La Biennale Paris (September 8-16) celebrates its 30th edition this year. It was first staged at the Grand Palais, the city’s glass-domed exhibition venue, in 1962, but as a Paris antiques fair it began in 1956, so the event has been running for more than 60 years.
Like most institutions, its history and longevity represent an advantage and challenge. Although great for brand recognition, it is harder to associate with novelty and change.
So the challenge for the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, the dealers’ association that organises this event, is to straddle both, trumpeting the Biennale’s role as a cultural icon while tempting new and established collectors and exhibitors to spend their money on a stand or a visit.
No easy task in an already crowded fairs market and with TEFAF’s expansion to the US in 2016.
This approach means marketing the Biennale as the centrepiece of the new September season when France returns to work while still referencing the fair’s past, when Paris was the centre of the art world.
That chimes with the tradition of regarding the Biennale not as a trade fair but as a cultural showcase for the city in its broadest sense, continuing with its celebrity chef gala dinner attended by the famous as well as art patrons, alongside a display of art across many disciplines.
If championing France is key, this year’s Biennale is certainly a very French affair. Unlike major fairs in other countries, the majority of the exhibitors come from the home country. Mathais Ary Jan, the SNA’s young president, is keen to innovate.
“No nostalgia – a Biennale for the future, not a Biennale of the past” is his battle cry.
In the seat for his second Biennale, his tenure has already seen major changes such as implementing the decision to go annual (something Ary Jan feels was long overdue) and the inauguration of a stricter vetting process, where impartiality and expertise are emphasised to give buyers confidence.
Ary Jan is also keen to champion younger dealers, in line with the Biennale’s strategy of welcoming newcomers as they constitute an important component of the future French market. So the exhibitor list features galleries such as Nicolas Bourriand, Ana Chiclana and Charles Hooremans.
Innovations this year include a more egalitarian layout with visitors directed along a route that passes every gallery. There is also cross-promotion with Paris’ home decoration Maison et Objet show, which runs concurrently, aiming to attract a different clientele by emphasising the French ‘art de vivre’.
Asked what he views as this year’s most important developments, Ary Jan cites the stricter vetting, the new layout and the choice of artist and fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac to oversee the Biennale’s Napoleonic loan exhibition.
Biennale dealer highlights
The French tribal art dealer Laurent Dodier, from Avranches in Normandy, is one of the few dealers who will be participating in the Parcours des Mondes and at the Biennale.
For the Biennale, he is offering something different. Under the title Kermadec et l’Art primitive, he will show around 20 key pieces of ethnographic art from Africa, Oceania and America along with a group of paintings of women by Eugène de Kermadec (1899-1976). This French artist, as with his contemporaries Picasso and Braque, was fascinated by tribal art and, like them, was championed by the dealer Daniel Henri Kahnweiler.
Although not as well known as the other two artists, his work is emerging from the shadows following a retrospective at the Musée de Belfort in 2016.
Ten of Kermadec’s paintings will be on show priced between €30,000-50,000, including a 2ft 4in x 19½in (73 x 50cm) oil on canvas from 1931, Woman putting on a stocking, which featured in the 2016 retrospective.
Dodier’s tribal art will feature alate 19th century 16in (40cm) high carved wood female ancestor figure from the Bamana people of Mali. Formerly in the collection of Charles Schanté, Paris, it will be priced around €80,000.
Whitford Fine Art
Whitford Fine Art, London dealer in 20th century art, will be standing at the 30th edition of the Biennale following participation last year which the gallery described as “positive and successful, with several important sales to both French and international clients”.
The gallery added: “In the last couple of years the Biennale has convincingly made some important changes that helped to reposition it in the place it deserves as one of the most prestigious events of the art calendar.”
Among the paintings Whitford Fine Art is showing at the Grand Palais will be a canvas from 1963 by the Dutch-born, Belgian Expressionist artist Bram Bogart.
The large mixed media painting titled Noodkijk, which is signed, titled and dated, measures 5ft 3in x 4ft 11in (1.6 x. 1.5m). It has a provenance to the André Emmerich Gallery in New York and a private Belgian collection and featured in the 1995 retrospective on the artist in Ostende. Noodkijk will be priced in the region of €250,000-300,000.
Bogart (1921-2012) was most closely associated with the COBRA Group, the European avant-garde movement active from 1948-51.
The name was formed in 1948 by Christian Dotremont from the initials of the members’ home cities: Copenhagen (Co), Brussels (Br) and Amsterdam (A).
Among the contingent of exhibitors from beyond France standing at this year’s Biennale is Robertaebasta from Milan, dealer in 20th century decorative arts by Italian and French Art Deco designers in particular.
It is showing this 1960s Coromandel pattern desk at the Biennale, a collaboration between the Italian designers Gio Ponti and Piero Fornasetti conceived in 1950 in lithographed wood with bakelite and brass fittings. The desk has a price tag of €55,000.
Damien Boquet Art
The Paris dealership Damien Boquet Art, based on the Avenue Hoche, has specialised in 19th-20th century paintings and drawings since 1997.
The gallery’s display at the Biennale, which will range in price from €50,000-1m, includes this 1881 portrait of Louise Riesener by Berthe Morisot measuring 2ft 4in x 2ft (73 x 60cm).
The sitter was a descendant of the famous cabinetmaker of the same name and was related to the artist Eugène Delacroix. Other portraits of her by Morisot are now in the Musées d’Orsay and Marmottan and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Paris dealer Marc Maison will be showing this impressively large 2ft 4in (71.5cm) diameter French gilt bronze framed cloisonné enamel charger at the Biennale.
It combines the talents of Ferdinand Barbedienne of the famous French firm and André Fernand Thesmar, who trained as a flower painter and joined Barbedienne in 1872.
The charger features a vase of brightly coloured flowers set on an exotic cloth against a blue ground. It is signed F Barbedienne Paris and monogrammed with two Fs and two interlaced Bs in the enamel and was shown at the Exposition de l’Union centrale des Arts appliqués à l’industrie in 1874.
Galerie Alexis Bordes
Among those exhibitors flying the flag for Old Masters at the Biennale will be Galerie Alexis Bordes, which is situated on the rue de Paix near the place Vendôme.
The specialist in 18th and 19th century French paintings and drawings will be showing a selection of works ranging in price from €10,000-450,000.
They will include a17th century portrait of a lady in a satin robe holding a mirror by Charles and Henri Beaubrun.