. Inextricably tangled up with one another, the ‘on’ only enhances the visibility of the ‘off’, while the latter relieves the congestion from the ‘on’, often deemed too generalist. By shifting focus across different areas of the market –digital art at Show Off, folk art at Outsider Art Fair or the under-the-radar scene at YIA –it is thus beyond dispute that there is a pacific ‘balkanization’ of the fairs. Some art stakeholders regret it, others hope it will give them a chance to participate in that great mass of contemporary art. **