"I love the infinite beauty of Paris": Jennifer Flay | BLOUIN ARTINFO
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"I love the infinite beauty of Paris": Jennifer Flay

An art aficionado doesn’t need a reason to visit the Louvre, the world’s largest and most visited museum.
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Come October 19, collectors and art lovers from around the world will once again convene in Paris for the latest in contemporary art, thanks to FIAC, the annual International Contemporary Art Fair.

“The Lafayette sector this year is particularly exciting, with 10 galleries from eight countries including Kosovo, Eygpt and India,” said Jennifer Flay, who has been the director of the festival since 2003.

Flay, a native of New Zealand, has a long history in the field. Born in 1959 in Auckland, she began her art history studies in New Zealand and pursued her education in France from 1980 thanks to a scholarship from the French government. From 1982 to 1987, she worked in several contemporary art galleries (Galerie Catherine Issert, Daniel Templon ET Ghislaine Hussenot) and took an active part in the participation of these galleries in international fairs in Paris, Basel, Chicago, Madrid, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. During this period, Flay collaborated, notably, with Carl André, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Christian Boltanski, Keith Haring, Richard Serra, Lawrence Weiner and Franz West.

In 1990, Flay founded her own gallery in Paris. La Galerie Jennifer Flay (1990-2003) represented in France Claude Closky, John Currin, Willie Doherty, Michel François, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Karen Kilimnik, Sean Landers, Liz Larner, Zoe Leonard, Christian Marclay, Anselm Reyle and Xavier Veilhan.

After she was named the artistic director of FIAC in 2003, she formed a partnership with Martin Bethenod from November 2004 to May 2010 to reposition FIAC on the international scene,redevelop the sites of the Grand Palais, the Cour Carrée of the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries Garden in the center of Paris and especially to revitalize the event, which today is recognized as one of the most prestigious of its kind. Since June 2010, Flay has been managing director of FIAC. Following are edited excerpts from her interview with Art+Auction:

What are some interesting artworks we can look forward to at FIAC 2017?

There are many things that I am particularly looking forward to, for example Henry Taylor’s solo exhibition at Blum and Poe. His paintings, for which the subject matter consists of social and political issues affecting African Americans today, have incredible power and painterly virtuosity. [Also] Corita Kent’s work at Galerie Allen: Her brightly colored, silkscreen text works occupy an important but much overlooked place in the history of Pop art on the West Coast. Orlan and Lea Lublin at Espaivisor will be an interesting juxtaposition of the contextualizing of both artists. Selma Feriani from Tunis will be showing at FIAC for the first time with works by Ismaïl Bahri and Massinissa Selmani respectively from Tunisia and Algeria, and Imanes Farès, also showing for the first time, will present Sammy Baloji from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The year 2017 will also mark the return of a design sector to the Grand Palais with five galleries showing masterpieces of modernist and contemporary design. Oscar Tuazon’s site-specific installation on the Place Vendôme will be exceptional; Richard Nonas will present a large-scale work imagined for the pedestrianized esplanade of the Avenue Winston Churchill; Matt Mullican’s banners from 1986 will be displayed on the façade of the Petit Palais.

The Tuileries Gardens, organized in collaboration with the Louvre Museum, will present an exceptional ensemble of 26 sculptural works and installations, together with six architectural projects including modernist houses by Jean Prouvé, a utopian dwelling by Hans-Walter Müller, an artist’s house by Atelier van Lieshout, a Pavillion by the Campana brothers and a nomad and modular museum space by Christian de Portzamparc!

Trisha Brown’s performances, held in the context of our Festival “Parades,” will pay homage to work of this great choreographer who passed away this year, while the young choreographer Nicholas Paul of the Paris Opera Ballet will present his piece “A Bras le Corps” for the first time in France and the iconic American poet John Giorno will give a poetry reading in the auditorium of the Louvre Museum.

Which is your favorite museum in Paris and why?

