Last week, art aficionados flocked to Paris for FIAC and Paris Internationale, two of Europe’s most exciting art fairs. With an impressive edition of frieze London still fresh in everyone’s minds, gallerists had to pull out all the stops to impress collectors, curators and other critical characters in the French capital. Five booths have been firmly cemented in our minds ever since.
Galerie Maria Bernheim, Zurich
Presenting works by Ebecho Muslimova and Denis Savary at Paris Internationale
On the wall of Maria Bernheim’s booth, visitors could smile at Russian-American artist Ebecho Muslimova’s signature drawings. In all of them, her comic alter-ego Fatebe is inevitably depicted naked in some absurd situation: hanging from a fan or transformed into an old-school desk, for example. The artist re-appropriates jokes about fat people, making Fatebe’s body a malleable source of endless possibilities instead of a punchline.
Presented in front of those drawings were Denis Savary’s ice-cream colored ceramics, all composed of an Alfa Romeo car model topped with an Italian dessert. Again, this was a decisively humourous exercise in reworking the clichés around italianità; the way Savary made onlookers (including the author himself) long for a trip down south.
Most Likely to Make You Book a Trip to Kent, Even If You Don’t Really Know Where That Is
The Approach, London
With works by Jack Lavender at Paris Internationale
Jack Lavender’s works surpass classical notions of style and content, both individually and collectively, with an almost shocking ease. Those shown at Paris Internationale were inspired by Kent, the region the artist now lives in. Blown out, printed on banner material and then covered with shiny PVC, his drawings look both like post-human runes and primitive graffiti. A series of sculptures intrigue; they’re towers of stones, all oddly and beautifully shaped by the forces of nature and collected by the artist around his home. On the floor itself, cards advertising one of Kent’s mini-cab services — and proudly proclaiming “In God we trust”— formed an irregular carpet on which one felt hesitant to step at first. Iconoclasm, nihilism and nature collide in Lavender’s work. Rarely has this combination looked so fresh.
Most Terrifying, But Also Oddly Sensual
Gianni Manhattan, Vienna
With works by Matthieu Haberard and Nils Alix-Taberling at Paris Internationale
If Rainer Werner Fassbinder and H.R. Giger went on an art shopping spree together, chances are they’d end up buying everything on display at Gianni Manhattan’s booth. Five sculptures by Matthieu Haberard, realized with a special type of polymer, resemble the sleeves of a futurist suit of armour. The French artist left them unpainted; their crisp whiteness puts one in mind of an exoskeleton from which some gigantic insect just hatched.
Nils Alix-Taberling’s hybrids are even creepier. His largest (and most successful) work (“Louve”, 2017) is a combination of the multi-breasted Ephesus Diana, Officer Ellen Ripley’s worst nightmare and a blogpost about romantic Parisian fashion. Tackling sex, horror, power and multiple mythologies, his work seems both informed by art-historical references and devoid of any dependence on them.
Most Unironically Regressive
Freedman Fitzpatrick, Los Angeles
With works by Stefan Tcherepnin at FIAC
Standing in this LA gallery’s booth, one almost feels relieved by how enjoyable the works on display are, especially compared to the rest of the selection at FIAC. Two very fluffy and very funny cookie monster-type beings occupy the centre of the space. They look at works in which they (or their kin) are represented — in photographs, a video, and in an abstracted way on two outstanding canvases. While the winks to childhood memories seem obvious, Tcherepnin’s works don’t come across as childish per se. This is due partially to the high technical quality in which they were executed. It’s also because of the artist’s decision to refrain from imposing a specific narrative on the viewer, a gesture that could have pushed this presentation into shallow territories. Here, Tcherepnin manages to shed a light on a thing as rare as it is delightful in adulthood: imagination and humor unburdened by excessive irony.
Most Successful in Combining Politically Charged Content with Desirable Aesthetics
Karma International, Zurich and Los Angeles
With works by Vivian Suter, Simone Fattal, Sylvie Fleury, Mélanie Matranga, Pamela Rosenkranz, Martin Soto Climent, Cali Thornhill DeWitt at FIAC
A peculiar type of tension pervaded Karma International’s booth. Somehow, all of the works interacted in a subtle game of topical hide-and-seek. Textiles by Vivian Suter, hung high on a wall, felt both light and intense; they also worked well as backdrops to the amateurishly minimalist ceramics of Simone Fattal. This combination, emitting an aura of earthiness and malleability, was faced by meme-like works courtesy Cali Thornhill DeWitt, combining interchangeable terminologies with stock images. Next to those in-your-face zingers hung one of Pamela Rosenkranz’s works addressing the biological links between humans and house cats, looking like panther fur covered in baby puke: beautiful, repellent and disturbing at the same time. Martin Soto Climent’s play on depth and transparency, as well as Sylvie Fleury’s fatalistic neon stating “C’est la vie!” rounded out the idea that Karma International’s booth focused on subtle, alternative ways to illustrate the political.