Paris-The Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, both built for the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris, have long been separated by a wide and busy street that links this city’s Right and Left Banks.
This week, during the International Contemporary Art Fair, the Avenue Winston Churchill will be shut to ordinary traffic, and these two monuments to the Belle Époque will be joined again, giving visitors a chance to stroll along what was once an elegant esplanade.
The recoupling resulted from long negotiations that have now officially brought the Petit Palais, a municipal fine-arts museum, into the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain, or FIAC, which runs from Thursday through Sunday and has been held at the Grand Palais every year since 2006.
In negotiating the agreement, Jennifer Flay, director of the FIAC, was mindful of crossing a red line that rings France’s public cultural institutions. “The French are very sensitive to any intersection between patrimony and commerce,” said Ms. Flay, a New Zealand-born Parisian, now in her sixth year as the FIAC director.
“We are a public museum,” said Christophe Leribault, director of the Petit Palais. “We didn’t want stands operated by the galleries,” which are the bread-and-butter of FIAC and other art fairs. Instead, he said, the museum’s curators selected mostly big works offered by the galleries, which, while for sale, fit into the museum’s own concept.
In previous years, several sculptures were placed in the Petit Palais’s interior garden as part of the fair’s “off-site” program. This year, some 30 works will be placed inside the museum’s majestic galleries, as well as in its garden and in front of the building. These include sculptures and installations like “A Box in a Suitcase” by Marcel Duchamp, “Anatomy of an Angel” by Damien Hirst, and “Empty Lot” by Abraham Cruzvillegas.
“I was watchful that the choice be varied, with some young artists,” Mr. Leribault said, adding that skirting the red line was easier for the Petit Palais, a 116-year-old museum with a wide ranging collection.
He added that the Petit Palais, as a city museum, had an interest in opening itself to FIAC visitors. “It is about the dynamism of the art market,” he said. “When there is something that works well in Paris, it is good for a municipal museum to participate.”
FIAC, which this year is hosting 186 galleries from around the world, needed to find more space for art works. It has added a new room in the Grand Palais, the Salon Jean Perrin, which is hosting nine solo shows of late-20th-century artists whose work are now being re-examined, including William S. Burroughs, the American novelist, artist and member of the Beat Generation.
The rest of the stands will be on display in the magnificent Nave, with its 45-meter (150-foot) ceiling, the Salon d’Honneur, and the upper galleries that focus on emerging art galleries, of which 10 have been selected for the Lafayette Sector.
In recent years, FIAC pushed its presence to the farther reaches of Paris with a sister fair, Officielle, which showcased a younger generation of galleries at the Cité de la Mode et du Design in eastern Paris, and also held a series of events at the Maison de la Radio in western Paris.
Both sites, on the Seine, were accessible last year by riverboats, which were free to FIAC ticket holders. Boat rides will still be offered this year, but the Cité de la Mode and the Maison de la Radio venues have been dropped from the art fair’s roster because they were too far away from the center of the action at the Grand Palais, Ms. Flay said.
This year’s FIAC is still sponsoring exhibits of outdoor works at the Tuileries Gardens and the Place Vendôme, but the galleries are more tightly centered around the Grand Palais. Besides the “on site” exhibit at the Petit Palais, FIAC has also included the Palais de la Découverte, the Paris science museum on the other side of the Grand Palais building.
After 6:30 each evening during the fair, a series of events and performances of dance, music and poetry will be held in and around laboratories, the planetarium and the building’s basement. The “Parades for FIAC” program, which also includes events held in the Louvre, the national museum, will use the empty science museum as an evocative backdrop for such works as a poetry reading by Alex Cecchetti on the theme of heaven and hell.
Of all the new spaces made available to FIAC this year, however, Ms. Flay said she was most proud of Avenue Winston Churchill, which will also become a showcase for flat art works by the American sculptor Lawrence Weiner and the French poster artist Jacques Villeglé.
Getting permission to close the street, while allowing access to emergency vehicles, was an ambitious feat. Final negotiations took place in July, just after the terrorist attack in Nice. “I thought it was going to be challenged on security grounds,” Ms. Flay said.
In the end, she got the approval of the city, the police and the French government, allowing FIAC to restore the unity of the historic ensemble.
“It was our dream to recreate this big space that allows the architecture to breathe,” Mr. Leribault said.
The New York Times