November 15, 2017


By Georgina Maddox

It was the week that Pairs turned into an international art destination. The 44th edition of the Foire Inernationale d’Art Contemporain, or better known as FIAC, featured a lineup of 192 galleries from 30 countries. While there were many collateral events and shows, the main exhibition opened under the splendid glass and metal dome of the Grand Palais on October 19 and closed on 22.  Spearheaded by Director Jennifer Flay, the exhibition featured six new countries— Egypt, Kosovo, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Tunisia, besides its usual selection of international names.

Founded in Paris in 1974, the International Contemporary Art Fair FIAC, is seen as one of the precursors to the Art Fair culture and can be rivaled only by neighbouring Frieze Art Fair in London. The FIAC brings together modern and contemporary art galleries among the most important on the international scene. All media was represented: painting, sculpture, photography, installations, videos, performances, and digital arts.

There was art that moved, made sounds or was just stunningly beautiful in a contemporary sense. Among the welter of art, some pieces caught the eye of this writer, and since it is impossible to write an exhaustive article on all the thousands of works present we have chosen some of the top five works that appealed to our sensibilities.

One of the most arresting pieces was a red inflatable sculpture by Otto Piene who passed away in 2014. Titled Red Sundew 2 the work was in fact an early work (1970) by the late German artist, who was part of the Zero Group, that preferred monochromatic expressions and ‘art that intervened in the natural landscape’. This work is important because it initiated an influential series of projects by the artist called Sky Art. These large-scale, outdoor inflatable sculptures took the sky itself as a backdrop and introduced a performative element into the artist’s work.

While the great big golden flame sculpture placed at the very entrance of the fair was definitely a show stopper, one couldn’t help noticing the presence of Indian artist, Bharti Kher, with her Bindi work titled, ‘Skin’ behind it. The artwork consisted of a round looking-glass, cracked in places, and covered with her signature, sperm shaped Bindis. Derived from the Sanskrit word Bindu, meaning dot or point, red Bindis, are a Hindu reference to the third eye, and are traditionally worn between a woman's eyebrows as a symbol of marriage. The work speaks of fertility within the rubric of Indian tradition. The piece was celebratory yet laced with a subtle critique of patriarchy that lies hidden in the cracked mirror that is an act of defiance and mischief. ‘this work is very seductive and suffocating.’ Kher once said about her Bindi Series.

Another interesting work that reminded one of home, was by artist Hassan Sharif, (1 January 1951 – 18 September 2016) an Emirati artist who lived and worked in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The work was quite simply a collection of old letters and waste papers bound in a wired cage and tired by a red ribbon. It reminded one of borders and fences because of the barbed wire and of wishes and prayers because of the practice of tying ribbons on the grill or jali of mosques and places of worship. Sharif’s work often looks at the phenomenon of ‘handing back as artwork the surplus of a recently and rapidly-industrialised UAE’.  

Bjorn Dahlem’s sculpture hanging from the ceiling at the Fair called interest to itself since its construction was peculiar yet aesthetic. Dahlem is an artist based in Potsdam and this 2017 work titled Mond, alludes to simpler ways of imagining the universe. His low-tech wood and light assemblages allude to cosmic theories and philosophy, re-imagining the ways the universe is understood in startlingly simplified terms. The creations are based not on stability, but on fragility, which he sees as the defining condition of human knowledge.  

Big ticket British artists Damian Hirst and Tracey Emin were placed together so that their works seemed to be having a conversation—a rather controversial one at that. While Emin, the "bad girl of British art", showcased ‘Red White and Fucking Blue’, an iconic work that provokes in neon writing, commenting on the state of the European Union, Hirst’s cabinet of pills spoke of mortality and death, where medicine was a temporary intervention. These two artworks seemed to comment on the fragile human side of so- called superpowers.

The FIAC is a platform for many other artists whose works spoke volumes literally and metaphorically. It indicated to this writer that the India Art Fair, has many miles to go before it can hope to compete with international art fairs like this one. The selection at FIAC was cutting-edge art all the way. The only ‘compromise’ was perhaps the section, which allowed a tribute to interior design.  There was no pretty, drawing-room art to be seen at this fair and it points out to us that perhaps the IFA, should cut back on its surfeit of saleable art and take some risks. We look forward to perusing what they have to offer this coming February 2018.

The writer’s visit to Paris was sponsored by Atout France. All photographs are by the writer. All views expressed in this piece are the writers.   


The writer in front of Bhari Kher's work Skin