When the classic “cabinet de curiosités” emerged in the 16th-century, the term referred to a library-like room filled with objects related to natural history, geology, archaeology, works of art and antiques – a collection with no boundaries. Fast forward to the 21st century and what defines the modern cabinet de curiosités? According to decorator and architect Thierry Despont, the concept remains exactly the same and is as relevant as ever as he shows at “Le Cabinet de Curiosités” in New York, an installation curated by him for the Marlborough and Steinitz galleries.

"I'm obsessed with being the cartographer of the dream world. It should take people literally into my dream. What I like is the surprise of the unexpected," says Despont of his unusual grouping of objects at the former headquarters of New York Mercantile Exchange. Using the vast loft space as a blank canvas, Despont created a series of five rooms using 18th-century boiseries (said to be for sale for a sum of seven figures) and monumental pieces of furniture such as an 1810 map table that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte from Parisian antiques specialist Steinitz.

“We are afraid of juxtapositions in today’s world, which is one of the reasons I find museums so dry. I just wanted to show you can mix things up, that it’s a pleasure to let your imagination go wild,” remarks Despont of his subsequent choices of art by Spanish artist Manolo Valdes, Chilean painter Claudio Bravo, and Despont’s own work. Valdes sculptures recall three-dimensional interpretations of Matisse, Velazquez and Picasso works, and jar with the ideas in Bravo’s trompe l’oeil depictions of the back of paintings and of crumpled paper. Despont’s own creations – assemblages of found objects that resemble unusual creatures and paintings of imaginary planets – heighten the sense of discovery.

The question as to whether the cabinet concept is as relevant as the traditional gallery show was addressed by Max Levai, a director of the Marlborough gallery: "When you visit collectors' homes, you see this great and interesting new tendency that you don't see in galleries--people mixing contemporary artists with objects and furniture,” he says. “We really want to expose the interesting dialogue that contemporary art can have with antiques."

For Despont, curating the cabinet de curiosités began with a less high minded approach. He says simply: “There was very much the notion, ‘Come and be amazed.’”



Thierry Despont

"I'm obsessed with being the cartographer of the dream world. It should take people literally into my dream. What I like is the surprise of the unexpected."

“We are afraid of juxtapositions in today’s world, which is one of the reasons I find museums so dry. I just wanted to show you can mix things up, that it’s a pleasure to let your imagination go wild.”

“Today’s museums are so antiseptic-ized and organized and labeled.”

“There was very much the notion, ‘Come and be amazed.’”


Max Levai, Director of the Marlborough gallery

"When you visit collectors' homes, you see this great and interesting new tendency that you don't see in galleries--people mixing contemporary artists with objects and furniture. We really want to expose the interesting dialogue that contemporary art can have with antiques."

"It's really about establishing relationships between things that you wouldn't really think have a relationship until the pairings are put together."

"There's a very interesting dialogue between what Claudio is trying to achieve in his paintings and what the boiserie did fundamentally in their contemporary time."


More info:

Until January 31, 2012, at 6 Harrison Street, New York.

http://www.marlboroughgallery.com/exhibitions/le-cabinet-de-curiosits