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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 29 NOVEMBER 2010 — Late last month, there were shocked reactions and snickers as well as genuine emotion under a gigantic tent in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre Museum as well as under the high glass dome of the Grand Palais, the recently renovated museum overlooking both the Champs d'Elysées and the majestic Alexander II Bridge. These two magical settings were hosting the 37th annual Fair of Contemporary Art, generally referred to as the F.I.A.C.

Twenty-four countries and 195 art galleries were showing works which went from the absurd to the widely extravagant, including paintings from twentieth century masters, as well as creations from the more showy stars of today and the potential stars of tomorrow. Prices escalated accordingly, from 500 euros for the Belgian Honoré D'O's, Connaître ses Maîtres, a reproduction of a Velasquez painting where the breasts had been cut out and where one was invited to insert two fingers to represent the missing flesh, to 19,000,000 euros for Naila, a superb 1934 work by German impressionist, Max Beckmann.

Pascale Marthine Tayou: Poupées Pascale, 2010
crystal, mixed media, Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Le Moulin, F.I.A.C. 2010

An innovative, eye-catching stand theatrically presented numerous crystal figurines bedecked with multi-coloured reels of sewing-cotton, pins, needles, and odds and bobs of thread, each one different, with its coloured hair-bands and tangled strands of wool and silk, feathers, beads and garden twigs. It was only on closer inspection that one noticed that these showy little bodies shared just one linking feature; they all sported a giant-sized, transparent glass penis. And of course, the exhibition was not without its fair share of pornographic nudes posing as art. Was this really British actress, Charlotte Rampling, standing stark naked in the Louvre?

An undoubted star of the show attracting the crowds was Le Solitaire, by 25 year old Theo Mercier. The young artist, already noted for his preoccupation for playing with food, had created a massive fellow in imitation spaghetti. His sculpture is ugly, it's sad, and at 2.6 meters high, it's huge. While people made fun of it, this lonely figure sitting staring vacantly into space seemed to carry all the problems of the world upon its ungainly shoulders, but priced at 40,000 euros, who did it think would take it home?

Théo Mercier: Le Solitaire, 2010
Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie, FIAC 2010

The gallery Guillermo de Osma, situated in Madrid, presented some exceptional paintings by Victor Brauner, (1903- 1966). Priced from 38,000 to 180,000 euros, all but one had been sold by the second day of the fair. Visitors also paused to admire the more moderately priced Composition suprématiste, an intriguing work on forms in space created by the abstract master, Kazimir Malevitch in 1917, whose radical and pure compositions speak for themselves. His squares, crosses and rectangles seem to be striving for the unattainable in a world beyond reach.

A fresh view on the fair was given by Mother's Tankstation, a Dublin gallery presenting works by Atsushi Kaga, a 32-year-old Japanese artist, in an attractive, one-man show. As a teenager, Kaga had devoured the books of James Joyce and determined to leave for Dublin not only to perfect his English, but with the idea of becoming a writer himself. His drawings of little rabbits were so good that friends there encouraged him to go to art school, and the rest is history.

Atsushi Kaga: (from left to right), Usacchi & the last
cat pirate on the ocean with donuts
Sachiko by day (2010) and Polar Bear (2010)
F.I.A.C. 2010

When looked at closely, his apparently naïve, cute little pictures all tell a story and all reflect the artist's concern with the problems of people today, not least with ecology. Usacchi eating apples recounts the tale of a little bunny born in Tokyo whose mother was a kangaroo and whose father was a panda. Adding to its confusion was the fact it thought it had been a cat in a former life, and so it spends its time searching for its identity and in questioning everything around it. He gets very upset by the incomprehensible.

Likewise, Kumacchi, a highly pessimistic work which features a small bear who lost his leg in a car accident, is also about a search for identity, and unsurprisingly, Polar Bear is directly linked to Kaga's ecological concerns, for the little bear, who enjoys a Cuban cigar, hates global warming. The saddest work of all was Samurai Deers, which had nonetheless been sold, as had all the other works, for the modest price of 4,600 euros.

The question arises as to who are the artists who have had the biggest impact in the last ten years, for visitors strolled leisurely past the offerings of the fashionable American artist, James Turrell, whose geometrical study of light with an illusion of depth Light Transmission Piece was on sale for 180,000 euros, and snobbed the layered, all black creations of up market Pierre Soulages, interspersed between sculptures of hands and arms by Louise Bourgeois, the former already seeming a little dated. But what about Tony Matelli, Robert Mapplethorpe, or Pierre Huyghe?  Never heard of them, griped an onlooker.

It was simple to dismiss the white bed linen strung up on white walls or the human-sized yellow banana escaped from the children's section of an Ikea department store, but what to make of Anish Kapoor's Slug, part boa constrictor, part vacuum cleaner, some 6 meters by 4 meters, particularly when one reflects on the fact that Kapoor's sales turnover this past year touched some 7,000,000 euros? Somebody buys these works.

Anish Kapoor: Slug
F.I.A.C. 2010

Bearing in mind that what's considered admirable today was rejected as bizarre yesterday, will future generations really find such creations… beautiful? It seems to no longer matter whether an exhibit is well painted or brilliantly sculpted, but rather rests upon it being a good idea coupled with a playful approach. Playful indeed is the only way to describe the toothy, grinning troglodyte created by Murakami, a gaudy creation atop a tree of improbably coloured flowers which missed out on a trip to Versailles. Was it overpriced at $1,600,000? Whether it sold or not was probably irrelevant to the Japanese star who raked in some $3,500,000 last year.

And what price for the stuffed hen? I didn't dare to ask.

Patricia Boccadoro is a senior editor at Culturekiosque. She last wrote on Murakami Versailles.

Title photo: Max Beckmann: Naila, 1934

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