Art Basel wins Paris slot over France's own art fair

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Art Basel wins Paris slot over France's own art fair
© Thomas SAMSON The Grand Palais has housed FIAC almost every year since it was launched in 1974

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.

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The shock decision comes at a time when Paris is regaining its place as the pre-eminent centre 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. 

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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 already has annual fairs in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong. 

Following the bid, RMN-GP, the French authority that oversees several museums including the Grand Palais, put FIAC’s October slot up for tender along with the Paris Photo fair in November, both owned by French-Dutch group RX. 

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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. 

– ‘Shake-up’ –

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. 

Chris Dercon, president of RMN-GP, said their decision was part of a wider vision to build connections around the world and with different industries, including tech, fashion and video games. 

“Gallery owners, collectors and artists are everywhere in the world asking for new models of art fair,” Dercon told AFP. 

“Nothing can compare to Art Basel’s address book at a time when Paris is regaining a strong place globally in contemporary art,” he added. 

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. 

FIAC attracted 75,000 visitors during its last full edition in 2019, and 46,000 for a reduced edition in October due to the pandemic and refurbishment of the Grand Palais. 

The 2022 and 2023 editions of the fair will be held in the temporary Grand Palais behind the Eiffel Tower, before moving to the original site after work is completed. 

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