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Fiac 2006: Interview with Jennifer Flay in Paris

Jennifer Flay, Directrice artistique de la FIAC (October 26, 2006)

AfN: This is an artfacts interview with Jennifer Flay, the artistic director of FIAC. Hello Jennifer.

J.Flay: Hello, hello

AfN: You said in 2003 when you have been appointed to the job as the artistic director of FIAC: "I am delighted to be given this opportunity to lead FIAC into its next phase" and you said you looking forward to make it one of the best places to discover and buy the latest modern contemporary art and the best modern masterworks available. Our goal is to create a truly unparalleled experience for international collectors." This year, 2006 the FIAC is back in the Grand Palais...

J.Flay: and in the Cour Carrée du Louvre, and the Jardin des Tuileries…

AfN: and it is overwhelming.

J.Flay: Thank you

AfN: Even gallery owners who decided to leave the fair in favor for the FRIEZE are seriously thinking of coming back. Would you say that you already fulfilled your promises of 2003? And how important is the Grand Palais to achieve your goal?

J. Flay: Would I say that I have already achieved them? Actually its quite moving for me to hear that quote from 2003, yes I did say that of course and I meant it - I feel that we are on the way. For me it's still very much work in progress. I am very happy with the results we have achieved. When I accepted to take on the job I told the direction of Reed Exposition France that it would take between 3 and 5 years to get the sorts of results that I was looking for and that is the third year, edition no 3, and I think that certainly the basis is there to achieve what I want. Yes, I think the fair is becoming a very, very strong and attractive venue for galleries. I although think this come from improvement and just as well because I like to be busy and I like to have things to do... and there are different things we can do and we will do… sorry I did not get the second part of the question, what was it?

AfN: …the second part was: how important is the Grand Palais to achieve this? I mean I see it as you want to play an important role…

J.Flay: Yes, yes absolutely - well , for us it is not so much the Grand Palais, of course the Grand Palais is a fabulous venue, but it is the fact that we returning to the center of Paris. That's very important for us. We wanted to, when I say 'we' I mean Martin Bethenod and myself - Martin Bethenod is the general manager of the fair - we felt it was very important to bring the fair to the heart of Paris.
Inside in the emblematic of the essence of Paris and that is certainly the case of course for the Cour Carrée of the Louvre Museum, the Tuileries gardens and the Grand Palais which has also the advantage of being lined up on this beautiful axis which is drawn by the bed of the Seine river, the sort of natural geographic axis of Paris. We think that in people's minds these sights and the centrality are so much more revelatory of the essence of Paris then anonymous fairgrounds - however functional they might be- in the outskirts of Paris. I think that for us this move back to the center is clearly an important step in our plans to develop the fair. I mean personally I quite understand any gallerists or collector that prefers to show in a building like the Grand Palais which is a historical monument or in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre Museum, which also an historic monument.

AfN: and its daylight

J.Flay: And the natural light is of course very special and I mean I've heard so many commentaries about the beauties of this natural light from Sarah Lucas who is showing sculptures here with Sadie Coles and Babara Gladstone, from Pierre Soulages, the painter who is showing works at the Gallery de France, how much this natural light does enable one to apprehend the art works in such a beautiful way and it is very real.

AfN: Another thing, the fair is still strongly biased concerning the number of French galleries. Are you considering the FIAC as a French voice in an Anglo/American dominated art world? Or what is your position in terms of internationality?

J.Flay: Well, the FIAC as a French art fair, it takes place in Paris of course and it is an European art fair because it takes place in Europe but it is also an international art fair because we are part of the international art scene, more and more as we go on. We feel that is important to highlight all the aspects of contemporary art in France and modern art in France because Paris is a very important place in the history of modernism. We seek to infect - highlight that! However, I don't agree when you said it is heavily biased by French participation.

AfN: But I didn't mean that it is bad, …

J.Flay: No,no we have a 45% percentage of French galleries participating on the fair. Not all from Paris some of them are also from the regions of France. And we have a 55% of international participants. We feel that is a good, healthy percentage of representation for this phase of the fair's development. It is actually the same percentage as the Armory Show in New York. They have 45% American galleries and 55% foreign galleries. So, certainly the Armory is not perceived neither as a pro American nor as an anti American Art fair. You know we are not pro-French in the extreme and we aren't anti-French although we are accused of it here.

AfN: You are accused to be anti French?

J. Flay: Yes, absolutely, yes…

AfN: I mean it is from our point of view good to see more French galleries and we see more special art and more design. I think it is a very good decision.

