Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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OCTOBER 25, 2010 9:10AM

Spaghetti monster and co.: FIAC Contemporary Art Fest pics!

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The first time I went to the Foire International d’Art Contemporain (International Contemporary Art Festival), or FIAC, Paris’s annual contemporary art festival, in 2002, I left so bowled over that I wasn’t sure if the “Exit” sign was a real “Exit” sign, or a post-modern sculpture on display.

I’m a lover of art, but it’s true that contemporary art isn’t the genre I prefer.  Still, I don’t know how anyone could resist the FIAC. You could come for the chance to get up close and personal with lesser known works by some of the most famous names in modern art (Picasso, Duchamp, and Pollock, to name just a few).  Or you could come for the crazy wonderland experience of it all.  Under the magnificent glass dome of the Grand Palais, or in a specially installed structure in one of the courtyards of the Louvre, you find yourself navigating stark white partitions and coming upon the most surprising things.

This past Sunday, I visited the majority of the FIAC 2010 (unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to the Louvre courtyard part).  I was very agreeably accompanied by my dear friend A, a self-proclaimed FIAC virgin.  A.’s someone who’s seen and done a lot, but I knew this event would not disappoint her. Here are pictures of some of the highlights. 

This year, some works were exhibited in the Tuileries Garden, near both the Louvre and the Grand Palais, the two sites of the FIAC.  This piece was my favorite.  Called Library for the Birds of the Tuileries, by Mark Dion, the installation was exactly that. Piles of books mingled with branches, objects, and live birds (and food and water for them).

fiac 1 


I like America, (Tribute to Jacques Derrida) by Mounir Fatmi

 fiac 2 final


 Untitled 2010 by Subodh Gupta, was A.’s favorite outdoor piece.  A big fan of Indian culture, she pointed out to me that the silverware and pots making up the “egg” are what Indians eat their homemade lunches in – sort of the equivalent to a brown sack and baggies in the US.

fiac 3 


For more information about (and pictures of) the art exhibited in the Tuileries Garden, check out the wonderful official site (in English):

Built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the Grand Palais is a marvel of a building.  Restored a few years ago, today it houses temporary exhibitions.  Unfortunately, maintenance costs are so high that the entry fee for these exhibitions can get pricey.  It’s a rare privilege to be able to see the Palais’ amazing ceiling from inside. 


 fiac 4


The fond old couple… by Jenny Holzer.  This piece is a plaque that reads: "The fond old couple was disappearing together through successive amputations."  Like so many pieces at the FIAC, be they simple or incredibly complex, this one gives us something to think about.  This is the best thing about the FIAC for me: I may or may not like everything I see, but I always leave with a lot of things to ponder and/or to be inspired by.


 fiac 5



….Like this, for example: why was A. more troubled by a small photo of Paula Abdul on a magazine pasted onto a very explicit multi-media collage involving scatology and underage sex and possible prostitution, than any of the other disturbing images around it?


Not pictured, because there are at least 5 reasons I can’t post my photos of this piece, called Shitfaced and Fucked Up*, on OS.

 *CORRECTION: Searching for this image online, I realized that this title, though completely perfect for what I saw, belongs to another collage that was beside it (stupid labelling methods!).  The picture in question is called "Diamond Mine" by Paul McCarthy.  You can see it as part of a slideshow at his gallery's official site:

…Speaking of which, not all at the FIAC is suitable for everyone.  Kids get in for free, and I do think it’s great to expose children to art.  But there’s a pretty good percentage of stuff at the FIAC that I think might lead to very high therapy bills if your kid has a gander. Among them this year were the above cited piece, and an installation that included actual photos of civilian casualties of the Iraq War – including one man with his head literally split open. These images will probably never completely leave me.  Effective art, but, again, I wouldn’t want little Alysa Jr. seeing that before – well, okay, in this case, ever.  But in terms of the scatology and Paula Abdul one, at least before, say, she’s a very mature 16. 

