Shaking up the art world

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Shaking up the art world

Sunhee Choi
The author is director of Choi&Choi Gallery.

 News that Art Basel — a top-class art fair operated by Swiss parent company MCH Group AG — would hold an art fair in Paris this October in the Grand Palais — the venue for the Paris International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) for the last 40 years — stunned the global art community last week. In January, the operator of Grand Palais opened the FIAC slot to a public competition, where its parent RX France lost to Art Basel’s MCH Group AG, which offered $10 million for the use of the location for seven years. The October slot for the world-famous art fair in Paris was lost to Art Basel.

The art community was shocked by a behemoth toppled by another behemoth. Art Basel, which started in the Swiss city in 1970, also hosts art fairs in Hong Kong and Miami. The addition of Paris goes beyond the meaning of expansion. Art Basel has contributed a lot to the advancement of local arts and development of cultural infrastructure in Hong Kong and Miami, previously places that were off the world art map.

Paris was already home to FIAC, which has maintained its reputation as a top international art fair for the past 40 years. With its iconic dome of glass and steel, the Grand Palais made the art fair the most glamorous in the world.

The city of lights helped elevate the status of FIAC, with its richness in art and architecture of classic and contemporary magnificence, museums, romantic byways, boutiques and bistros. Galleries joining the FIAC throw parties for collectors at famous restaurants in Paris. During the October art fair period, Paris is exactly how American author Ernest Hemingway described living in the city. “If you’re lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast,” wrote the great writer.

French presidents and first ladies were regulars at FIAC openings as well as politicians. When the Swiss art group stole the traditional venue from its French counterpart, Parisians and French art communities might have felt as if a unique Parisian identity established by FIAC had been lost. Parodying the Netflix show “Emily in Paris” about a young American woman from the Midwest finding a new job in Paris, an online posting said, “Art Basel in Paris.”
Visitor to the Paris International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) at the Grand Palais in Paris. Art Basel, the world’s leading Swiss contemporary art fair, was selected to succeed the FIAC, announced the Grand Palais in January. [AP/YONHAP]

The arrival of a multinational art fair organizer raised expectations for more global spotlight to the French art market at the same time. But smaller gallery owners fear they would lose their place and chance to introduce undiscovered artists.

UK-based Frieze — which competes with Art Basel in international art fairs and hosts events in London, New York and Los Angeles — has chosen Seoul as its first outreach to Asia. Unlike Art Basel which replaced FIAC for its Paris show, Frieze will be hosting an art fair in Seoul in September along with the traditional Korea International Art Fair (KIAF). By co-hosting art fairs in COEX, this year’s event is expected to help globalize the Korean art market.

When an international art fair goes to a new city, it can raise both fears about damage to the local art habitat and anticipation for new growth and opportunities. Globalization of art fairs and galleries should bring about synergy with a local art industry. The fair must not merely indulge sponsors and galleries in a different venue. It must engage local art communities and also enhance the cultural identity of the host city.

Marc Spiegler — an American-French art journalist and columnist since 1998 and the global director of Art Basel —vowed to create new content by blending traditional and digital art form and fashion through the momentum of the Paris foray. What would become of FIAC stripped of its traditional venue and how will Art Basel please visitors as its replacement? We will see in October. 
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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