J. Flay: Yes, we introduced them. We where the first art fair in the world introducing a design section in 2004

AfN: We come to the point … maybe we jump to this point now. In 2004 you added design galleries as exhibitors. In our point of view this decision makes totally sense. The tefaf in Maastricht for example attracts the highest ranked art dealers in the world even if it shows everything from arms to textiles. Are you playing with the introduction of new fields? What are your plans?

J. Flay: It is not in our immediate plans to introduce new sections into the FIAC; I think that we will have to be looking at strengthening the sections that already exist: modern art - contemporary modern and emerging art. In Design - we will be looking at strengthening those fields, before we look at introducing other sections. And also we have another problem that you aware of. We are currently using little over the half of the exhibition space that we had of the Porte de Versailles. So, the Cour Carrée of the Louvre museum and the Grand Palais offer us slightly over the half of what we had last year in terms of expositions space. So, I think before we look at introducing new sections we should develop those we have and perhaps look at increasing our exhibition space.

AfN: What about architecture?

J. Flay: Architecture is something we are very interesting in quite clearly. As you are certainly aware we worked with Emmanuel Combarel and Dominique Marrec this year on the design - on the very innovative design - of the design section. You know for the exhibition display with the platforms. It is signed it is a signed exhibition proposition by Emmanuel Combarel and Dominique Marrec. Clearly, it's something we are interested in. We are interested in working with architects and we were advised by architects although for the design of the construction that we bought in the Cour Carrée of the Louvre Museum. You may have noticed the transparent facades of the tent...

AfN: Yes, sure.

J.Flay: The transparent roofs, …

AfN: In contrast to the FRIEZE tent.

J.Flay: …the square within the square and the square floor plan; these are things we are definitely interested in… I am potentially interested in.

AfN: Because in our discussions in the last days we thought the FIAC could be a world leader…

J.Flay: Oh, I think it is… [laughs]

AfN: In terms of what is here in property, what is here in knowledge about art and design, how it is here intrinsic within the city. But on the other hand we have the feeling that there is some kind of fear not taking this job...

J.Flay: … listen...

AfN: …or is the city to big, like Basel you know where you meet everybody on the streets …

J.Flay: You know - it is interesting that you are saying that actually - when we were thinking about the move back into the center of Paris and the fact when you are in Miami or Basel the fair takes over the whole city.

AfN: it is like a village...

J. Flay: Yes, yes but it's kind of difficult because Paris is much bigger city. Well, I tell you this week with our different venues with the Tuileries Gardens with all these wonderful shows that are on in the different museums, the fact that the Musée du Quai Branly many people haven't seen it, it is open, visits are proposed - private visits to our VIP visitors. The same for the Musée des Art Décoratifs, same for the Musée d'Orsay, we also have a private visit plan for our VIP visitors to see the future Cité de l'Architecture which is still a building site at the moment and all the parties and activities that are going on. I am starting to think that we may - in fact - be able to give this feeling of really investing in the city, the whole city of Paris can be mobilized. I am happy about that because it was a long shot. It is difficult for people to imagine that FIAC could impact the city of Paris in such a way like Art Basel impacts Basel because the city is so much bigger.

AfN: And Miami…

J. Flay: I mean Miami is great but all of it happens on five blocks, you know.

AfN: Everything is gone when the crowd leaves - than there is a desert.

J. Flay: Exactly. Paris is a all year around situation. I mean there are great shows and great opening every day this week. But there are great shows and openings all year around. This is something we wanna to highlight.

AfN: Sorry I just jump in the questions… We've heard that the Grand Palais from an organizational point of view is difficult to handle. Will you be able to stay here and at the Louvre?

J.Flay: At the Cour carré du Louvre, yes, we have an agreement with the president of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette, that we will be able to be use this venue several years in succession and also in the Grand Palais. We have our dates for 2007, we have option dates for 2008. The building is difficult, because, clearly it was build as an exhibition hall but it was built in 1900. Which makes it of course very very special but it isn't equipped in the same way exhibitions hall normally are. It is make it more complex as a fair organizer - clearly - but that is an interesting challenge and I think it is worth taking on. To be quite honest I don't think anybody would contradict me if I said that FIAC now has the most beautiful venues of any art fair in the world. And that is definitely a plus.

AfN: And it is in the center. that is the second plus. And you can make it that the city vibrates.

