The Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris: All That Glitters Remains Gold … But for How Long?
Pumping up the glamour and gilding, the 25th Biennale des Antiquaires—on through Wednesday, September 22—gets the fall decorative and fine arts party started right. Here’s a brief word of welcome for The Faster Times from Hervé Aaron, who as president of the Biennale’s organizing body (the Syndicat National des Antiquaires) is overseeing his first edition of the fair.
With its setting in Paris in the Grand Palais, just off the Champs-Élysées, and under the patronage of French president Nicolas Sarkozy (and by extension la belle Carla Bruni), the Biennale remains the chicest of the international first tier fine and decorative art fairs.
Eye poppers among the 80 dealers include the stand from Kraemer & Cie (among the grandest of Paris antiques houses and antiquarian dynasties specializing in 18th-century furniture and objects), which restaged the Oval Office with museum-quality French pieces—no doubt making Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a well-known Francophile who as first lady employed the Paris design firm Jansen to redecorate portions of the White House, smile from heaven. Not only was the stand a tour de force of inventory and imagination, but of marketing as well. French, Russian, even Chinese camera crews swarmed, capturing the small green Rothko over the mantelpiece, the meticulously reproduced “views” from the windows, and the stack of newspapers on the elegant Louis Louis XVI desk (with the International Herald Tribune on top). “It’s an iconic room, recognized the world over,” notes Olivier Kraemer.
At 18th-century French furniture gallery François Léage, paneling specialist Guillaume Féau of Féau & Cie, perhaps the leading source for 18th and 19th-century paneling in the world, showed two complete sets of boiserie: one late 18th century by renowned neo-classical architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux; the other early 19th century by Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine (Napoleon’s go-to design team).
For 20th-century decorative arts, the Paris-based Dansk Mobelkunst (founded in Copenhagen in 1992 and the first Danish gallery to specialize exclusively in 20th-century Scandinavian design) exhibited a suite of furniture, two armchairs and a sofa, by Tuve and Edward Kindt Larsen from 1938; and Galerie Downtown François Laffanour showed an impressive catalog of modern French designers—works from the likes of Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé.
Pride of place, literally in terms of location (steps from the main entrance and along a main axis) and figuratively as far as cohesion and uniqueness, went to Cheska and Robert Vallois of the Art Deco gallery Vallois, who displayed 35 pieces by Swiss master Jean Dunand, all created between 1910-1935, and all for sale (in contrast to the 2008 Biennale, where the Vallois displayed a range of 1930’s masterworks, none of which were for sale). A lacquered Dunand console from the stand is pictured above.
In terms of modern and contemporary art, New York-based galleries Marlborough Gallery and L&M Arts, both making their Biennale debuts, flexed their muscles: Marlborough with an impressive wall-sized wood carving of a fully kitted bookcase by artist Manolo Valdés (shown right); and L&M with abstract expressionist works by the likes of Rothko and de Kooning.
And while the new “Tremplin pour la Biennale,” or Springboard for the Biennale, in which 25 dealers who have never before shown at a major fair displayed one piece representing both their galleries and point of view proved too sparse to provide evidence of either, it was a start down the road of adding new, fresh perspectives (much along the lines of the TEFAF Showcase program introduced in 2008 at TEFAF Maastricht, where seven youngish exhibitors were given small stands in which to strut their stuff. TEFAF Showcase now forms an ongoing—and very interesting—aspect of the fair).
Nobody, however, could say that the major jewelry houses were under represented or their booths under attended; on the night of the preview it was gown-to-gown room only in the stands of Piaget, Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, Cartier, Chanel Joaillerie, Dior Joaillerie and Louis Vuitton.
The winners of the ring, bracelet, broach and necklace race? Piaget, which made its Biennale debut around a couturier theme, its watch designs inspired by corsets, zippers and ribbons, and its necklaces by layered needlework and embroidery; and Van Cleef, which centered its four rooms around the fiction of Jules Verne—the “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” display, with a decorative octopus moving down a ceiling track above displays of incredibly intricate jewelry, such as a blue whale broach in which a spray of diamonds “spouted” from a body of diamonds and sapphires when the fins were depressed (pictured), was especially memorable.
But as dazzling as the 25th Biennale was, all is not hunky dorée beneath the fair’s gilded surface. It’s a time of transition and, to a degree, anxiety among the leadership and members of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, which over the last decade and a half has seen the Biennale’s importance and influence surpassed on several levels by TEFAF Maastricht, the current big daddy of fine and decorative arts fairs held annually in March in Maastricht. How a fair held in winter in a small Dutch town managed to get the jump on the Biennale held in Paris in September is now a largely academic debate, but how this direction might be reversed is very much under discussion within the Syndicat. Possible, long-explored solutions include making the Biennale annual (hence necessitating a name change), or leaving the Biennale a biannual fair while putting in place an additional annual fine and decorative arts fair. In acknowledging these possibilities and others, Aaron said that a decision will be announced by the end of the year.
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