FIAC 2014 opened at the Grand Palais in a shimmering flurry of celebrities, dignitaries, and VIPs.
One of the leading international art fairs, FIAC was founded 40 years ago to bring a curated exposé of contemporary art to the public. It was born as an event “by gallerists for gallerists” and gradually expanded to a mainstream audience, welcoming around 80,000 visitors at the capacious Grand Palais main venue. It has also sprouted numerous extramural sites and events, including installations in public spaces such as the infamous sculpture by Paul McCarthy . Set up in the swish Place Vendome, the giant green shape  –some saw it as a Christmas tree, most identified it with a sex toy – was vandalized, causing it to deflate (there’s an irony somewhere in there) and had to be taken down.
FIAC  is not a museum exhibition, it is a bustling market. The main distinction is that the art on display is bought and sold right then and there. The whole art world stands to notice when a piece or a particular artist is attracting interest at FIAC, and eager collectors elbow their way through the doors on preview day to scoop up their next treasure. The continuing success story of FIAC will start a new chapter in March 2015 with the debut of FIAC Los Angeles .
For emerging young artists, being noticed here can be the fortune cookie that presages an auspicious future. To underline this incubator effect and promote the next generation, a new addition this year is the (OFF)icielle art  fair held at the Docks, presenting 68 newcomer galleries from 14 countries.
The sense of occasion on the vernissage came from the tour of the exhibits by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin, as well as the presence of celebrated artists like Gilbert and George  and Tracey Emin , who stood out for being eminently gracious, meeting and greeting, chatting to old friends and generally having a grand time.
For all the fond handshakes and champagne clinking, there’s serious business swiftly moving on in the background, which makes the energy of the FIAC particularly seductive. Sales appeared to be ticking along nicely as we witnessed, just during our brief visit, the red dot going up on Jean Dubuffet’s L’Heure de Pointe, priced well over 530,ooo euros, by Waddington Custot gallery, and brisk interest in a striking 2.9-million-euro Basquiat at the Van de Weghe booth.
FIAC, however, is not an exclusive playground for the elite collector. While the main statement pieces are intended to attract attention, and priced accordingly, galleries offer a wide selection of new art, prints, or limited series – items that are within reach of every art enthusiast. FIAC is a great place to start a collection. With 191 galleries from 26 countries there’s bound to be something that catches your eye, and gallery representatives are approachable and passionate about the art they bring to the show. If you find a piece you love, you could be taking back home the ultimate souvenir from Paris, one that will ignite memories and inspiration for years to come.
FIAC Paris is held every year in October.
Avenue Winston Churchill, Paris 8th
Noon to 8pm – Until 9pm Friday
Métro: Champs-Elysées / Clemenceau
Admission including catalogue €60 – Children under 12 free
NEW! FIAC Los Angeles 2015 – March 27-29