PARIS - Although Switzerland’s Art Basel is still incontestably the top fair for contemporary art, London’s Frieze, which took place last week at Regent's Park, and Paris's FIAC, which begins Thursday, are now sharing the second place on the podium.
"Each fair has a different identity and energy. Paris is more established, while London is younger. The different languages spoken attract buyers from different geographical regions," says Olivier Belot, director of the Yvon Lambert gallery, which is exhibiting at both fairs.
Frieze London is more hip and focused on contemporary art, while FIAC, more prestigious in its beautiful Grand Palais museum setting, shows a wider spectrum, from modern to contemporary art. It features international galleries and "bankable" artists, although it also includes some promising younger artists, for collectors looking for the next big thing.
The organizers of the two competing fairs, as it happens, are very respectful towards each other. "FIAC does a remarkable job," says Matthew Slotover, co-director of Frieze, while Jennifer Flay, artistic director of the Paris event, lauded "the quality at Frieze Masters," the new section of the London show launched this year to widen its scope to older and modern art.
Close in size and number of exhibitors, FIAC and Frieze are both working hard to increase their influence. FIAC expanded this year to newly renovated spaces in the Grand Palais museum, in particular the superb salon d’honneur, a 55-ft high glass-roofed space of almost 4,000 square feet. Frieze London inaugurated a New York branch of the fair in May of this year, and does not rule out further expansion. Frieze, which is much younger than FIAC, claims to be the most international. It benefits from the fact that 45 to 50% of international collectors are from English-speaking countries.
Competing for VIP buyers
Moreover, observes François Laffanour of the Downtown Gallery, London "is a rich city, with art collectors willing to pay big sums." FIAC, on the other hand, could suffer from the French political and fiscal context. Gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin, who exhibits at both fairs, is worried about "the unfavorable impact of even mentioning that the works of art might be included in calculating the wealth tax (ISF), even if, in the end, that does not happen."
Eager to appear as major cultural events, Frieze and FIAC both benefit from the exceptional exhibits by great museums of Paris and London that are taking place at the same time as the fairs. A Hopper retrospective, likely to attract crowds, is being presented in the galleries of the Grand Palais next to FIAC, and the Louvre is in the news with its new department of Islamic art. Meanwhile, London boasts major auctions.
In terms of sheer numbers of visitors, the two fairs are equal, but that is not the most important thing. "At this kind of art fair, the general public goes as it would to a museum: to see, not to buy. The fairs are aimed mainly at investors," notes gallery owner Bernard Zürcher. "The heart of the matter and the core business is the VIP clientele."
"FIAC has carefully set up a VIP program with personalized, Anglo-Saxon-style service, to make the big collectors come, just like at the Frieze," says Jean-Christophe Castelain. That is probably the hardest-fought battle between the two adversaries.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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