 But let's turn to less troubling things.  Here's a detail of the Grand Palais’ Art Nouveau metal work.

 fiac 6


While A. savored artist Alighiero Boetti’s colorful, embroidered maps of the world, I saw this piece from across the room and fell in love with it.  Closer inspection and the words of a rabid Boetti fan informed me it had been meticulously created simply with ballpoint pens.  The commas or apostrophes intrigued me, since I have a crippling comma addiction.  I loved how here, they seemed to be stars floating in the sky, or fish in the sea.  The fan told me that they actually corresponded to the alphabet printed on the extreme left-hand border of the piece; using a grid system, you could figure out the title of the work: Mettere al mondo il mondo. This disappointed me a bit, though in the end I came once again to realize one of the most fascinating things about art: it belongs to its creator, who might – or might not – have a purpose and meaning in mind.  But it also becomes a part of the viewer, who may, whether he/she likes it or not, interpret it in his/her own way. 

fiac 7a fiac 7b








fiac detail 


Louise Bourgeois’ The Inward Vision is not only an impressive rendering of the human hand in an unusual movement; its title implies a struggle, and why not the struggle of an artist holding a paintbrush – or a pen….

 fiac a


“Okay,” A. told me at this point, “This stuff is nice, but I thought you said there were things that were really weird.”  Luckily, just then we moved on to the next stall and saw this untitled work by Franz West. 



It ended up being A.’s favorite piece of art at the Grand Palais.  Here, not unlike a benevolent divinity, she looks down adoringly at the little man stuck in the center of all those pink things.


fiac b2 


A Girl and a Unicorn by Richard Jackson.


 fiac c


 Another photo of the Grand Palais’ gorgeous glass ceiling.

 fiac d


A Picasso still-life.

 fiac e


Once I was sure no real butterflies had been sacrificed to make it, I wholeheartedly enjoyed Jane Hammond’s All Souls (Mokpo).  As I gazed at it, entranced, A. informed me the butterflies were on top of a map of Korea.  That added an interesting dimension to what was otherwise just a flat-out lovely work. 

 fiac f

I wasn’t the only one charmed by this piece.

fiac f1 





Speaking of butterflies, A. and I were both delighted by Rebecca Horn’s Le papillon du divin Marquis (The Butterfly of the Divine Marquis).  Here, in a glass case topped by a long red leather glove, a “butterfly” with wings of razor blades, sits atop a stack of books by the Marquis de Sade.  Attached to him by a wire is what appears to be an ink- and blood- stained page from the Marquis’ novel Justine.  We loved the concept and were also pleased that the butterfly was wired to occasionally flutter its wings.




A few stalls on, we saw a crowd surrounding a live installation.  We weren’t quite sure what was going on, but three people in what seemed to be Obama masks, were manipulating a huge boulder that had a spigot that from time to time poured a trickle of green paint onto a fourth Obama(?)-mask-clad person lying beneath it.  Here are some pictures. Interpret it as you wish.




Untitled by Claudine Drai



And then we came upon a huge spaghetti monster. This sad giant, which apparently really is made of spaghetti, was created by Théo Mercier.  I later learned another fun fact about it: according to this article, if you want the spaghetti monster to live in your house or apartment, he would cost 40,000 euros (about 56,000 US dollars). 



After that show-stopper, we continued on.  I saw this painting that looks like someone I know, by Raffi Kalendarian (title: Krikor Kalaydijan).



Andro Wekua’s Untitled freaked us out a little, with its frighteningly lifelike wax head emerging from a metal surface.





Continuing our walk through the FIAC's stalls, we saw a wall of shopping carts by Arman, this desk with embedded quills (Table of Feathers by Bethan Huws), and this photograph that struck me as a modern Vermeer (Untitled by Sharon Lockhart).





Night fell, and the Grand Palais became more and more beautiful.





If I’d had a few hundred thousand euros in my pockets, I would have bought this Picasso sketch (Course de tauraux) for Brassawe, my favorite corrida fan.

 fiac q

Eight o’clock was upon us and the Grand Palais, as a voice from the loudspeaker angrily reminded us, was closing.  On the way out, we passed Untitled (Potato) by Thomas Schütt, one of my favorite pieces of the day.



