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Fiac bounces back thanks to homegrown collectors

François Pinault, Bernard Arnault and Claude Berri attended, among many others

Paris

“I can’t believe I’m in Paris. I just can’t believe I’m in Paris.” This comment, written on a work by Ken Lum and shown by the Vienna gallery Grita Insam, neatly summed up what many thought about this year’s edition of France’s leading contemporary art fair Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (Fiac), held from 26 to 30 October.

Over the past few years, the 33-year-old Fiac had been losing ground to newer fairs: a situation not helped by being banished to a huge exhibition complex on the fringes of Paris after the Grand Palais closed. But it came back to life with a bang this year, to the astonishment of many. French collectors were buying enthusiastically and suddenly there was a real buzz in the air.

The current strength of the contemporary art market was a factor, as was the fair’s return to its former home. Because the 1900s Grand Palais could only take 98 galleries, the fair director Martin Béthenod put a further 62 galleries into marquees in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre museum. Buses carried visitors between the two sites: organisers reported 88,000 visitors.

The big successes this year included Jeanne Bucher’s show “Tête à Tête”, focusing on heads with works from the 1920s and 1930s by Giacometti, Laurens, Léger, Masson and Ernst.

The Cour Carrée, which showed newer galleries, had some strong stands, but there were many weaker exhibitors. Mr Béthenod admitted that next year selection will be tougher. “We had made so many changes already this year that we couldn’t go any further,” he said.

A number of galleries turned down by Fiac organised a satellite fair, called Show Off, in the Espace Cardin on the Champs Elysées—the surprise success of the week. Co-organisers Magda Danysz and Les Filles du Calvaire gallery said they sold more at Show Off than when they used to exhibit at Fiac.

The best news for the Parisian market was the sharp increase in buying by French collectors. Some, including François Pinault, owner of Christie’s and the film director Claude Berri, attended the fair virtually every day; The Art Newspaper has learned that Mr Pinault bought Adel Abdessemed’s burnt-out, ceramic BMW, Practice Zero Tolerance, from Kamel Mennour (Paris). The luxury goods tycoon already has a large holding of work by Abdessemed, and the artist was one of the four shortlisted for the Prix Marcel Duchamp, France’s (less-hyped) equivalent of the Turner Prize. It was won by Philippe Mayaux, who makes small-scale works with contrasting elements—a winged vulva, for example.

Mr Pinault was also interested in a Chen Zhen sculpture, Innocent Light, but missed out: the Continua Gallery (San Gimignano/Beijing) sold it to a Belgian collector. Mr Berri bought a stuffed, tattooed pig by Wim Delvoye from Emmanuel Perrotin (Paris). Ber?nard Arnault, whose art buying appears to be slowing, was in?terested in a large 1957 Yves Klein, tagged at $4.5m at Gmurzynska (Zurich), but had not bought it by the time the fair ended.

Not everyone did well, including some of the major galleries in the Grand Palais including Michael Werner (Cologne) and Annely Juda (London). Leslie Waddington (London) admitted that his sales were “poor to middling”. As for Jablonka (Cologne-Berlin), it was hardly surprising that the gallery had poor sales, due to its high prices. For instance it was asking $800,000 for a Warhol portrait of Caroline Law, 1975, while Daniel Templon (Paris) had a comparable piece, a portrait of Marina Ferrero, 1974, priced at $475,000. A number of dealers remarked that there was a price ceiling of about €500,000 ($600,000), over which sales were more difficult.

Newcomer Sadie Coles did well with Sarah Lucas sculptures and a number of Richard Prince works. “The vernissage was really good but then it went very quiet, and we haven’t had many requests for information,” said director Pauline Daly. The gallery said it had not yet decided whether to return or not.