‘People come to the fair to work it out,’ one gallerist quipped, in view of the fluctuating numbers at this year’s FIAC

A year ago at this time, FIAC was celebrating its 10th anniversary as one of the world’s greatest art fairs. This year the festivities are more subdued, but the swells were out in full…

‘People come to the fair to work it out,’ one gallerist quipped, in view of the fluctuating numbers at this year’s FIAC

A year ago at this time, FIAC was celebrating its 10th anniversary as one of the world’s greatest art fairs. This year the festivities are more subdued, but the swells were out in full force on Monday night in Madrid. Held in a temporary venue outside the National Gallery, art dealers, collectors and artists on hand for the gala could be heard calling out a sea of directions. “SEAT, SEAT, SEAT,” one dealer frantically shouted as he struggled to explain the logistical mystery to an attendee at the doorway.

In the lobby, there was little sign of the swells, but the place was vibrating. Outside, New York gallerists outnumbered Madridic, although six of the big five worked the spotlight: International Art Department at last year’s event opened for this one, as did Eddie Adams Gallery and Il Feo Gallery. In the evening’s grande finale, Public Art Fund opened its new Richard Prince painting, “Work It Out.”

If it felt like the night was designed to blur the lines between the two sides of the Atlantic, the theme of the fair was clear. Latin American art had been a big fixture in 2015, with influential booths from such international galleries as Kjeld and Gagosian, but this year, with a $2.5 million brazil exhibition, art fairs are doing what they can to up the ante: Place more Latin American artists in prestigious spaces and present them in larger quantities.

But the full picture was soon apparent. From the pricey jewel of Maison Jaume Plensa’s booth, the Lagos stop on Emmanuelle Mansa Mammadov’s “Songs & Stories” tour, the feeling was the opening work of a movement. A smaller booth from one of Spain’s top two galleries offered some of the boldest art. Maybe to underline the contrast, out front in a smaller building went a revealing work by the US artist Landau Ledesma. “Reverberation” graphically delineated a big river of different types of breasts in watercolor. Many of the paintings discussed issues as fundamental as motherhood and sex in the Middle East, so that led to speculation that the artist was fomenting a groundswell in a region blighted by crippling instability and refugee migration.

The evening’s unquietest voice came from a couple who stood nearby the marquee Philippe Vergne booth, where they had their earphones on like voyeurs. If the work were real, it would take fairgoers out of the show. So a protest was planned.

Looking for signs of how a decade and a half of fame had changed the make-up of the fair’s star attractions. Much of the thinking among observers appears to have been that the riches of the spectacle could be used to soften the impact of scandal and scandalous notions of wealth. “A decade ago, to have a booth in the fair was seen as a validation of the brand,” said Valerie Steele, director of the museum of Modern and Contemporary Art at New York’s Brooklyn Museum. “It was significant, but now the brands are larger and we’re used to them.”

It appeared that many dealers were also used to more involvement and involvement with the fair than was suggested by the undeniable size and “operations” of the fair. Late in the evening, a few Hong Kong dealers were making their own rounds, which was not a bad thing, since they come mainly from a different place and a different part of the world. “I’m amazed that they sell as many as they do,” said Anusha Rajiv, a dealer from Mumbai. She and her colleague were sipping cocktails on the lobby bar of the National Gallery, appearing to spend the night up past their bedtime — not a big shock when you consider there was a silent auction at the end of the night.

Over the coming days, more galleries will be closing their booths to make way for other companies.

“We thought it might be about 20 percent of the booths that will come to the closing day tomorrow,” said Mr. Eustis, the fair’s general manager. “We’re probably between 30 percent and 40 percent.”

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