This season’s treadmill of back-to-back art fairs — Art Basel, Frieze in London and then Fiac in Paris — may have tempered the high-level sales in the French capital but didn’t prevent the latest event retaining its cachet. Many international exhibitors hopped straight from London to Paris, where a high proportion (about a quarter) of the 171 galleries were from France. National support came from the top: President Emmanuel Macron made a glowing speech at a reception hosted for the fair at the Elysée Palace on October 20.
The weighty, thoughtful art at Fiac reflected the strong museum shows in town and the demands of the fair’s more local audience. “Our public is extremely knowledgeable and expects to see good things. We are told if they don’t,” said Susie Guzman, senior director at Paris’s Jocelyn Wolff gallery. Their works included Francisco Tropa’s “Gigante” (2018), a bronze replica of all the bones in the human body, originally activated at the Centre Pompidou, which sold to a private collection in Paris (€55,000).
The fair was in a new venue, the Grand Palais Éphémère, where it will stay until 2024 while the original Grand Palais is restored in time for the Olympic Games that year. “Nothing compares to the Grand Palais,” said Clément Delépine, artistic director at Galerie Mitterrand, a space founded by the nephew of a previous French president. But Delépine and others were relatively happy with the temporary location, which offers a striking view of the Eiffel Tower at the back. Overall the city was again abuzz, with new gallery openings including Gagosian, Skarstedt and Cécile Fakhoury.
“There is a cultural renaissance in Paris, which goes beyond the effects of Brexit. We realise you can be in this world as a guest, not just as a conqueror,” Delépine said. At Fiac, his gallery was showing works by the late land artist Dennis Oppenheim (€100,000 each).
One gallerist very glad to be back on the art fair circuit is Joumana Asseily, director of Beirut’s Marfa’ Projects. The six-year-old gallery for emerging artists takes its name from the city’s port neighbourhood and was destroyed in the August 2020 blast that killed more than 200 people. Gallery staff were not in the building at the time because of Covid-19 restrictions, Asseily says.
She says the impetus to restart her business came from the wider international gallery community: she was asked to show in Galleries Curate, a pooling of 21 hybrid commercial art exhibitions that was one of many collaborative initiatives to stem from a pandemic-inspired WhatsApp group.
“They knew what had happened to our gallery and gave us a reason to rebuild. I was very touched. We knew we were not alone,” Asseily says. She has since become a member of the organising committee for the new International Galleries Alliance. From Fiac, she reported sales from all four of her artists shown (€3,000-€20,000).
Six galleries in the US and Europe are joining forces on coinciding shows that span 30 years of work by the contemporary New York artist Rochelle Feinstein. Each opens a dedicated exhibition between the end of January and early February 2022, and each with recent works based on a historic project (You Again, price range $35,000-$100,000). The six-venue show is “an extension of Rochelle’s mode of working. She is constantly expanding on and challenging the structures around painting, exhibiting and display,” says Candice Madey, who opens her Feinstein show on January 28.
Madey will be joined by fellow Lower East Side gallerist Bridget Donahue as well as Hannah Hoffman in Los Angeles, Nina Johnson in Miami, Campoli Presti in Paris and Francesca Pia in Zurich. The all-female collaboration came about organically, Madey says, though she resists any sense of a wider trend. “We’ve all worked with Rochelle in some capacity; this originates with her,” Madey says.
The business of advising artists and their estates after they die has extended beyond the remit of a gallery. In the US, art adviser Allan Schwartzman says he has been pleasantly surprised by the number of business coming the way of his new firm, Schwartzman & Associates. “The estates of the first wave of baby-boomer artists from the 1970s and 1980s are now sitting on supplies of great value. The need to help them through the nuances of the art market has accelerated even more than I expected,” he says. He is currently working with the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and the estate of Conrad Marca-Relli, among others.
In the UK, last month also marked the launch of Artistate, a collaboration between law and tax experts with the London gallerist John Martin. “It is not simply the Herculean task of sorting out a chaotic studio, cataloguing works and archives but retrieving works on consignment, going about the business of disposing of them and managing royalties. This can become too much for the family,” Martin says.
Aristate offers an initial consultation for £250, “not so much for all of us together”, semi-jokes Pierre Valentin, co-founder of Artistate and a partner at the law firm Constantine Cannon. He and Schwartzman emphasise that they work alongside, rather than in competition with, art galleries.
And finally . . . a painting that the BBC television programme Fake or Fortune? reattributed to the 19th-century Orientalist Jean-Léon Gérôme sold for £75,000 (£94,500 with fees) at Sotheby’s online on Tuesday. Its seller, Jon Swihart — an artist and confessed Gérôme devotee — bought the work at auction in New York for $6,325 in 1999, when it was catalogued as from the “Circle of Gérôme”, based on an expert’s downgrade at the time.
Subsequent research organised by the Fake or Fortune? team and aired in August included an examination under light and comparisons with authenticated works. “At Prayer” (1858) was then reappraised by the Gérôme authority Emily Weeks who found “no doubt” that it was an early work by the French artist. The swift conclusion? This one’s a “fortune”.
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