Radicalité? Or a Return to Normal? Like Its Fashion, the Booming Paris Art Scene Offers a Bit of Both

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Two weeks separate the final day of Paris Fashion Week from the first day of Fiac, the International Contemporary Art Fair, where some 170 galleries set up shop under the same roof. Except this year, that roof was not the sublime, paned glass of the Grand Palais. At the Grand Palais Éphemère, its renovation stand-in, there is no natural light streaming from above. The vaulted hall could be a convention center—or airport terminal—in any major city. But its direct view to the Eiffel Tower sets things straight: an event of this scale in Paris will always feel unlike anywhere else.

Alternate venue aside, it might as well have been the Before Times: same-ish layout; same-ish who’s who of heavyweight artists; same-ish scene of cosmopolitan gallerists interacting with a smartly-dressed crowd eager to see and be seen. And like PFW, Fiac seemed ripe for a revelatory moment—proof of some sort that we have lived through the most upending moment of our collective existence. A Louise Nevelson composition from 1976-78 at Pace Gallery looked as relevant as ever: the reclaimed materials, the all-over black, the uneasy expression of such a random arrangement. Overall, though? After a year away, the energy was undeniably upbeat, but there was also the sense of plus ça change… perhaps an opportunity missed to shake things up.

Happily, there is no shortage of art to see elsewhere across central Paris. Gone is the wrapping of the Arc de Triomphe envisioned by Christo and Jeanne-Claude; but Alexander Calder’s aerodynamic and boldly red Flying Dragon (1975) landed with aplomb in the Place Vendôme, presented by Gagosian to coincide with its new space nearby. Some two-dozen sculptures from various galleries continue to animate the Tuileries as part of Fiac’s outdoor programming, and Lilian Bourgeat’s humongous bench, as high as a garden shed, has proven especially popular for photo ops. Jean-Michel Othoniel’s gleaming blue glass bricks form a stream up the steps of the Petit Palais; and within its courtyard, which is open to visitors, his golden baubles are whimsically draping on tree branches or rising from the ponds. When the sunlight shines directly on them, the effect is at once decadent and dreamy. And anyone who visited Cyril Lancelin Remember Your Dreams, on the grounds of the Palais Galliera won’t forget his immersive, inflatable squiggly structure in lilac anytime soon. It could have been a striking and fittingly fleeting backdrop for a fashion show.

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