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October 21, 2011 10:08 pm
With barely time to brush the Regent’s Park soil from its Manolos, the art world headed this week for Paris’s Fiac (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain), which opened on Wednesday – just three days after the Frieze Art Fair closed. A number of international collectors skipped London entirely, preferring to head directly for Paris and a fair that has been consistently improving.
“This year’s Fiac is the best in 25 years,” said Victor Gisler, a Zurich dealer.
The smaller galleries, which previously had a separate home in a Louvre courtyard, have been moved into an upper floor of the Grand Palais this year, leading to complaints about the small booths and Siberia-like exile up two flights of stairs. This did not prevent some dealers virtually selling out in the first hour at the Wednesday opening, when invitees were allowed upstairs but not yet downstairs.
Certainly the French event trounces Frieze in terms of quality and historical spread. It ranges from modern works – for example, a superb Max Ernst from 1942, “Surréalisme” (Ubu, asking $6m) – through to the very contemporary, such as a wall sculpture made of industrial waste by Peter Buggenhout, which sold to an Israeli buyer for €30,000 at the opening (Laurent Godin). Also, dealers at Fiac tend to be more adventurous than in London, not hesitating to bring challenging pieces such as Pilar Albarracín’s “Untitled” (2010), a stuffed donkey seated on a pile of books (€60,000 with Vallois).
But the most bitter complaints concerned a long-running problem at Fiac, that of access. The evening before the opening, some major collectors, including France’s billionaire luxury-goods tycoons François Pinault and Bernard Arnault, were in the fair. Meanwhile, most of the dealers were pinned down at a pricey dinner at the Modern Art Museum and were furious at missing them. Arne Glimcher of Pace, taking a booth at Fiac for the first time, said: “I believe the integrity of dealers should be respected and no one should be allowed in until the fair is open.” Director Jennifer Flay said she had “no idea how they got in” and plans to reinforce security. “I don’t want this to happen and I did actually ask a couple of people to leave,” she said – but it seems her clout is limited where these powerful figures are concerned.
All of this did not prevent a fizzy opening with encouraging sales: Cheim & Read found a Saudi Arabian buyer for a set of 24 Louise Bourgeois drawings at $1m and sold a Chantal Joffe portrait for $75,000 to a South African buyer, while upstairs Catherine Bastide sold virtually all the works on her stand, including Valerie Snobeck’s mirror piece, “Hinge” (2011) for $5,000.
Meanwhile, far from the splendour of the Grand Palais, a mini “art salon” is taking place in the Marais district. It is organised by Bernard Zürcher, who has two art galleries, one in Paris and one in New York. During New York’s Armory Show in March this year, he invited six French galleries to his Lower East Side gallery. The event was flagged up in The New York Times and Zürcher was “mobbed – 500 people a day came, I had to hire extra staff,” he says. In Paris this week, he is doing the reverse and has invited six small US galleries to show in his space. From the first day sales were made, with Zürcher himself finding new homes for a painting by the British artist Dan Hays, “American Night” (2009, €32,000) and a silver and red geometrical abstract by Brian Belott (€7,500). One of the invitees, Horton Gallery, sold a colourful abstracted townscape by Keltie Ferris for €3,700. Salon Zürcher continues until Sunday.
The Portuguese financier Jorge de Brito, who died in 2006, was highly eclectic in his taste, acquiring everything from Chinese jades and porcelains to British seascapes, modern painting and, notably, works by the leading Portuguese artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva. Now the French auction house Tajan is selling part of his collection, including 19 works by Vieira da Silva, from the early realistic “Portraits” (1944, €30,000-€50,000) to her more typical abstract works, such as “Repas à la campagne” (1947, €300,000-€500,000). Also in the sale, which will be held on Saturday night, is a Modigliani caryatid on paper (1916, €200,000-€300,000) as well as a 9.4kg chunk of jade – a carved Ming dynasty water buffalo – estimated at €500,000-€700,000.
The Romanian painter Adrian Ghenie’s career has taken him from a paintbrush factory in Transylvania to one of the top galleries in the world. He is one of the vibrant “Cluj school” artists who set up an artistic community in a disused factory and became internationally known in 2006. His work features in François Pinault’s current exhibition in Venice’s Palazzo Grassi and his second sell-out show in the Christie’s-owned Haunch of Venison in London has just ended. At Fiac, one of his portraits, “Dr Joseph” (2011), was sold at the opening for €30,000 by the Cluj-based gallery Plan B. Now Ghenie is joining Pace Gallery in New York but, says Matt Carey-Williams of Haunch of Venison, “We will continue to represent him in London.” Pace did not want to comment.
News that the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts is to shut down its authentication board next year has hit the art market like a bombshell. Warhol is, in the words of the journalist Bryan Appleyard, “the art market’s one-man Dow Jones”. His sales last year totalled some £313m and represented 17 per cent of all contemporary art auction sales; only Picasso grossed more in 2010. The board still has 175 works to pronounce on, 100 of them belonging to the Mugrabi family of dealers, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Mugrabis are widely thought to have about 800 Warhols in their treasure chest, although they have never confirmed the exact number, and Jose Mugrabi has castigated the decision to close the board as “totally irresponsible”.
But the decision might offer hope to owners of works previously denied by the board, such as the filmmaker Joe Simon, who lost a massively expensive legal battle against the board to get his portrait by Warhol accepted as genuine. Simon says: “There are many other cases now about to come to light.”
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper
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