Paris plans to regain art crown

Organisers of the Fiac contemporary art fair held in Paris have hailed it as the best for 20 years

ORGANISERS of the Fiac contemporary art fair held in Paris have hailed it as the best for 20 years, cementing the position of the capital as an important art market on the world stage.

The success comes as contemporary art is proving an increasing talking point in France, proving that there is "no such thing as bad publicity".

The Palace of Versailles reported a significant increase in visitor numbers, thanks to an exhibition by Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami in the King's Chambers, continuing until December 12, which traditionalists have attacked as a desecration of national heritage.

A campaign group has tried to have the displays of bizarre manga-style figures and kitsch smiling flowers closed down.

Elsewhere in Paris this year, the Louvre invited American artist Cy Twombly to cover a 3,700sqft ceiling with an abstract design, while an exhibition of photos by American Larry Clark at the Musée d'Art Moderne, depicting adolescent sexuality, was banned to under-18s by the city council and promptly drew a record 10,000 visitors in its first four days.

Regional galleries are also reporting plenty of interest: the new Pompidou centre in Metz says it has had to turn people away from some shows, while the Musée d’Art et d’Industrie at Saint-Etienne report that its exhibitions are attracting an average 40,000. "Young people admire contemporary works and come out wanting to create their own," said gallery director Nadine Besse.

A spokeswoman for the Fiac (Foire International d’Art Moderne), which was held at the Grand Palais, the Louvre and the Tuileries, said the show was "unanimously hailed for the very high quality of the works displayed and for how international it was". It has confirmed Paris’s "attractiveness and the solidity of its market", she said.

There were 123 foreign galleries and 72 French ones, with 24 countries represented, up from 21 last year. There were more than 17,000 visitors a day over five days, up six per cent, and more than 21,000 art professionals attended, an inrease of eight per cent.

Japanese gallery Take Ninagawa, which visited for the first time, reported "fantastic" sales, New York’s Cheim and Read were "delighted" with their numerous sales, including several items
selling for around e500,000 and Paris gallery Marcel Fleiss said it was the "best for many years" and sales were "very satisfying and numerous".

London gallery Victoria Miro focused on selling work by Yayoi Kusama, whom they describe as the most important Japanese artist of the postwar period. They sold most of their pieces, including two aluminium pumpkins that went for €360,000 each.

Other items drawing attention included Taxidermia by Moroccan Adel Abdessemed (a block of dead animals) which sold for €202,000 and a copy of the Louvre’s Sleeping Hermaphrodite (a 2nd-century BC Greek statue), but in black marble, not white, which artist Barry X Ball claims "heightens the sensuality". It went for €450,000.

A photorealistic painting of actress Audrey Tautou by Pierre and Gilles made €100,000.

The state bought eight items for public galleries for a total €200,000, down from 24 last year. The Culture Ministry said its contemporary art budget was the same as last year’s, around €3 million, but it had already spent most of it.

While the picture at Fiac was upbeat, France still has a long way to go to regain the place it held until the 1950s as the world’s biggest overall market for art.

Since then America and Britain have moved ahead and China has now pipped France to third place. Recent figures place America at 31 per cent of the market, the UK 30 per cent, China 14 per cent and France at nine per cent.

A senator has been appointed to lead a study into how France can remain its competitive edge.