Galleries Square Off Over FIAC Cancellation

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Nearly 40 gallerists support the cancellation, despite some seeing it as a "missed opportunity" for the French scene.

After a summer of deliberating, the Paris contemporary art fair FIAC announced on Monday that it would not be holding its 2020 edition in the Grand Palais. The decision was announced just five weeks shy of the fair’s originally scheduled dates in October, and the response in the French press has been exceedingly harsh.

Télérama reports that gallerists are “furious” over the decision after being kept in the dark for so long and Le Figaro also cites dealers’ “rage,” and predicts a devastating impact on the city’s art market.

Anne-Claudie Coric, the executive director of Galerie Templon, is among those who were disappointed with the fair’s decision. Coric tells Artnet News that she was “very disappointed” that the fair was canceled so late in the game. She adds that her gallery had just taken part in Art Paris, also in the Grand Palais, and that it went well in terms of both sales and attendance. Paris Photo, also organized by Reed Exhibitions at the Grand Palais, is also going ahead in November.

But now, nearly 40 leading French gallerists have signed an open letter defending the decision to cancel FIAC despite the excoriating response.

People look at artworks during the preview of the 22nd edition of the Art Paris art fair at the Grand Palais in Paris, on September 9, 2020. Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images.

In the letter, some 39 dealers, including Chantal Crousel, Jocelyn Wolff, and Almine Rech, say that those criticizing the decision are in a vocal minority, given that the fair surveyed the exhibitors before deciding to cancel.

They write that the decision has been met with disproportionate outrage compared to the cancellation of Art Basel’s Swiss fair or the Frieze week fairs in London. “What a lack of ethics, what an irresponsible attitude to insist on gathering in a single place, however beautiful the glass roof may be, when we could simply decide to wait for the situation to improve,” they write.

The letter also dismisses the comparisons being made to Art Paris, which is a relatively local art fair. Emmanuel Perrotin, whose gallery had a successful first outing at Art Paris, is among the signatories of the letter. “FIAC is a fair that is resolutely and undeniably international in terms of its exhibitors and visitors,” the letter says. “How can we expect FIAC to look like FIAC without these foreign galleries, collectors, curators, amateurs, and professionals?”

A Missed Opportunity

Galerie Templon’s director, Coric, takes a different view. She tells Artnet News that the decision to cancel is a “missed opportunity” for the French scene, pointing out that there are still many events, satellite fairs, museum, and gallery openings scheduled for that week.

“[FIAC’s decision] shows both a lack of solidarity with its main partners—the French galleries—and a misunderstanding of FIAC’s specificity,” Coric says. “It represents a national cultural event, much more than yet another marketplace catering to international dealers and collectors. Everyone would have understood, if, for once, it had adopted a different, reduced, more creative, format.”

Visitors look at the sculpture Noeud Sauvage by French artist Jean-Michel Othoniel during the preview of the 22nd edition of the Art Paris fair at the Grand Palais, on September 9, 2020. Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images.

For its part, FIAC’s director, Jennifer Flay, tells Artnet News that they were “extremely disappointed” that the show could not go on. She adds that the decision came after “careful and extended” consultation with its exhibitors both in France and worldwide.

“It would have been exhilarating to go ahead with FIAC had we thought—and our exhibitors with us—that it would have been a pertinent act of “resistance” and a positive signal in the direction of “learning to live with the virus,” but our analysis of the reactions we received show that there was little appetite for FIAC, locally or internationally, and it would certainly not have been possible to organize the kind of quality fair that our galleries, visitors, and partners expect FIAC to be.” 

“In times like these, fairs need to take a clear position in advance so people can plan accordingly—canceling made sense in this context,” Anne Pontegnie, curator of Cranford Collection in London and curator-at-large for Le Consortium in Dijon, tells Artnet News. “I hope Paris’ galleries and art organizations will come together to still animate the week, focus attention back to the city, and encourage the younger art scene to thrive.”

FIAC’s decision means that last year’s edition will have been the fair’s final outing at the Grand Palais for a while, as the venue is embarking on a three-year renovation project ahead of the 2024 Paris Olympics. Next year’s edition will be held at the Grand Palais Éphémère on the Champ-de-Mars, temporary 10,000-square-foot space at the base of the Eiffel Tower.


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