A sculpture of 100 fish by Damien Hirst was snapped up with a price tag of $2.8 million. A Takashi Murakami painting of a Chinese lion dog and two works by Louise Bourgeois were also hitting the $2 million mark in Paris.
Dealers at FIAC were sipping Champagne at the VIP preview last night, relieved that the art market was holding up as the French and German governments continued talks on the sovereign debt crisis. Billionaires including Francois Pinault and Bernard Arnault browsed the fair, as did L’Oreal honorary chairman Lindsay Owen-Jones and Martine Aubry, the French Socialist Party presidential contender defeated in primaries last weekend.
“The fair has a zip to it this year,” said Matthew Armstrong, the New York-based curator for Lightyear Capital, a U.S. private-equity firm.
Million-dollar sales will help art-market confidence shaken by financial volatility. Rich collectors from around the world are looking for works by established names as dependable investments as economies falter.
Hirst’s 1993 cabinet “Where Will It End,” featuring fish in formaldehyde, sold on the morning of the preview to a European collector on the booth of White Cube, which was among 33 galleries either returning or showing for the first time at France’s biggest fair, known as the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain. The 38th edition brings together 168 galleries from 21 countries in the Grand Palais.
It started three days after Frieze, which focused on contemporary artists, and where some buyers were taking their time over purchases.
“I look for a sense of liveliness at a fair, and I find more of it here than at Frieze,” the New York-based adviser Todd Levin said. “If dealers exhibit at both fairs, the quality of the booth tends to be a notch higher here in Paris.”
Unlike its U.K. rival, the Paris event combines pieces by emerging names with big-ticket works by Pablo Picasso and other 20th-century modernists.
The presence of older works such as a 1960s Picasso “Musketeer” painting on the booth of Gagosian, priced between $6 million and $8 million, encourages exhibitors to bring higher-quality contemporary pieces, said dealers.
“For me, it’s more interesting to see the cutting edge combined with classic works,” said the Greenwich, Connecticut-based collector David Rogath, who didn’t attend this year’s Frieze. Next October, the London fair will be holding a new Frieze Masters event.
The 9 foot (2.7 meter) 2011 Manga-style Murakami painting of a dog reclining on a pile of skulls was priced at more than $2 million on the booth of the Paris dealer Emmanuel Perrotin. Its sale to an unidentified European museum was confirmed on the morning of the preview.
New York dealers Cheim & Read sold a 2004 fabric torso and a 2006 suite of 24 drawings by Bourgeois for about $1 million each to Saudi Arabian and Moroccan buyers.
“It's more international this year,” said Glenn Scott Wright, director at London's Victoria Miro Gallery. “Last year, it was very French. There are more Americans and curators this time.” He is showing works by three women artists, including a group of paintings by Alice Neel ranging from the 1930s to 1970s.
The Brussels and Paris dealer Galerie Vedovi found a buyer for the 1974 Ed Ruscha word painting, “We Didn’t Care and Neither Did She," priced at $1.2 million.
Some exhibitors were incensed to discover that France’s premier art collectors, Christie’s International owner Pinault, and Arnault, chairman of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, had been given a private tour the previous evening while they were attending a charity dinner at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Visiting galleries can spend as much as $100,000 on their booths and related expenses in the hope of meeting such billionaire buyers.
Among the smaller emerging galleries -- located this year on the upper level of the Grand Palais -- the Paris dealer Loevenbruck offered a group of works by the late Polish artist Alina Szapocznikow, a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp who died of cancer in 1973. Last week at Frieze, her sculpture “Tumour” was bought by the Tate for its collection. She is due to be the subject of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in September.
Loevenbruck found U.S. and European buyers for Szapocznikow's 1960s resin sculptures “Autoportrait” and “Lampe-bouche,” priced at 340,000 euros ($468,830) and 320,000 euros respectively. All the works had been released for sale from the artist's estate.
Fiac confirmed its reputation for being a fair where big-ticket items can find buyers today when the New York dealer Cheim & Read sold a large 1985 canvas by the American Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell for about $3 million.
From the estate of the artist, “Then, Last Time IVV” sold to a French foundation, said Cheim & Read. The painting, freely worked in shades of blue and green, was made by Mitchell when living at Vetheuil, near Giverny, the home of Claude Monet.
The Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain is at the Grand Palais, Paris, through Oct. 23. Information: http://www.fiac.com/?lg=en
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)