The French art world was shaken Wednesday by news that the Art Basel fair has swooped in to replace France’s own, long-running FIAC at the Grand Palais in Paris. The shock decision comes at a time when Paris is regaining its place as a pre-eminent center for art in the world, helped by a slew of new museums and the impact of Brexit on its main rival London. FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) has been running for nearly half a century as France’s leading international art fair, almost all that time at the Grand Palais, the illustrious glass-and-steel exhibition hall on the Champs-Elysees.
But it has lost its slot for the next seven years following a surprise bid in November from Art Basel, the international market-leader that is part-owned by billionaire investor James Murdoch and already has annual fairs in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong.RMN-GP, the French authority that oversees several museums including the Grand Palais, responded by putting FIAC’s October dates up for tender along with the Paris Photo fair in November, both owned by French-Dutch group RX. On Wednesday, the authority announced its decision to grant the art fair slot to Art Basel’s owner, the Swiss firm MCH. Paris Photo will, however, remain in RX’s hands.
Murdoch, son of the media mogul Rupert, holds a controlling stake in MCH, and was reportedly a key driver behind the takeover move in Paris. “James Murdoch is very enthusiastic about this project. He will help us in every way possible,” Art Basel’s global director Marc Spiegler told AFP by phone. “No other town in Europe has this combination of art market dynamism and cultural importance,” he added. “We want to make a very strong fair at the highest international level and create ties with different cultural sectors such as cinema, fashion, music and design.”
FIAC had warned of the “danger” of handing its slot to a huge global player like Art Basel. The decision worries small galleries in Paris, who were strongly supported by FIAC with around a third of the slots every year. “It is part of a wider shake-up of the terrain, beyond just France, with a concentration in the hands of the big players,” said Marion Papillon, head of the Paris galleries association.
‘Not just a satellite’
Chris Dercon, president of RMN-GP, said there was pressure from gallery owners, collectors and artists to come up with more innovative models for art fairs. “Nothing can compare to Art Basel’s address book at a time when Paris is regaining a strong place globally in contemporary art,” he told AFP. RMN-GP insisted that the new fair would not be “just a satellite of the Basel fair” and that it will have its own branding, yet to be decided. They also vowed to ensure that the price of a stall at the new fair “would not explode” for local galleries.—AFP