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Slick: the Only Art Fair Worth Going to this Season

Adrian K Sanders writing for I V Y paris

Cobbing

I said it. London to Paris, Frieze, Scope, Red Dot, Show Off, and Fiac have turned out to be great disappointments. From the underwhelmingly overwhelming Frieze to the mess that is Show Off, there hasn't been a single exciting art fair this fall season on either side of the chunnel. 

Last week's openings at Fiac and Show Off made me feel depressed in large part because the intense mediocrity of the Parisian fare somehow elevated Frieze to above par.

Instead of excitement, surprise or any hint of what could be next, these were halls and halls of repetitious, lifeless, commercial art.

The Grand Palais (beautiful), Louvre (classic) and Espace Pierre Cardin (a mistake) art fairs have guaranteed that the art world will have plenty of blurry over-sized poorly photoshopped lambda prints of A) naked women, B) political statements, or C) something surreal and gross going for 3500 euros... so if that's your thing, take heart.
 

It's with this heaviness that I begrudgingly schlepped up to Slick's fair at Le Cent Quatre in the 19ème, expecting the worst. Seeing as how the Paris art fairs are working as partner groups, one could only expect the quality to be homogeneous (this is France, after all).

Instead, Slick has turned out to be the saving grace of the art community and especially the galleries of Paris. It didn't hurt that they chose (or were gifted) the most fresh and beautiful venue in all of Paris, the Cent Quatre. 

The Slick organizers did well with the Cent Quatre's enormous space. It's worth going just to walk the halls, grab a drink and hear the buzz. Potential abounds from this series of buildings, and the little touches applied promise great things from the institution's directors and their future events.

From the rue Curial entrance, the space begins with a large open air bar surrounded by potted plants and small herb gardens. The actual entrance to Slick is a long concrete ramp that goes down underneath the garden bar into a space connecting the large show halls, Salle 200 and Salle 400, on either side.

These halls flow very well. In spite of being jam packed with galleries, there always seems enough room to have a good look at things and this small detail is the what separates Slick from the chaff.

Galleries aren't confined to traditional boxes, nor do they seem like market stalls, packed unhygenically against each other. Instead, floor space for each gallery is ample, and proper room is given to the hallways for discussion, sales and traffic. Many galleries used these spaces to full effect. Semoise's brilliant display of 100 euro prints (with editions all boxed up and ready to be taken away) was hung on the opposite side of their paintings and sculpture space so that each section was given some much needed breathing room. Others, like Blue Square had fun semi-enclosed spaces with a measure of one-on-one intimacy for their smaller pieces.



But none of this would matter if the art hadn't been so damn good. Where the walls of Fiac and Show Off were reminders of today's contemporary art gallery conventions (apparently the secret to curating a gallery in Paris is to show a series of poorly made paintings, a big photo, a wierd sculpture, then some abstract or cute witty drawings.), the galleries of Slick showed us things that were never quite clearly sculpture or performance art or installation.

From Parisian based Lacen Galerie, La Fratrie's miniatures were displayed in various forms - on top of and part of larger sculptures, in photographs and on their own. 
Such a simple manipulation of the artist's concept is the important step forward - an interaction between curator and artist. For buyers, the question so many galleries tend to provide an answer for is "what is this?" But at Slick, more often than not, the works on display simply state "this is it," and do so brilliantly.

Others like Galerie Schirman and De Beucé have searched out and displayed pieces that push a more subtle barrier, between the world of toys and sculpture, collectible and kitsch. Nicolas Buffe's  Mecha Acteo is a master work of labor, but it's also the convergence of modern design trends, classic filagree and an openly honest declaration of love for machina and robots (featured left).

There was a strong emphasis on Parisian galleries (comprising nearly 55% of the booths) but the international and "provincial" France scene was equally excellent.

William Cobbing's Excavation (top photo) was perhaps the best video piece I've seen this season. And while Cobbing is already a well established artist, it's refreshing to see gallery like Furini Arte Contemporanea from Arezzo, Italy that allows an artist to depart from their normal medium and try something new. In the video, a man stands with his head completely sealed up in a concrete glob. Armed only with chisel and hammer, he blindly strikes at the glob, chipping away awkwardly in a scene that is terrifying, depressing and hilarious.

With the financial world in disarray, it's quite possible that the golden age of artists living lifestyles like during the golden age of rappers is over. When the money goes, all that's left is the stuff that's genuinely interesting. If there's any hope in retaining artistic credibility, in particular for galleries, it's with fairs like Slick.

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Comments

I did all the fairs save for Slick. The Show Off venue is cramped and galleries are essentially either on a waiting list for the FIAC's spaces or experimenting with art fair marketing. Didn't matter. At times I felt like I was in a high school science fair. My friend, the Bordeaux-based galleriest Ilka Bree was stuck in the basement, but still managed to sell a handful of photographs. The Show Off galleries are, however much more interested in talking to you, even if you're not a buyer. Lonely, I guess. I think Show Off would be better off in a large tent on the Champ de Mars. The Cour Carré du Louvre was empty on a Thursday night and filled to the brim on Saturday, but you're right, Adrian : Lots of science projects. I'm asking myself, as an artist, 3,000 euros for this scribble? My scribbles are infinitely better and way more affordable. Best quality, although conventional, was to be seen in the Grand Palais and I happily spent 2 hours looking at the Christopher Wool silkscreens, dozens of Louise Bourgeois works (seemed to be her week in Paris) and the Hans Bellmer works at Galerie 1900-2000 (as well as the little Ray Johnson collages there). Swiss-German troublemaker Christoph Beuchel put a beat-up Ford on display, spun it around and put ropes around it; he's always good fun. I did note some "red-dot" bullshit from some galleries trying to boost interest, though. These are hard times, after all and the galleries are trying magic tricks to turn the tide. Anyway, I'm thinking of holding my own show – an after-the-art-fairs yard sale in my apartment in two weeks.

MR

When art is commodified, commodities become art. Somehow this lesson seems to have escaped our internationally generational compatriots. What's missing, I wonder? ;)

Is there still time to see the Slick art fair? Does anybody have a link or anything?

Hi Dimitri,
sadly, the slick art fair is over - There was a preview of the art fairs posted earlier:
http://www.ivyparisnews.com/2008/10/semaine-de-lart.html

however, there's quite a few openings going on, in particular Bourouissa's vernissage tonight at Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire.
http://www.ivyparisnews.com/2008/10/mohamed-bourouissa-at-galerie-les-filles-du-calvaire.html

cheers

I'm actually GLAD to see someone else assessing many of the large art shows as total let-downs. I attended Art Basel-Miami last year and came away disgusted! I admit I didn't see everything it had to offer, but I was so put off, I had to bail on it after a few hours. Luckily I missed the video of a woman sexually involved with a swan (written up in the local paper). But unfortunately I did see the bigger-than-life-size chocolate Santa DILDO (shouldn't that just be at a Spencer Gifts or something?) The most interesting offerings were barely on the Art Basel grounds: the miami artist studios riding the coattails of the event, or some of the young up-n-comers who were given sort of cool exhibit digs in cargo shipping containers near the beach. The rest? You didn't miss anything.

Just one thing to say to you all, thank you so much. We did the best to create a great fair with the galleries we really appreciate. We wanted Slick to be a place to discover art, artists and gallerists. A place to enjoy the contemporary art spirit. The next edition will also take place at the CENTQUATRE in octobre 09 and I hope you will enjoy it.
Best wishes
Aude de Bourbon Parme - Slick

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