J.Flay: Another aspect that is very important for Martin Bethenod and I - and I've had very pleasant occasions the last few nights to realize that - the exhibitors, I am talking about the exhibitors because I am very close to the gallery world having been a gallerist myself. What I am saying for the galleries goes also for the visitors, the collectors, the press, everybody. You know when I am standing at the door when the fair closes and I hear people saying, let's go to such and such restaurant let's go there it is really nice... You know at the Port de Versaille it was a nightmare you had to get back into the city…

AfN: Oh yes, we remember…

J. Flay: Now, people are just having fun and they are able to enjoy everything Paris has to offer. Because it is right next door. That's a big thing for us. We want people to experience the pleasure and all the unique quality of Parisian lifestyle. It is not bullshit. Excuse: That's the New Zealand part coming out of me. It's not bullshit! There is something special about l'art de vivre, you know: Je ne sais quoi - francais you know. And why not, why not highlight that? Why not make that special - I mean they've got a lot of mileage in Miami and all the palm trees and swimming pools... [laughs]

AfN: Would you consider yourself as an Asian person?

J. Flay: No, I am a New Zealander.

AfN: Isn't it based in Asia?

J. Flay: New Zealand is Oceania.

AfN: Oceania?

J. Flay: South East Asia.

AfN: South East Asia. You see, Asia.

J. Flay: I am from new Zealand and I am although French because I have double nationality not because I've married a French person but just because I've living and working here for so long. I definitely feel bicultural. I think that the fact that I am from new Zealand clearly shakes my world view. When you are from New Zealand you live in an island at the bottom of the South Pacific with nothing around you. To go to New Zealand everything is on the way to New Zealand - the whole world is on the way to new Zealand.

AfN: What do you mean with this?

J. Flay: When you are in Europe and you want to go to New Zealand you go anyway you want and you can stop anywhere you want. You're still on the way home. And that gives you a different world view. Nothing is really far away for me. I think the world is actually quite small and its actually quite manageable. I feel very comfortable in the world. I think certainly that it is perhaps easier for me to rethink the fair.


Last questioN:
Is China a buzz word for you? We've seen relatively few works here in Paris - in comparison to London in the last few weeks - and additionally do you believe in fashion trends in the arts?

J. Flay: There are Chinese artists presented at the fair. There are Chinese represented by Galerie Pierre Huber (Art & Public), by Galerie de France, by Galleria Continua, by many gallery that are here. Chinese artists are definitely not absent from FIAC. We obviously want quality across the board, we want the best galleries. I would like to have one or two Chinese exhibitors and we have had previously three last, four Chinese galleries but I want Chinese to be present in the very best possible way. And I think it is this year with Galeria Continua, with Pierre Huber, with Gallery de France. I would love to have a Chinese gallery but I want obviously the best. And the same goes for Russian art, Indian art.

AfN: We have seen Aidan, Guelman, …

J. Flay: We have Aidan, XL, Guelman. That is pretty good. And we have Nature Morte from India showing only Indian artists. We have Sfeir-Semler, from Lebanon, from Beirut showing artists from Lebanon. We have a wonderful gallery from Warsaw, Raster Gallery…

AfN: Where are they?

J. Flay: In the Cour Carrée. I think it is one of the best young galleries in the world.

AfN: How do you separate the galleries? Who is in the Grand Palais and who is in the Cour Carrée du Louvre? The young ones?

J. Flay: It got more to do with the way they position themselves in fact the galleries that have a very perspective element in their program like discovery, whether or not they are young are in the Cour Carrée du Louvre, basically.

AfN: and the design.

J. Flay: and the design section which is of course as you know very important to me.

AfN: It is important for the fair in our point of view.

J. Flay: The period that FIAC covers is the 20th century up until today, up until the 21st century, 2006. I think it is kind of nice that the galleries of the modern period are in this building which was built and inaugurated in 1900, which is the beginning of the period we cover. So the modern galleries, the contemporary modern and…

AfN: But you have Esther Schipper here in the Grand Palais?

J. Flay: Yes and galleries working with established contemporary art of today are here.

AfN: Strong persons…

J. Flay: Yeah, you know there are galleries in the Cour Carrée du Louvre which are open for 25 years.

AfN: I know, I know, a lot of Dutch galleries.

J. Flay: Galleries that have a very perspective emphasis in their program. But it is not black and white you know.

AfN: Can the galleries choose?

J. Flay: Most galleries actually choose with a sort of natural affinity to one place or the other although this is the first time we've done it. I've heard galleries say: I really want to be in the Cour Carrée du Louvre which is great.

AfN: Is such a nice venue.

J. Flay: Yes

AfN: So, Jennifer, thank you for taking time for this interview.

J. Flay: It is a pleasure. It is very nice to talk in my native language about the work. Thank you.


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