FIAC 2021: What you need to know

FIAC 2021 Young visitors Sophie Calle
Two young visitors contemplating a work by French artist Sophie Calle

After a year without a physical appearance, the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) opened in Paris October 21-24, 2021. During these four days, over 160 galleries and thousands of art enthusiasts and collectors met in the Grand Palais Éphémère. Like its previous editions, the fair kept its promise: from masterpieces by great names to young stars waiting to be discovered, visitors had much to be amazed by. But in the face of the many artworks exhibited in the event, it can be tricky to figure out what you thought of the fair in general. To that end, the Artsper team combed through the many alleys of FIAC 2021 in order to share with you their opinion and exciting new discoveries!

original creatives booths art fair
Creative booths by the galleries of Caroline Barrault (left) and Fabienne Leclerc (right)

1. Great names, always present

The superstars were out for FIAC, and they wanted to show off. Warhol, Basquiat, Soulages, Yves Klein… There were many stars present, particularly Hans Hartung, whose recognizable marks could be found on the walls of many exhibitors. Alexander Calder’s work, too, not only impressed the visitors of Place Vendôme with the monumental Flying Dragon, but it also stunned anyone who passed through the Vedovi gallery booth. 

hans hartung perrotin gallery
Hans Hartung at the Perrotin booth

2. Intimate Portraits

Here and there were a number of portraits with a common theme, like a poetic thread running through the fair. Infused with sensibility, sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted, but always powerful, characters were represented isolated, in narrowly-defined and often domestic spaces. As many faces were depicted, perhaps, as the number of artists who spent the pandemic confinements in unexpected introspection. The protagonists of these portraits, alone or in pairs, would present themselves to the viewers in an atmosphere of intimacy, but without any voyeurism. That is a balance that can be hard to achieve and is often the stuff of great portraits. Amongst the artists you should remember, Simon Martin at the Jousse gallery and the talents Ekene Stanley Emecheta and Johnson Eziefula at the Greek gallery The Breeder. 

a portrait by ekene stanley emecheta
A portrait by Emete Stanley Ekecheta, at The Breeder gallery booth

3. Bones and the Body

Less comforting maybe, but just as noteworthy, were numerous works around the skeleton. Christian Berst gallery, as experts of art brut, dedicated their stand to astonishing maps of human anatomy by Lubos Plny. At Jocelyn Wolff’s, a bronze skeleton by Francisco Tropa caught the public eye. At Thaddaeus Ropac’s, an unmissable painted couple by Baselitz. On the more discreet side, the RMN-Grand Palais booth exhibited a fascinating print by Annette Messager representing Cupid and Death. The showstopper, however, was a full body of bones in Carrara marble by Zhang Peili, which was impressively realistic and had been cast on the artist’s own bones. 

FIAC 2021 Skeletons Jocelyn Wolff
A skeleton by Portuguese sculptor Francisco Tropa at Jocelyn Wolff gallery (left) and by Chinese artist Zhang Peili at Nächst St. Stephan gallery (right)

4. Ode to Nature

Inherently keeping with the times, contemporary art often echoes major issues of the world. And this edition of FIAC 2021 was no exception… In the most established and the youngest galleries alike, works honored nature and the environment. At Mendes Woods DM, Maaike Schoorel’s plants reminded the viewer that nature has its right everywhere. Jerôme Poggi gallery’s aptly-named show “Botanica” linked art and botanical studies, namely with refined trees by Kipwana Kiwanga. At Esther Schipper’s booth, Philippe Parreno stole the show with an ever-melting glass snowman. Lastly, a giant, misshapen Planet Earth by David Shrigley overlooked the fair, as if to remind the crowds that above all art, one should not forget about the environment.

FIAC 2021 Ode to Nature Environment
One of Kiwanga’s elegant works – the artist won the Marcel Duchamp prize in 2020 (left), and a very green “welcome mat” by Michel Blazy, made of plants and coconut fiber ropes, at Art Concept gallery (right)

5. Other highlights of FIAC 2021

Other elements, which are not particularly part of any theme, are just as noteworthy in the way that they marked this edition of FIAC 2021. First, the booth of the gallery In Situ – Fabienne Leclerc and her trio of Iranian artists, for its multidisciplinary and totally immersive curation. Second, an installation representing French president Emmanuel Macron wearing a mask and raising his fists, which attracted much attention… Finally, at Templon gallery, the prize for the most eloquent social commentary goes to Omar Ba for his captivating self-portrait. Also masked, with his arms spread like a butterfly, Ba is depicted as stuck to the ground, echoing the tense climate of these past two years as well as the state of Africa today.

FIAC 2021 Omar Ba Wang Du
Wang Du’s installation at Baronian Xippas gallery (left) and Omar Ba’s critical piece at Templon gallery (right)

FIAC 2021, summed up

This year, like the previous ones, the fair came bearing many discoveries – sometimes quite curious. After an exclusively digital edition in March, the crowds answered the call for the unmissable in-person atmosphere this October. In general, the curation was not particularly provocative, as some previous editions were. Imbued with recurring themes and patterns of a more poetic nature, it offered once more a peek into what inspired contemporary artists these past two years… And, maybe, an insight into what we’ll see in the market in the months and years to come.

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