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Pinault Browses Art Fair, $2.8 Million Fontana Sells

"Slug," by Anish Kapoor. The 20-foot work is priced at 1.8 million pounds. Photographer: Charles Duprat/Kemel Mennour via Bloomberg

French billionaire Francois Pinault and singer Lenny Kravitz browsed France’s largest art fair, where a $2.8 million Lucio Fontana work was among the few early big-ticket sales.

Pinault, the owner of Christie’s International, “Leon” lead actor Jean Reno, Miami collectors Don and Mera Rubell and New York-based adviser Kim Heirston were among the invited visitors to the 114 dealers’ booths at FIAC, or the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain, in Paris’s Grand Palais. Many wealthy buyers were hesitating, reflecting a sober mood in strike-bound France, said exhibitors.

“It’s a little quieter than last year,” the New York-based Per Skarstedt said in an interview at the Oct. 20 preview. “Maybe some people have been scared away by the strikes. We’ve done OK, though, with smaller things.” Skarstedt said he had sold five pieces by the early evening of the VIP day, ranging in price from $150,000 to $350,000.

FIAC -- which features a further 81 galleries at an annex in the Cour Carree of the Louvre -- comes a week after the Frieze Art Fair in London. There dealers spoke of a slow recovery in the contemporary art market, with many sales at post-boom price levels.

The Paris show coincided with nationwide French strikes against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age. Preview attendance was 21,608 people, 8 percent up on last year, the organizers said.

Cindy’s Cigarette

As at Frieze, buyers chose items priced at $500,000 or less. The 1984 Cindy Sherman photo “Untitled #132,” showing the artist brandishing a beer and a cigarette, sold for $250,000, said Skarstedt. His most expensive work -- the 1994 Richard Prince painting, “Anyone Can Find Me,” -- had yet to find a buyer at $1.8 million by the end of the second day.

Among the other high-value items yet to attract firm offers were Anish Kapoor’s unique 20-foot-wide snake sculpture, “Slug,” dating from 2009, offered by Paris dealer Kamel Mennour for 1.8 million pounds ($2.8 million); the Takashi Murakami figure, “Kiki,” offered by fellow Paris trader Paolo Vedovi at $1.6 million; and a painting by Abstract Expressionist Joan Mitchell, dating from 1958, at $4.5 million with New York dealers Cheim & Read.

“People used to drop $2 million at a fair without thinking,” Adam Sheffer, a Cheim & Reid director, said in an interview. “Now that doesn’t happen anymore. They take longer to take negotiate. We’ve lost the buyers and the collectors have returned.” The gallery had sold a smaller Mitchell canvas, priced at $450,000, to a South American collector, Sheffer said.

Basquiat Sale

Collectors were also taking their time on the booth of New York dealer Christophe Van de Weghe. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1984 painting, “Desmond,” and the 1956 Alexander Calder mobile, “Lune Blanche,” marked at $2.8 million and $2.9 million respectively, were still available last night. Van de Weghe had, however, sold the 1987 Basquiat acrylic and oil word painting, “The Whole Livery Line,” to a U.S. client for $1.1 million.

“Because of Gagosian opening in Paris, there are definitely more Americans around this year,” Gaia Donzet, head of the Paris branch of the Italian dealers Tornabuoni Art, said in an interview. A four-slash red Fontana “Concetto Spaziale” from 1966 sold a U.S. collector on the second day for 2 million euros ($2.8 million), Donzet said.

Sculptures by the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark were among the few works attracting early sales of more than $500,000.

In April, a 1960 Neo-Concretist aluminum “Bicho” sculpture by Clark sold for a record 367,250 pounds at Phillips de Pury & Co’s BRIC auction in London, underlining collectors‘ growing focus on the neglected field of contemporary Latin American art.

French Collector

Four more “Bicho” pieces from the 1960s were offered at the booth of the Paris dealer Natalie Seroussi. Two sold to a French collector during the morning of the preview for about 700,000 euros each, Seroussi said.

More than a third of the galleries at the event are based in France.

“The fair is very French,” the New York and Sao Paolo-based private dealer Andrew Terner said in an interview. “Paris has been struggling to find a place in the international art world. FIAC keeps the city in the game.”

New works by younger international sculptors with growing reputations continue to attract collectors. A unique 5-foot-high head by the British, Los Angeles-based artist Thomas Houseago priced at $80,000 was one of 15 sales made by the Brussels-based dealer Xavier Hufkens during the early hours of the preview in the $10,000 to $100,000 range.

Rosenblum Foundation

It was bought by the Paris-based collector Steve Rosenblum, whose foundation opens to the public this week. FIAC, unlike Frieze, includes dealers who specialize in early 20th-century art.

Last year’s FIAC tried a “Modern Project” section with dealers offering 24 museum-quality 20th-century works priced as much as $40 million. The innovation didn’t result in any publicly confirmed sales during the fair and wasn’t repeated. This year, dealers in modern art were vastly outnumbered. The 63 galleries exhibiting at FIAC for the first time or returning were dominated by specialists in contemporary works.

For many visitors, the modernist masterpiece of the 2010 fair is Max Beckmann’s 1934 portrait of his lover Hildegard Melms, or “Naila.” Shown by the Bern dealers, Galerie Henze & Ketterer, it is priced at 19 million euros and attracted a reserve before arriving in Paris.

“FIAC is different from Frieze,” Markus Rischgasser, director of the Zurich-based Galerie Eva Presenhuber, said in an interview. “In London, it’s all about the rush of collectors on the first and second days, and then you’re left with a crowded tent. Here you see serious people throughout the fair, and they take their time.”

(Scott Reyburn writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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