Chirp without the buzz – FIAC comes and goes in Paris

The Art Fair Bird alighted in Paris about three weeks ago in the form of the FIAC. What was “in” then is probably already “out” but here is a brief and patchy survey of the scene.

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Sans Titre by Tonico Lemos Auad. Made of sculpted brick.

The Bird nested in the steel and glass Grand Palais, with her blue chip eggs, while her attendant flock cobbled together tents to create ephemeral spaces in niches and alcoves around town. The artists and collectors that have the privilege to ride under her wing slid down to the Parisian soil to begin posing, hanging, leaving samples and creating  impressions.


Beneath the  din of chirping there was no buzz. It was all birds and no bees.There was a self-conscious tentativeness all about, as perhaps the art world sales people and collectors were dogged by the European financial chaos. This is in contrast to the exuberance that the FIAC as well as Frieze exhibited in the face of brewing financial storms in 2008, ’09 and ’10. Personnally I was surprised that no one stormed the fair in order to reclaim some art — to be redeemed for shelter and perhaps used for start up capital for a small business. Instead the line to get in on opening night wound its way around the palace like a long worm that was going to feed itself to the multi-materialed, multi-clolored shimmering Art Fair Bird.

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Effet Pas D'Affect by Simon Nicaise. The table turns the track beneath the train.

The unheralded highlight of the fair was embodied by a drawing that was more a carte de visite or artist’s signature than drawing. A bird was drawn swooping down towards the bottom left of the picture. On the lower right was a hole left by the artist where he made a cut out on which he wrote his name and then pasted it by the bird’s beak. His name became the bird’s song. The bird sang “Marcel Duchamp”. For 385,000 euros this original Marcel Duchamp sheet music on show at the  UBU / Sophie Scheidecker space could be yours.

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Trunk by Jonathon Callan consisting of previously soggy Reader's Digest.

If Cubism opened the door to infinite possibilities of form, shape and perspective, Duchamp certainly opened an even bigger door on the other side of which all and/or nothing could be art. Duchamp is the artist everyone has to deal with at one point or another. Part of knowing who one is as an artist and affirming that identity entails determining what is art and what art one is going to make . . .as well as what one will wear and what games one will play. This part of the artistic identity journey takes place on Duchamp Lane. We all pass through…and it is a toll road.

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Dark Star by Pierre Besson

I am surprised that the drawing wasn’t sold the day before in the pre-opening where the millionaires get first dibs. What are collectors thinking? Is this reviewer stuck in pre-world-war-thought-mode admiring defunct prophets? Is the drawing just detritus? Are we in a post-industrial era where there will be no more readymades? Was Duchamp a charlatan and a hoax?  Do we really think that  Maurizio Cattelan is a deus ex machina phenomenon?

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This sad gentle supine giant in a Moscow suburb moved me. Photo by Boris Mikhailov.

Any other Duchamp would be literally priceless on the open market. It is true that this drawing was little more than a signature . .. . and so lacked the heft of a pivotal art work such as the readymade urinal, aka Fountain.   Still, it was surprising to see a Duchamp for sale with an actual price. It somehow didn’t feel Duchampian . . . . In contrast consider Impressionism. Impressionist works continue to increase in price no matter what the economic climate. This  is because these works are caught in the buddy system where millionaires heap money on each other in an endless cycle of selling perpetually-appreciating goods to each other. They are like mother birds regurgitating food to feed their offspring and brethren.

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Forking Circle In Pea Bog. Drawing by Robert Smithson which was not for sale.

Duchamp made too little to be a player in the art market. There aren’t enough works to go around. That that drawing was unmolested by a buyer infers a rewriting of modern art history, confirms a general blindness in the collectors’ ranks and a warp in the values conferred on art works today. Like a rippled 33 1/3 record warped by the sun, or a radiator, the resulting hump  distorts the music. The Art Fair Bird’s beak used to be the needle on this record which was her song. Now recorded music is all digital and warp has to be built in.

Best in show goes to Taysir Batniji principally for his admixture of humor and the history of destruction:

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Sans Titre. Taysir Batniji. Photos of homes and land for sale that were destroyed by hostile forces.
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For Taysir Batniji it's a free market. The Fiac crowd dialled in instantly to the real estate format.

On Monday morning I saw the Art Fair Bird spread her wings and preen herself while her passengers climbed onboard. She cocked her head for a bearing and then  launched into the air  to  soar towards her  next destination where the artists and the public  have prepared her a nest and her next meal.

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Richard Jackson.

Last Tuesday a Degas painting was estimated to sell for more than twice the price it was bought for in 2000. It failed to sell. Always use the buddy system when buying and selling art.