Parisphere: Blog w/ Episode 2: FIAC 2017

Written by on April 23, 2018


Parisphere: Episode 2: FIAC 2017 October 19th to the 22nd

Produced, written & presented by Audrey Concannon.

Editors: Théo Donadieu & Cécelia Revel-Maiga

Music arranged by Cécelia Revel-Maiga

“What makes the FIAC unique is that we have a very interesting blend between modern art, classic masters and cutting edge galleries with emerging programmes… you can find emerging artists as well as more established artists and masters: that unique blend makes this a very good edition of the FIAC.”

Sophie Gonzalez

Welcome to the Parisphere podcast. My name is Audrey Concannon and during each episode of this arts and culture podcast based in Paris, I will be talking to artists and curators from across the arts and culture spectrum. I’ll be visiting fairs, exhibitions, museums, art spaces and lots more.

The goal is to share local perspectives on the Parisian scene, and hopefully introduce listeners to some of the artists and spaces – possibly not immediately familiar to visitors – that compose this truly vibrant arts scene right here in Paris.

This second episode of Parisphere is devoted to the FIAC (the major International Contemporary Art Fair held in Paris every October). Directed by Jennifer Flay since 2003, the FIAC runs annually from October 19th to the 22nd and is held in the iconic Grand Palais, located on the Champs Elysées.

This historic site was constructed in 1897 for the Universal Exhibition of 1900. It’s characterised by ornate decoration, stone facades, with a very large main exhibition space made of iron and steel: the nave features a really impressive glass barrel-vaulted roof. Inaugurated in 1900, the Grand Palais was the scene of spectacles, shows and grand exhibitions for many years. It was put to a range of uses in the succeeding decades during the war and afterwards.

Grand Palais, exterior & interior

These days, the Grand Palais is notably the site of the Monumenta exhibition, held every second year since 2014. A contemporary artist takes over the nave of the Grand Palais with a monumental work specially conceived for the site. Artists invited have included Anish Kapoor and Daniel Buren.

2011-Monumenta Anish Kapoor

The Grand Palais is of course synonymous with the FIAC, the annual international contemporary art fair, which has been running since 1974.

The FIAC hosts leading international as well as French galleries dealing in modern and contemporary art. The event is now in its 44th year and hosted almost 200 galleries from 29 countries in 2017. It was a resounding success in terms of sales and cultural impact, in the face of strong competition from other fairs like Frieze and Art Basel.

I visited the Fiac last October and spoke with Sophie Gonzalez, the founder of Artstorming (, an exclusive partner to the Fiac.

“You can talk about the FIAC week in Paris, because there is an outstanding number of events… the main avenue is closed to traffic and the FIAC has organised a programme outside the fair… an exhibition of sculptures at the Petit Palais … on the avenue Winston Churchill outdoor sculptures and installations. There is also another programme called Parades, which is only performance… and every year you have artworks on show in the Jardin de Tuileries, and an exceptional installation on the Place Vendome…”

“You have some of the most prestigious galleries attending the fair for many years now.”

The Prix Marcel Duchamp (this exhibition runs at the same time as the FIAC at the Pompidou Centre) is a prize with 4 nominees among artists living in France… an association of collectors (ADIAF) selects the winner. This year’s event was won by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, originally from Lebanon, but living in Paris.”

“What makes the FIAC unique is that we have a very interesting blend between modern art, classics & masters and cutting edge galleries with emerging programmes… you can find emerging artists as well as more established artists and masters: that unique blend makes this a very good edition of the FIAC.”

Sophie Gonzalez

One of the particular features of this year’s Fiac was the reintroduction of a section devoted to Design. In fact, the Fiac was the very first art fair in the world to introduce a design section in 2004, but it has been absent since 2010 due to space constraints. 5 galleries reputed for their expertise in 20th and 21st century design were invited to participate: Jousse Entreprise, Paris; Galerie kreo, Paris, London; LAFFANOUR – Galerie Downtown, Paris; Eric Philippe, Paris & Galerie Patrick Seguin, Paris, London.

Fiac_Patric Seguin_Jean Prouvé

Fiac _ Jousse Entreprise_ Pierre Paulin

Actually, a feature of this year’s FIAC seemed to showcase this renewed respect for design and craftsmanship – evident in may of the works on display – and the dismissal of this perceived hierarchy between design, craftsmanship and the fine arts. On the other hand, some critics of this reintroduction of design fear the dissolution of art into the world of design and luxury.

Take for instance, the poetic multi-coloured mobiles by Pae White (, which make use of a diversity of media playing with the frontiers of architecture and design, but are also decorative and beautiful.