We left the FIAC with our minds full of images and imaginings.


For lots more images of artwork shown at the FIAC, you can visit this page on the festival's official site:  

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Hey, I've been by there!

Man am I jealous right now, thanks for sharing those wonderful photos. Of course they only remind me of why my art is displayed in my mother's living room. :)
Okay, I will try to contain my gushing, but Alysa, what you've done here is...just marvelous! (can I say marvelous without sounding weird?) I feel almost as though I was having a wonderful, art loving tour guide showing me around. Jane Hammond’s All Souls (Mokpo), enchanted me as well. What a lovely, lovely presentation. Thank you.
Exceedingly cool . . .
Ocular - You've gone to the FIAC before? How cool - maybe I was there, too, and we just missed each other! As for your own art, I think what you do is creative, wonderful, and beautiful. Just because you don't make spaghetti monsters doesn't mean it's not good. I really think you are a true artist and that you could show and sell your work. It's all up to you. I'm jealous of YOUR talent.

BB - This is really awesome praise. I tried to do just that - I guess I sort of always try to do just that with my writing, take my reader with me and just wander and wonder around together. Thanks. I'm really moved by your comment.

Owl - It really was cool. I love the FIAC!
Thank you for the lovely virtual tour. Makes me homesick for Paris and I was just there! (And it's not even home.)

But I'm confused - isn't Monet at the Grand Palais???
I am transfixed. That is exactly the way I would have spent my Sunday afternoon and evening, were I in Paris. You've taken me along with you and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, I've got to tell you, even I draw the line at so-called art like "the fond old couple." Too lazy on the artist's part for my taste.

While it may have been a good idea not to post the actual photo, I think that "Shitfaced and Fucked Up" would make a killer title for a blog post sometime... :-) If you wisely decide not to take advantage of that opportunity yourself, however, perhaps I could do the honors at some point? Perhaps an ode to Charles Bukowski would be apropo... Anyway, greatly enjoyed this post. Thanks.
What a nice Sunday I just spent looking at your pictures and comments. thank you
Thank you for the tour, Mlle! The thing I find interesting about avant garde, experimental art is that sometimes we encounter an idea so powerful and illuminating it serves as a door into the future of culture. But most of the time we just see ideas that lead one off the cliff to nowhere.

Yet we can't find the first without plenty of the second.
Thank you for this generous post, Alysa. What a visual and informative treat it has been !
Rated with appreciation.
Sabotaguing oil refiniries on Saturday for the revolution
spending Sunday at an international Art Festival!
You are truly habituating yrself
to French culture admirably
(the spaghetti monster reminds me uncomfortably
of some of our nutritionally ignorant fellow US citzens...)

Ha!-razorblade butterfly atop sade's books...
that one stays with me...

Sounds like the mysterious "A" was a fine Sunday companion..

and you KNOW i'm going on the net to find "shitf & f-up"

great job as always
Luminous - Thanks for reading. I'm sorry to have made you feel "homesick," though. Like a true Parisian, you know which art shows are on, where: the Monet retrospective is indeed at the Grand Palais, but it's in the other part, where there is no glass ceiling.

Lezlie - Glad you had fun. You definitely could have come along with me. As for "The Fond Couple..." my boyfriend thought the same thing. I love conceptual art, so for me the idea counts more than the finished product...though I'll admit, it's really the best possible scenario when an artist can both create something skillful/impressive AND thought-provoking.

Variant - your comment made me laugh. Though it sounds fun, I think I'll have to pass on that blog entry, and let you do it instead, if you're so inclined. And if you promise not to get TOO shit faced or fucked up - be careful!

Bonnie - Thank YOU! There was so much to see at the FIAC, I just chose the things I liked best, but I feel like there's so much missing.

Simone - Thank YOU for reading and for your comments and support. I'm glad you enjoyed.

Monsieur - A very good point, good sir, and one that often comes to mind while walking around the FIAC.

