MediumsFairs 20-10-2016

Unlikely bedfellows | How performance is becoming part of the art fair

The 2016 edition of the FIAC is brimming with innovations.

The fair’s new “On Site” section features daring sculptural works installed in the Petit Palais, the Grand Palais is opening a new exhibition room where works by late 20th century artists will go on display and 42 of the 186 international galleries participating in the event are first-time exhibitors. In the words of director Jennifer Flay, Fiac is "reinventing its footprint in the Parisian landscape." But perhaps the most exciting addition to this year’s proceedings is the new Parades program, which puts performance art center stage. Held in partnership with the Musée du Louvre, Parades’ series of performances looks at how music, dance, performance, and poetry are shaping contemporary art.

The time is ripe for this new addition to FIAC. Ever since MoMA hosted its celebrated 2010 retrospective on Marina Abramović, “The Artist is Present,” to which the public flocked en masse to see the veteran artist attempt her longest ever solo piece, performance art has begun to be incorporated into public museums — the very spaces it so vehemently rejected in the late 60s and 70s. London’s Tate Modern is the one of the latest major institutions to give heavyweight artists like Abramović their due. The display of the gallery’s new Switch House extension rightly presents performance as integral to the story of contemporary art.  Similarly, the Palais de Tokyo’s vast Tino Sehgal retrospective, running through December 18, intertwines some of his most famous performances in an immersive experience that spans the entirety of the museum’s labyrinthine interiors.

If museums are beginning to embrace performance art, then the art fair, too, is also becoming an important platform for performance. As usual, it was Frieze that helped pave the way. Established in 2003, Frieze London has been instrumental in developing the contemporary art fair into something of a cultural destination as well as a sales-oriented playground for the high and mighty of the art world. The pioneering non-profit program ‘Frieze Projects’ helped inject the fair with a strong curatorial component, directing the focus towards visitor experience and encouraging fairs to incorporate interactive elements into their repertoire. Out of this have sprung the plethora of concurrent events that now accompany the world's top art fairs, increasingly including a showcase of the best of international performance art.

2016 has been a tour de force of art fair-hosted performance. This year Frieze Projects London struck a political note. Advised by museum curators Jacob Proctor (Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, University of Chicago) and Fabian Schöneich (Portikus, Frankfurt), the program included the debut performance of Martha Araújo’s Para um corpo, which examined the significance of performance art in Latin America under military dictatorship. A few months earlier, Art Basel, another fair eager to continue to expand its platforms, featured a series of performance pieces as part of its new ‘Parcours’ section, including a poetry reading by Jim Dine that took place within his installation Muscle and Salt — a room filled with classically-inspired sculptures.

The fact that performance is now infiltrating the hallowed courtyards of the Louvre as part of the 2016 FIAC demonstrates the extent to which it has been embraced by art fairs and museums alike. The Parades project builds upon the existing Ouvertures season that FIAC launched together with the Louvre in 2008, which opened up a dialogue between contemporary dance and the museum space. Parades presents a  greatly expanded program, with contemporary dance performances in the Cour Lefuel and Cour Carrée of the Louvre running alongside a host of other events. If visitors were not tempted by the “guided tour” of Heaven and Hell offered by Nuovo Mondo — a poetry-based performance held at the Palais de la Découverte — they can opt for a dance piece that presents the observations of a school of jellyfish trapped in the knot of an underwater fibre optic cable, showing this Sunday at the Grand Palais.

Uriel Barthélémi, 2013 performance, courtesy the artist 

As part of its Hors les Murs initiative, Parades extended to the unlikely location of Paris’ Gare du Nord. Amid disapproving looks from perplexed commuters, Uriel Barthélémi performed a captivating drumming routine that reverberated around the cavernous station. Conceived jointly by Barthélémi and Nikhil Chopra, the performance, entitled Floating Cities and Loaded Dice, built a narrative out of the enveloping sounds intended to symbolise the current experience of refugees in France and Europe.

The exciting new lineup of contemporary performance at FIAC 2016 is indicative of the way the art form is becoming integrated into leading art fairs as a permanent fixture. As it continues to gain public popularity and institutional recognition, performance looks set to become ever more prevalent within the art fair.

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