FIAC – Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain/International Contemporary Art Fair
So we went to FIAC – a major annual event in Paris dedicated to contemporary art. It is one of the largest of such events in the world, if not the largest, also the most important. We have already covered this issue partially in our weekly podcast (aided by our friend Sam Davies) – but, seeing how we still feel that there is more to be said, and from a different angle, we’ll do a blog post about it as well. It is the most important event involving contemporary art after all (in Paris, possibly in the world) – it deserves both a podcast and a blog post. We shall also try to avoid repetitions.
FIAC by day
As mentioned, FIAC takes place all over the city and is on that account different from most other such fairs that tend to be geographically localised. Still, while there are many locations ornate with the temporary installments of different works of art, they are all (but) pointing towards the main “stage” that takes place in Grand Palais. If we are to be cynical about it (and as you know, we are) all these works of art are by that practice being reduced to advertisement for the main event. Applied arts is nothing new; instrumentalized arts neither, still, there is a difference to be made here, because this position is not overtly stated, neither by the artists nor by the organizer. Another point is the principal one – the main “event” of this manifestation (in all honesty, as the title suggests) is the sales of the works of art, not their exhibition. Sales are in the very center of this happening and it is all geared towards that one singular goal. In that respect, not only the works of art and various performances accompanying this event, but also the audience that goes to those different sub-events, are being contextualized as a decor for the actual priority – business and profit.
and FIAC by night
Depending on your ideological position you may think that this is a good thing or exactly the opposite. We’ve had many different occasions, where we could talk about this issue not only to the artists but also to the curators (some of them working in the finest and most well known museums worldwide) and, as with any other topic of conversation, there is no singular point of view that would be adopted by everyone. Some think that the free market should control every aspect of our lives, not only education, healthcare, telecommunications etc. (sectors often times heatedly debated upon on the question of whether they ought to be private or controlled and ran by the state) but the art and culture as well. Some think that the culture should be privatized. Following that perspective, FIAC in its current state would make more sense – you have a business event, a trade fare, that has actually been organized and presented as a staged performance, and the audience is there not to watch, but to act as a decor. The only difference is that there are many stages and you don’t really get to see any of the sales taking place.
On the other hand, the organizers did went to certain lengths to provide good service and to make the audience profit from the occasion. The guided tours/cultural mediations were available, and the process of hiring the guides was quite selective and rigorous as they took the former students of Ecole du Louvre (a very prestigious history of arts school, most esteemed of its kind in France) – we know this, as we work and have worked with several of the guides being engaged by FIAC (one of these days we may get an interview and hear about the functioning of FIAC from the inside – stay tuned for that). The venue was followed by a large number of performances where younger and not so well known artists and performers got the occasion to present their work to the global audience next to some already famous stars of the scene. Furthermore, performances were free upon reservation, as if in a contrast to the exorbitant admission price for the entrance to the Grand Palais; also, the admission to the Hors Les Murs and Petit Palais are free.
Apart from the criticism of the obvious (furthering the ties between the market and the art world) and the overall presentation of the event, we off course need to say a couple of words about the works in question. It needs being said that the Grand Palais is a huge place (back in the day it was built to be the largest roofed exhibition space in the world – more on this on our Champs Elysées private quartier tour) and that it was completely filled with art pieces. It might actually be the only occasion that this space is filled to its fullest, as most shows and exhibitions taking place there always seem to be overshadowed by the huge vacuous space that eats up the entire presentation. Not only the ground level but the first floor as well are stocked full and packed with stalls. It is a quantity of art that can only be described as beyond overwhelming – even if you decide to visit the manifestation every day of its duration, you are still going to get saturated half way through and are likely to miss out on many works. Take notice that we are only talking about the Grand Palais space here – not even including the other sites (Petit Palais and the Hors Les Murs exhibition spaces). So, again, even from this point of view, sales and the necessity to achieve prestige are being deemed more important than the audience. But back to the subject of the quality of the art presented.
In so many words, we’re quite disappointed. First, as already addressed in the podcast, it seems that half of the work presented was actually modern, not contemporary. Again, we can attribute this to the tendency of the FIAC to base itself on sales rather than anything else. Modernist art is already well established and, for the most part, extremely expensive. As a gallerist, you are more interested in selling a well known, prestigious piece of art made by a famous artist than that you are interested in promoting a young, promising artist that is your contemporary. On the buyer’s end it’s the same situation – most people who can actually afford to buy such art are not at all interested in acquiring it for art’s sake, for beauty, creativity expressed and so on, no, they look at a work of art as an asset that should be more valuable down the road. So in most cases even on the buyer’s end it’s about making more money. From the artistic point of view this is a very frustrating situation as your options are severely limited. You cannot quite compete with the artists that are dead for (in some cases) more than half a century, nor should you. Also, from the point of view of the audience, this is frustrating because you come to look at contemporary art, interested in what’s going on now, not what went on sixty and seventy years ago. For that, you can go to the library or to a museum.
So that writes off half of the FIAC in question (the section at the Grand Palais at least). What about the other half ? Well, it did not impress. With the occasional flash of effort and creativity, it’s mostly same-old same-old. Engaged art, be it an ecological, social, racial etc. issue (while on that topic, not a lot of class issues were being addressed – we didn’t really witness any); a lot of artistic navel-gazing and the seemingly endless introspective work; a lot of fetishiziation of the diverse neuroses ; a lot of installations that without extensive explanations don’t and can’t mean anything coherent; and the last as well as the least (relevant), art attempting to be scandalous. We already addressed this in the podcast – it is oh-so-very tired and boring. Luckily, we can say that majority of art did not play at this and we truly are hoping that it is a fading trend.
Overall, was it great ? No. Was it passable? Yes, it was, as the manifestation is impressive if for nothing else than for its sheer size and organization. Shall we go there again next year? Certainly so. Should you (the reader) go there next year? If you cultivate a live interest in contemporary or modern art, yes. If not, not better spend your time on some of the tried and true venues like the Louvre, the Orsay, and alike.
20th-23rd October 2016
Hors Les Murs
All photographs are copyright by FIAC 2016 © Marc Domage