FIAC: Art or Fashionable Stuff?

The FIAC (Foire International d’Art Contemporain), Paris’ contemporary arts fair which closed this weekend, is one of those annual cultural happenings that everyone wants a piece of. The city began to look like an arty amusement park days before the fair opened when Jeff Koons’ monumental hand holding a bouquet of cartoon tulips (a “gift” to the city from the artist after the Bataclan terrorist attack) touched down permanently in the garden of the Petit Palais overlooking the Seine. This was followed by Yayoi Kusama’s giant polka dot pumpkin – which held pride of place briefly before the 10-meter-high inflatable “Life of the Pumpkin Recites, All About the Biggest Love for the People” on the Place Vendôme was forced to deflate early due to heavy winds. 

The childish delight tinged with a kind of ominous carnival brutality of both of these oversized works underscored the tone of this year’s fair with 199 top galleries from 29 countries showcasing artists playing with fashion tropes, kids’ toys, plastic junk, signage, and cartoons reflecting the flashy, trashy, superficial roller coaster aspect of contemporary life. Coinciding with the FIAC, Paris Internationale showcased smaller galleries with emerging artists, and The Community, a salon set up for the first time at Hotel Normandy which is currently under renovation, was like an arty squat uniting galleries, fashion labels, and performance artists from all over the world.  

At FIAC, Emmanuel Perrotin got the ball rolling with Genesis Belanger, a young American artist who outfitted an entire bathroom with pastel Play-Doh-style porcelain sculptures complete with a cigarette butt, toast, leaking toothpaste tube, and a jacket hung over a chair. Almine Rech featured Ida Tursic and Wilfried Mille, nominated for this year’s Marcel Duchamp prize. Playing with today’s image overload and focused more on creating objects than expressing a message, the painting duo frequently replicates fashion shoots. Their rendering of a 2008 Self Surface magazine spread by Terry Richardson is a maze of overpainted patterns; and another typical model shoot which they repainted is covered with polychrome color and rubber duck and flower doodles repeated until it looks like the steamy scene behind a shower curtain.

There was a lot of fashion at the fair, but instead of glamorous chic it felt more like the excessive consumer trash that surrounds us, ranging from Eliza Douglas’ Pile (2019) made from heavy metal T-shirts at Air de Paris to Senga Nengudi’s A.C.Q. III (2016-2017) featuring a cross in pantyhose stretched over refrigerator parts at Sprüth Magers – or even a crime scene like Knockdown Center (Peaches) (2019), Kayode Ojo’s  silver sequin dress and diamanté earrings hung menacingly over a musical stand at Balice Hertling. Urs Fischer’s $igh (2016), fractured glass in a Marilyn-style photo montage at Nahmad Contemporary, hints at the underside of the consumer dream – as does Alex Da Corte’s THE SUPƎRMAN (2018), the 4 channel video of the artist in a bright cube impersonating Eminem rapping while eating breakfast cereal, or playing with detergent bottles and sneakers at Sadie Coles.   

One event that really got to the heart of the matter was YACP (You x Art x Centre Pompidou), an FIAC-timed celebration at Centre Pompidou organized by the friends of the museum. For its third edition, designer Rick Owens was given carte blanche to stage an evening. He maximized the contemporary brutal, lurid freak show feeling by inviting seven of his favorite performance artists, many of whom have collaborated on his shows, to do their thing scantily dressed in his Spring 20 collection. “I wanted to look at living works of art laying on slabs of modern art,” says Owens, who asked his wife Michèle Lamy to construct a series of “monolithic beds” in the modern art museum, the largest in the world. For an hour, guests wandered around the Pompidou’s collection of Brâncuşi birds, Picasso’s cubisims, and Cy Twombly scribbles while Kembra Pfahler of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black; Precious Ebony; Tommy Cash, known for his song “Pussy Money Weed”; David Hoyle, the star of one of Owens’ “favorite pervy movies,” “Uncle David”; and Mother Rheeda of Paris’ House of LaDurée, who taught Owens the art of “ferocious and violent” dip dancing, all interpreted the jagged mood of the moment.

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