Fusun - My pleasure! Thanks for reading!
mr. sunshine - Sorry, I guess you commented at exactly the same time I was answering comments, so I didn't see yours. Glad you enjoyed, and thanks for your delightful reactions to the pieces. If you can't find "Shit-faced and Fucked Up" online, just let me know and I can send you a picture of it (of course, I had to take one).
send it over! it sounds like my style of
i am somewhat embarrassed to admit,
but could certainly justify with ponderous intellectual justification....
Just another typical Paris weekend, OH MY GAWD! What amazing things you saw. So envious.......
mr. sunshine - No need to justify - I'd be curious, too. While searching for a possible link to it online, I realized that I got the title wrong! As you can see, I've corrected it in the post and have added a link to where you can see it. Enjoy!

Kate - I know, it's a toss-up for me, too. I am obsessed with the beauty of the Grand Palais. But it's hard to ignore that spaghetti monster! Thanks for reading and if we can make room for you guys, you're welcome to crash here. ...Of course "make room" isn't the easiest phrase when it comes to our small apartment....

Bernadine - Love how you wrote that. Don't be jealous - I'm sure there are contemporary art fests somewhere near where you live. I think they're all probably pretty similar. The only advantage here is the sheer size, and the Grand Palais. But the wackiness and the unexpected seems like an intrinsic element to this kind of event.
Sad, sad spaghetti man. No sauce. no sauce at all!
I fear I'm very bad tempered. Oh well.
To me, most of this does not impress me as art. It strikes me as wretched bullshit, really. I would be cursing under my breath the whole time, if forced to attend. I'd probably drop dead by the time I got to the Potato.

Great post and presentation but OMG ...a girl and her unicorn.., my ass.
I truly enjoy your guided tours of places I will probably never see in person. Thank you for taking time to craft this piece.
I absolutely love these! They definitely deserve an EP.
David - I read these comments earlier tonight, but I haven't been able to write back until now, as I'm in the midst of the frenzy of the night before the second issue of my literary ezine "Beguile" goes online. At any rate, your comment made me laugh and laugh, and I'm still laughing, so thanks! To quote an old commercial I saw on MTV ages ago, "We laugh because it's funny, and we laugh because it's true!"

fernsy - The way you feel, is exactly the same as my boyfriend. That's why he didn't come along. I agree that some of this art seems like BS (and remember, the photos you see here, are some of the HIGHLIGHTS). But for me, the goal of most contemporary art is different than what was going on in other periods: it has turned into mainly conceptual work. For example, The girl and the unicorn is kitsch-looking but does have its bold color appeal - but there's some subversity to a very kitsch image: the unicorn being held upside-down, the very articulated human-like genitals of the unicorn.... This is why I go to the FIAC, for the hidden stuff and the crazy, sometimes profound or even poetic thoughts I get from witnessing the works I see here. Still, yes, I do think there are some artists who are lazy. Even "greats" - Cy Twombley, anyone? WTF is with that guy?

Dom - I'm glad you liked the potato. I really want it for my kitchen. I once had a really cool print of a potato breaking out of a paper bag, with the image "Escape" written over it. I bought it in a local gallery in New Jersey (go figure - New Jersey galleries feature food paintings, the ones where you live offer gulag stuff...weird and inexplicable on your end - but the NJ part is understandable; we are a food-obsessed people). Anyway, my sister stole that painting and another one from the same series, and they are hanging in HER kitchen today. I think the potato at the FIAC made me feel wistful. Plus it was cool.

heidibeth - My pleasure, but never say never.

Caroline - Thanks!
Super-sympa (although I was looking forward to seeing a photo of the Jenny Holzer piece and couldn't even find it on Google. C'est dommage!) Great photos and story.
Cartouche - Thanks. That IS the whole Jenny Holzer piece....
Duh. Of course, now I want (read: need) to know what the text says. Even when I zoom in, I can't read it in its entirety.
The plaque says: "The fond old couple was disappearing together through successive amputations." I've added this to the post, too. I've been wondering if I should have.
If you stab the spaghetti monster does tomatos sauce leak out?

What a great experience! Thanks for sharing this!