Any doubts that Paris is now a buzzy capital of contemporary art were put to rest last week when the 41st annual Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain—or FIAC as it’s known—returned to the Belle Epoque splendor of the Grand Palais with a global lineup of mega-watt and cutting-edge galleries. Among the highlights offered up by some 191 galleries from 26 countries were Olafur Eliasson’s sublime rotating steel and colored-glass lantern, set in its own private room, at neugerriemschnieder; Liza Lou’s abstract canvases of colored glass beads at Thaddeus Ropac; Douglas Gordon’s mesmerizing swan wing set against a black aluminum panel at Yvon Lambert; and Sara Braman’s vibrant canvases at Canada. With events also taking place in the Tuileries, the Place Vendome, and a satellite fair along the docks, FIAC organized shuttle boats to ferry collectors and visitors along the Seine.
But what really galvanized the week were the simultaneous openings of big-ticket exhibitions and institutions. French President Francois Hollande and Jeff Koons were on hand to inaugurate the new Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation, Bernard Arnault’s $135 million museum resembling glass sails, in the Bois de Bologne. Given that it is the largest private museum to debut in Paris in the last 30 years, the opening focused on Gehry and his swooping masterpiece. Still Eliasson received his due in the museum’s grotto, where his blazingly immersive installation, Inside the Horizon, cut a luminous yellow path via mirrored columns and a reflecting pool. Installed in a few of the galleries were bravura works from Arnault’s collection—including those by Gerhard Richter, Isa Genzken, and Christian Boltanski—as well as John Giorno’s soulful Dial a Poem, 1968, a bank of phones which gave you Patti Smith and other poets reciting poems.
All through the week, VIPs previewed the Picasso Museum, which reopened on Saturday in its 17-century hotel particulier, after a five-year renovation and many a contretemps. No matter how many works by Picasso you’ve seen, the 400 on view here make you understand anew just why Picasso is never not having a moment. Of particular note was the attic, which houses pieces that Picasso owned by the artists he revered. Insightful shows abounded elsewhere too: The pioneering abstractionist Sonia Delaunay was the subject of major retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris and Marcel Duchamp, that master of self-invention, got his own reappraisal at the Pompidou Center.
Of course this being Paris, new art provoked a mini-scandale: After the American artist Paul McCarthy installed his 80-foot high inflatable sculpture of a sex toy, called “Tree,” on the Place Vendome, next to the Hotel Ritz, he was slapped in the face by an irate Parisian. Not long afterward, vandals cut the cables to the butt plug/tree sculpture, leading McCarthy to ask for the piece to be removed altogether. The ensuing right-wing backlash over the work—by an artist famously devoted to provocation—quickly begat #pluggate, not to mention terrific publicity for the opening of McCarthy’s “Chocolate Factory” at the Monnaie de Paris, a former mint, a few days later. And there, McCarthy had the last word. In addition to his working factory, operated by Disney-esque attendants minting chocolate versions of Santas and sex toys (or trees, depending on your perspective), McCarthy added videos at the last minute. In them, he angrily and noisily spelled out and repeated the phrases hurled at him as he was slapped. “Are you an artist? Are you the artist?”