The Biennale des Antiquaires is a spectacular exhibition of rare antiques, fine art and haute joaillerie, which opened this week at Paris’ Grand Palais. We select some of the most extraordinary objects on show and hear from the fair's director.
In an art world saturated with art, design and antiques fairs, the Biennale des Antiquaries stands apart. Held in the sumptuous surroundings of Paris’ Grand Palais, the Biennale invites (admission is not guaranteed) just 80 leading art and antiques dealers, and a small number of jewellers. This is in contrast to its closest competitor, the annual TEFAF fair in Maastricht, which this year included some 263 exhibitors. The Biennale even looks different to other art fairs: in a space designed by the architect Patrick Bazanana of Agence Decoral, the sceneography is luxurious and spacious, with just one wide boulevard lined with galleries.
As such, the standard of much that it is up for grabs at the Biennale is nothing short of museum quality and the Biennale is renowned for attracting the most important collectors. They come expecting to find the finest old masters, African and Oceanic art, modern art (1950 is the cut-off date), eighteenth century furniture, Scandinavian design, contemporary and vintage jewelry, and other exceptional objects. It’s a mix that also appeals to the world’s leading interior designers, many of whom could be seen scouting the fair at its VIP opening on Tuesday.
Highlights of the fair this year include the Brussel-based Gisele Croes Gallery, which specializes in ancient Chinese art and is exhibition a number of the gallery’s signature archaic bronze vessels from the Shang (c.1600-1050 BC) and Zhou (1050-221 BC) dynasties. Other standouts include a bronze sculpture of the Torso of Hercules at Axel Vervoordt; a Pierre Soulages painting at Galerie Pascal Lansberg; and a sculpture by Le Corbusier and Joseph Savina offered at Galerie Zlotowski. Add to this a separate wing of contemporary high jewelry, and there is something for all lovers of luxury at the Biennale des Antiquaires.
Hervé Aaron is the director of the Biennale des Antiquaires and the mastermind behind the drive to make its 25th edition the most spectacular yet. Here, Aaron shares his thoughts about this important anniversary, as well as about the art market in general.
Hervé Aaron definition of luxury?
Luxury is the ultimate pleasure of what is unnecessary.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
A jewel by a great designer.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
The Venus de Milo.
What does the symbolic 25th staging of the fair represent for you?
It is an important moment in time. Retrospectively, one can notice that the Biennale continues to assert with brio while preserving its concern for excellence. I do not forget that we owe its success to the foresight of the Parisian art dealers that preceded us. These forerunners understood that in an international art fair had to be organized in Paris. It was well before the Fiac, well before Maastricht. We are doing everything that is necessary for the Biennale to continue to shine, while the international art market evolves rapidly.
What means are you developing to keep the Biennale durable?
I think that the Biennale must become larger and more international, with more foreign exhibitors. Furthermore in order insure that Paris remains attractive to the collectors, we have to work against the archaism for the French system. We should lighten the bureaucracy in order to remain competitive on the international market. I am thinking about the discouraging tax system, the droit de suite, tax on imported works of art..These rules do not exist in either Peking nor New York.
In order to defend Paris position on the world stage, what actions seem to be priority?
First we have to protect the ‘cultural exception’ that characterizes the French art market. With time, an infinitely precious and fragile web has been woven between dealers, experts, restorers, museum curator and scholars..It is at the heart of the country’s cultural dynamic. Even if we have to harmonise European laws on the art market, we cannot reduce it to an ordinary commercial exchange. In legislating rashly, we could make an entire section of our heritage disappear. We are facing damages similar to the disappearance of the trades and crafts that were attached to the fashion industry. This is the reason why the Syndicat National des Antiquaires ( the National Society of Art Dealers) is opposed to the legislative bill that would allow auctioneers to conduct private sales.
Why do think these private sales would be harmful?
We have to protect the specificity of each profession. Art dealers and auctioneers have a completely different job. An auctioneer is an intermediary between a seller and a buyer. An art dealer discovers objects, buys them and takes risks in doing so and more importantly he advises collectors with their acquisitions, helping them to develop their ‘eye’..Let’s not forget that the art dealers have always been at the inception of the collections that are today in museum.
How is it possible to harmonise European regulations without destabilizing the French system?
Even the main defender of private sales by auctioneers, the president of Sotheby’s France Guillaume Cerutti, thinks that an international conference on the art market has to be organized. If the whole regulation and tax system is not analysed before new measures are taken, there will be problems. Auctioneers, art dealers, curators, we are all involved. We have a common objective: to promote French culture around the world. We have to learn how to work together.
How does this concern for heritage manifest itself at the Biennale?
It is not a coincidence that we are making a donation to the Institut national d’ histoire de l’art ( French national institute of art). And for this 25th Biennale, we have led a symbolic action in organizing the “ spingboard to the Biennale”. This is a pedestral for 25 young art dealers who have talent and ambition but not the means to exhibit in this salon yet. Art dealers pass on culture. The next generation is therefore essential. Moreover, in reading the applications to the spingboard, I notice with satisfaction that the young dealers have selected diverse specialties: bibliophilia, te French 18th century, archaeology, medals and decorations..The transmission has been successful.