Impossible to say which is my favorite! No city in the world can boast so many worldclass institutions. The Musée Guimet’s incredible treasures of Asian art, the Musée du Quai Branly and its unparalleled collections of art premiers, the Palais Galliera’s collections of costumes and couture retracing the history of fashion; the Musée de la Vie Romantique and of course the collections of the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Pompidou, which will be rehung on the occasion of FIAC. I have a particular affection for museums which are housed in the former homes or studios of artists, such as the Musée Eugène Delacroix or the Musée Gustave Moreau. It is as if the presence of the previous occupants can still be felt.

What are your recommendations for must-visit places in Paris and why?

All the aforementioned museums, but also the Sainte Chapelle inside the Conciergerie for the deep spirituality it resonates; the gardens of the Musée Eugène Delacroix and the Petit Palais because both are such unsuspected and miraculous little havens of peace and quiet within the hustle and bustle of the city, and the Opera Garnier because the excellence in the field of opera and dance which it embodies is perpetuated each night of the week during the season.

What restaurants, bars, and cafés would you recommend in Paris and why?

I love Balagan, a restaurant located on the ground floor of the Hôtel Renaissance Paris Vendôme. Modern-day Jerusalem cuisine, with fusion dishes mixing up Jewish, Arabic and Meditteranean traditions. There is also the Racines des Près, a sophisticated new address run by chef Alexandre Navarro (ex-Plaza Athénée, Pré Catelan and Racines 2). Finally, I would recommend Tondo, a great Italian inspired place which opened in the 12th arrondissement a year ago, and where it is always nice to go with friends.

Where would you go and what would you do if you had a free morning or afternoon in Paris?

There is always something I feel I must see or see again at the Musée du Louvre so a walk in the collections is always a great destination. Very central but still quite preserved, at the very extremity of the Ile de la Cité, is the tiny Square de la Place Dauphine, which is one of my favorite places in Paris. It is a plunge into the Paris of another era with a quaint, almost provincial, feel to it.In fact, it is not unusual to see people playing pétanque. Close by, the Marché des Fleurs is also one of my favorite places. On Saturdays and Sundays, I like the Vanves fleamarket where I invariably find something that stimulates my curiosity.

Where would you head to in Paris for the best shopping and what would you buy?

To take the pulse in terms of fashion trends, from time to time I like to visit the fashion houses along the Avenue de Montaigne, certainly one of the places where “l’élégance à la française” is best expressed. But on a more regular basis, I enjoy the possibility of “one stop shopping” at the Galeries Lafayette where all the major fashion houses are present, together with interesting and more affordable younger designers and “prêt à porter.” The shopping experience provides a great overview of what is available; an ideal solution for busy schedules.

Where would you recommend people stay when they visit Paris?

There is an incredible variety of beautiful and charming places to stay in Paris. For a truly unforgettable experience, I can recommend the Hôtel Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli just opposite the Tuileries Gardens. The refined elegance of the“Belle Étoile” suite with a panoramic terrace on the rooftop is pure magic.

What are the best places to see and buy art in Paris?

Paris offers an exceptional concentration of world-class galleries. Fifty-four out of the 193 participating galleries in FIAC 2017 are Parisian. Concentrated in the sectors of modern and contemporary art, they represent only a small part of the large number of highly reputed venues to be found in the capital. The Gallery Night, to be held on Thursday October 20 during FIAC, is an opportunity to discover around 100 of these.

What are the best places to see live bands or musicians in Paris and why?

In a classical vein, the new Philharmonie de Paris has an exceptional program of worldclass musicians, ensembles and orchestras with a varied repertoire. The Silencio, a club conceived by David Lynch and inspired by the European salons of previous centuries, has a great line-up in an ambiance conducive to (very) late nights. Last but not least, and in keeping with Paris’ motto fluctuat nec mergitur — and for the memory of those who lost their lives — the Bataclan has reopened with the great program it is known for.

What do you love most about Paris?

Its resilience and its infinite beauty, both of which never cease to inspire me.

This article appears in the October edition of Art+Auction.