The 25th International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) opened in Paris on wednesday October 7th 1998 amid fears that the present world financial crisis would affect business in the weeks to come.
The FIAC is due to attract 100,000 visitors and to mark its international trend it has invited 16 Austrian galleries to enhance this edition.
The trouble is that most of the 16 Austrian galleries are presenting provocative works which might shock the public.
All the more, paintings and photographies showing aggressive sex and blood scenes are not easy to hang in a flat, whatever its modernistic decor.
All the more, the 66 French and 73 foreign galleries present at the FIAC have as usual been exhibiting works of artists which cannot be considered as contemporary painters or sculptors like Picasso, Monet, Rouault, Marquet, Van Dongen, Boccioni, Matisse, Léger, Robert Delaunay, Braque, Bonnard, Cézanne, Derain, Klee, Vallotton, Herbin or Morandi.
The trouble is that these works are eclipsing those by living artists who deserve a better treatment simply because the FIAC was at the start designed to promote their works.
Visitors are simply mesmerised by the works of dead masters which will surely be easily saleable than those of promising young talents. French collectors feel less inclined to buy art of the 1975-1998 period after prices went down dramatically as a result of the Gulf War. They would rather turn their attention to steady values, meaning works by Picasso and painters of the first half of this century. Still, they are more careful when it comes to draw a big amount of money out of their bank account even for masters of such calibre as Picasso.
As one gallery owner pointed out there are not enough collectors of contemporary art in France and the rest of Europe and such fact is quite understantable when one thinks that contemporary paintings bought at record prices ten years ago are not worth a quarter of what they were paid then.
Another negative aspect regarding contemporary art is the rumor which has spreading like burning fuel that collectors are the target of tax inspectors as soon as they are active on the market. It has reported that those who loaned their works for the exhibition "Private passions" held in Paris in 1995 had their accounts scrutinised by taxmen in following months.
Exhibitors hoped that American buyers would come in numbers at the FIAC and the marked presence of American artists was interpreted as some kind of a lure. They said that American collectors were ideal customers who were
buying without much hesitation. Still, not many American galleries have been exhibiting important works probably because of the 5,5 % VAT levy on imports applied here.
Other foreign galleries have been banking on quality rather than on audacity. Jan Krugier of Switzerland has been exhibiting some magnificent canvasses by Braque, Cézanne, Miro, Picasso and Zao Wou Ki, a celebrated Chinese artist in Paris whose talent however would be challenged by other
great painters in Beijing while the Gmurzynska gallery of Germany has been showing a rare gathering of works by Robert and Sonia Delaunay for the International Exhibition of 1937. The Picabia works shown by Pierre and Marianne Nahon have been described as awful by some amateurs who were more interested in the production of David Mach at the Galerie Jerome de Noirmont notably his skulls made of assembled matches and heads made of moulded and welded wire coathangers.
Visitors have been showing some enthusiasm for Barry Flanagan's sculptures shown in several galleries, by Stephen Conroy's canvass titled "Flow" at the Malborough Gallery, by Jean-Michel Basquiat's paintings at the Enrico Navarra gallery, by Hervé di Rosa lacquered panels produced in Vietnam at the Louis Carré Gallery, by Jonathan Huxley's painting at the Crane Kalman gallery of London and by some exquisite works by Morandi, Magritte, Chagall and Utrillo at the GAM gallery of Monaco. Finally, young contemporary artists have been left with bits and pieces as usual and they will find it hard to meet success until the end of the FIAC on October 12th. Still, their presence is for them a kind of good omen for their future.
The FIAC seems to take less and less risks in showing works produced by artists who are much sought by museum as if some slices of Bacon (Francis of course) could help give more savour to such event. Otherwise contemporary art in Paris would not be tasty at all. Adrian Darmon