Paris contemporary art fair springs back to life after COVID pause

A scultpture of President Emmanuel Macron titled 'New photo d'identite' by artist Wang Du
A scultpture of President Emmanuel Macron titled 'New photo d'identite' by artist Wang Du   -  Copyright  Benoit Tessier/Reuters
By Shannon McDonagh

After missing a year, the contemporary art world's annual get-together in Paris is roaring back to life with a feast of viewings, deal-making and social mingling - and a nod to the impact of COVID-19 in some of the works on display.

Attendees at the International Contemporary Art Fair, which welcomed dealers and VIPs on Thursday and opens to the public from Friday, have to wear masks and prove they are vaccinated, while 43 of the 170 galleries taking part are showing their works online only - a legacy of the pandemic.

Over 1,500 artists show their work to 75,000 spectators in the aisles of the Grand Palais Ephémère, the Tuileries Gardens, the Musée Eugène Delacroix and Place Vendôme.

A visitor takes a picture of 'Dispersion devant l'impasse' by artist Omar BaBENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

"It's been interesting because during COVID, we were kind of closed off on each other and we were doing more online activities, and we managed to stay very busy, but we haven't really had a chance to see all our clients and visit," says Bellatrix Hubert, senior partner at the David Zwirner gallery.

"So this is an important time. And Basel (Art Fair) re-opened, FIAC re-opened, Frieze re-opened, and we really feel the energy, and we're delighted."

A visitor takes a picture of "Brancacci Chapel" by artist Thomas BayrieBENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

But otherwise the event, in its 47th edition, is pretty much back to normal, according to organisers and attendees.

"Despite the masks, we're having a great time. And we're really happy. Most of us haven't seen each other for two years," said Hubert, continues.

Exhibits include works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, as well as creations of the COVID-19 era, including 'New photo d'identite,' a bust of French President Emmanuel Macron with a surgical mask-shaped void carved into his face by Paris-based Chinese sculptor Wang Du.

'Gigante,' a bronze skeleton that can be assembled and disassembled, and which comes with a wooden crate, was presented by Galerie Jocelyn Wolff.

California artist on residency in Paris, Cristopher Cichocki, said: "It's a big breath of fresh air, of course. For me, art is a religion, and so to see something like this take place and have such a strong attendance, it's a beautiful thing."

'Esme in her School Uniform' by artist Chantal JoffeBENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

"It is totally different, but at the same time, so familiar. And I think it's both joyous and reassuring, not only for ourselves, my team and I, but also for the exhibitors, for the public," says Jennifer Flay, Director of the fair.

"It's important that the fair does well, for the galleries and therefore the artists that they're representing, but also just for the general feeling in the art world - renewed confidence."

'T1988-R46' by the late abstract artist Hans HartungBENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

Participants said figures from the art world in Europe and the United States are attending in substantial numbers, while there were still few visitors from Asia because of COVID-19 concerns.

The art fair opens its doors to spectators from 21 October 2021 to 24 October 2021.