Pae White

Another example of this interchange can be found in the works of Sheila Hicks, an artist poised between design and contemporary art. She uses weaving, textures and fabrics to create highly tactile pieces. Sheila Hicks is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Sheila Hicks

Another strong nod to design can be found in the really beautiful mise en scene presented by the galerie Catherine Issert, which showcases the furniture-sculpture designed by John Armleder, in this case represented by the Onos Bed from 1968, designed by the Superstudio architecture group. The walls surrounding the bed were covered in a special gold vinyl and hung with works by artists who collaborated with Armleder such as Olivier Mosset and François Morellet. Armleder explores the ambivalent relations between sculpture and design in his sumptuous installations.

John Armleder Onus Bed Installation

Founded in Paris in September 2007 by Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling, Balice Hertling was one of the first galleries to open in the district of Belleville, and many young galleries followed suit.

Balice Hertling has since relocated to a new space in the 20th arrondissement and now they also have another space in the 3rd arrondissement.

A relatively young gallery, Balice Hertling has hosted the first solo exhibitions of many young artists, and represents really exciting emerging artists like Neïl Beloufa, Sebastian Black, Will Benedict and Isabelle Cornaro among others.

I talked to gallery owner Alexander Hertling about the rising star Neïl Beloufa, whose work was on show at the Balice Hertling stand at FIAC 2017.

Neïl Beloufa



Dyed resin, cardboard packaging, mounted on painted wood, aluminum frame, electrical outlet, cable, neon


160 x 262 x 9 cm (63 x 103 x 3 1/2 in.)

FIAC 2017


And in another episode of Parisphere, I’ll be visiting Neil Beloufa’s latest exhibition entitled L’Ennemi de mon ennemi at the Palais de Toyko. His first feature film Occidental – a comic arthouse thriller – is about to be released in France.

Another feature of this year’s event was perhaps a need for reassurance evident in the plethora of works on show referring back to earlier times, going back to what the French call “les valeurs sûres” or the greatest hits… if you like… Nicolas de Staël, Pierre Soulages, Christian Boltanski and so on.

Among those on display was Anish Kapoor with a work typical of his production called Split. The creation of this perfect reflective surface involved collaboration with engineers to produce the flawless inversed reflection of the spectator. An amazing feat, as the introduction of single grain of dust would have ruined the work.

Anish Kapoor Split

There were also artworks by Daniel Buren some of which serve to deconsecrate art, for example, a painting of simple stripes using cheap fabric picked up at a the popular Marché Saint Pierre, with the painting set on the ground leaning against the wall.

Daniel Buren

Not to mention the presence of some pieces by Niki de Saint Phalles… this French feminist artist is perhaps most famous for her Nana series, her very colourful voluptuous female forms hand-made from papier mâché.

Niki de Saint Phalle Nana

Certainly one of the most spectacular stands this year was brought by the Berlin gallery Ester Schipper, which devoted the entire stand to a solo show by the Argentine artist and architect Tomas Saraceno ( He worked in collaboration with real spiders of all things… these creatures were confined to transparent cubes to create actual cobwebs, which also inspired the drawings and mobiles that composed the rest of the stand. In developing this line of inquiry, Saraceno pioneered the invention of the first machine of its kind capable of scanning, digitizing, and measuring a three-dimensional spider web. He worked in collaboration with arachnologists, astrophysicists, architects and engineers… again a highly multidisciplinary approach.

Tomas Saraceno has been given carte blanche for an exhibition on the theme of the environment and science at the Palais de Tokyo in autumn 2018.

Tomas Saraceno_Fiac Installation

Another memorable display from the Blum & Poe gallery was a solo show dedicated to the African American artist Henry Taylor. This 59 year old is better known for his densely colourful and powerful portraits about black identity.

But I was particularly stuck by the large installation on show at the FIAC featuring black plastic containers atop broomsticks reminiscent of African tribal masks, together with salvaged materials, old TVs and so on. These found objects are intimately linked to their surroundings and repurposed by their maker.

Henry Taylor installation

I suppose there is always one emblematic piece that outshines all others at each FIAC and this year was no exception. It was an almost 5-metre high sculpture entitled Flame of Desire by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, made of carbon fibre and covered in gold leaf. Presented by the very eminent Galerie Perrotin, and located at the entrance to the FIAC like a totem, the sculpture is engulfed in swirling flames with a death’s head at its centre. It may represent the artist coming to terms with mortality, perhaps destruction and renaissance… Flame of Desire was on sale for several million euros. Takashi Murakami’s rise to fame and fortune as one of the world’s most influential contemporary artists has garnered both praise and criticism throughout his career. Praised for boldly combining Japanese manga, anime, subculture and kawaii themes in shocking, satirical and skilfully executed paintings and sculptures, but criticised for his astronomical art-market prices, shameless commercialisation, and factory-style production methods.

Takashi Murakami Flame of Desire

If you would like to know about the FIAC, their website features information on FIAC 2018 as well as archives on FIAC 2017:

Thanks for listening to this episode of Parisphere, the arts & culture podcast based in Paris.

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