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).
by Mounir Fatmi
For more information about (and pictures of) the art exhibited in the Tuileries Garden, check out the wonderful official site (in English): http://www.fiac.com/tuileries.html
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.
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.
….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: http://www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/471/paul-mccarthy-white-snow/view/
…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.
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.
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….
“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.
A Girl and a Unicorn by Richard Jackson.
Another photo of the Grand Palais’ gorgeous glass ceiling.
A Picasso still-life.
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.
I wasn’t the only one charmed by this piece.
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 http://www.lexpress.fr/culture/art/ce-que-l-on-peut-acheter-a-la-fiac-2010-quand-on-s-appelle-liliane-bettencourt_930049.html, 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.
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: http://www.fiac.com/rechercher-artiste.html