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FIAC and Picasso.Mania at Grand Palais

What a difference a building makes! FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain) the contemporary art fair in Paris takes place in the Grand Palais instead of a convention center or similar type of exhibition venue, hence has a whole different vibe. As I was walking around, going from booth to booth, the mostly-continental works of art seemed somehow smaller than they actually are because of the extremely high, glass covered ceiling –which I must add distracted me too. In a good way though, as I enjoyed feeling good, but perhaps not good if you are trying to sell works of art and need visitors’ undivided attention.

This image is in fact from 2011, but depicts the size of the Grand Palais during FIAC.

The crowd, much like the works on display, were more French and Continental too; I guess I’d forgotten to so see men in suits and ties. You could see some of the same galleries which presented the week before in Frieze London but of course the works they showed here were different, catering to another clientele, in another currency, and within different customs zone.

FIAC’s Marcel Duchamp Prize of 2015 was won by Davide Balula, Neïl Beloufa, Melik Ohanian, and Zineb Sedira. The prize, organized together with Centre Pompidou is given to French artists or artists living in France for their innovation who receive an endowment and a solo show at the museum. In a separate gallery the winners’ works were presented and I love it that commercial art fairs also have such not-for-profit endeavors as well. It’s all for the public good and the promotion of art and artists.

I talked to Anna Fisher of Victoria Miro of London about the Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu and her work along with others’ at their booth. We also talked about Kara Walker’s Go to Hell or Atlanta, Whichever Comes First exhibition I saw back in their London gallery and that I liked it. Fisher told me not to miss Wangechi Mutu’s work Shy Side-Eye on view at the Picasso.Mania exhibition right there in the Grand Palais.

Gjon Mili, Portrait of artist Pablo Picasso, 1948 © Gjon Mili/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty Images © Succession Picasso 2015

Picasso.Mania is curated by Centre Pompidou’s Assistant Director Didier Ottinger together with co-curators Emilie Bouvard, Picasso Museum Paris’ curator, and Diana Widmaier-Picasso, the art historian and grand-daughter of the artist. The exhibition includes works of Picasso from the collections of the Pompidou, the Picasso Museum and the family, with contemporary works of art by artists who were inspired by them. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of Picasso’s most important paintings, which was inspired by African masks and is the work that started Cubism and Modern Art as we know it couldn’t be brought from MoMA New York, but works created with it as inspiration were.

Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

The exhibition, which greets you with Mauricio Cattelan’s Picasso sculpture does not need much interpretation; it is clear to see Picasso’s works thematically and how it influenced contemporary artists, leading them to interpret them in their own way. They are not directly appropriated, as Ottinger said in an interview I watched, but rather, each artist used Picasso’s works as source and created works of art in their own medium. I loved seeing Sigmar Polke’s Untitled, inspired by Les Demoiselles d’Avignon with Faith Ringgold’s Picasso’s Studio, and Dutch photography artist Rineke Dijkstra’s I see a Woman Crying, a 3-channel video showing schoolchildren’s reaction to Picasso’s La Femme qui Pleure (Weeping Woman) while observing it.

Sigmar Polke, Untitled 2006, 2006 © The Estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne / Adagp, Paris

One other section explored how Picasso’s Guernica has become a symbol of peace. A life-size tapestry depicting Guernica commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller in 1955 hung on the wall of the United Nations Security Council chamber from 1985 till 2009. (It caused quite controversy when the tapestry was concealed with a blue curtain while Colin Powell delivered the report on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003.) Emir Kusturica’s film Guernica and Goshka Macuga’s The Nature of the Beast were examples of how Picasso’s work has become synonymous with anti-war.

Picasso's Guernica, at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid

It is an exhibition that is easy to follow, physically and mentally from section to section as the design changes. For example, there were sections where Picasso’s works were hung in salon style, a style Picasso preferred yet we don’t see much anymore. It was within the spirit of this exhibition but also because the display method somehow highlighted the difference between modern art and contemporary art with the former inspiring the latter. I liked this juxtaposition that pointed towards a little bit of rebelliousness in a way. Quite Picasso I would say.

Exhibition view of Picasso.mania bGc studio © Rmn-Grand Palais / Photo Didier Plowy, Paris 2015

The exhibition included had perfect programming as well with talks, lectures, an iPad application for children and another for adults Picasso.mania, l’e-album de l’exposition du Grand Palais, an exhibition app, a game Picasso ou pas Picasso which asked you to choose whether each of the ten works showed were created by Picasso or not, and another free app l'Atelier Picasso where you upload portraits and have them generated in Picasso’s Blue Period, Analytic Cubism, and Cubism of the 30s, which you could then save or share on instagram.

Three Portraits generated with the l’Atelier Picasso app.

The next day I also got to see the smaller art fair “Officielle". Then I went to the Jardin des Tuileries to see works by Antony Gormley, Ai Weiwei and Heimo Zobernig among others as part of the Hors-les-Murs public art program of FIAC. So far, our trip to Paris had been great. But by the time I was leaving it was getting darker already, and as I looked out from the Jardin des Tuileries to the Place de la Concorde and saw Milène Guermont’s Pyramid of Lights next to the Luxor Obelisk, with the French industrial giant Saint-Gobain’s Future Sensations exhibition in celebration of its 350th anniversary, and each pavilion just as being lit, I felt perhaps this was too much light for the City of Lights.

You can see here the View of Place de la Concorde

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