September 30, 2011 5:30 pm

A Chagall with that chair?

A preview of London’s Pavilion of Art and Design

Anyone passing through Berkeley Square last October might be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled on the reception for a Euro-glamorous wedding. Through the luxurious entrance of a grand, floodlit marquee glided illustrious names including Kay Saatchi, Larry Gagosian and Dasha Zhukova, as well as a plethora of leggy, vanilla-blonde Russians and their Armani-clad escorts.

Within, the free-flowing champagne and gracious decor maintained the illusion of a high-society cocktail party. Yet the event that was pulling in this glittering crowd was the Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD), a selling fair which attracts 60 of the world’s leading dealers in those categories.

Now in its fourth year, the fair first leapt to international attention in 2009. That was the year that directors Stéphane Custot and Patrick Perrin decided to leaven what had been a design fair, known as Design Art London, with modern art.

“We had the luck to obtain Berkeley Square as a location, which is in the midst of all the fine art galleries,” recalls Custot, himself director of a modern art gallery, Hopkins Custot. “There was a crisis in every sector and the design world was struggling but modern art continued to hold steady.”

Instantly, sales soared in both sectors. Undoubtedly, part of the appeal lies in the public’s new awareness of an overall 20th-century aesthetic. “Twenty years ago, design as a term did not mean anything to people,” observes Custot. “Interior decorators and magazines were mixing modern art with 18th- and 19th-century furniture. Now there is a new way of living that understands how 20th-century art and design complement each other.”

The unique blend has made the fair appealing to galleries worldwide. This year sees the debut of two new New York-based galleries: Luxembourg and Dayan and Eykyn Maclean, both of whom have decided to open permanent spaces in London. (Luxembourg and Dayan is already open; Eykyn Maclean will launch in 2012.)

“When we came as visitors, PAD instantly became our favourite fair,” observes Alma Luxembourg, owner of the eponymous gallery. For her stock of post-war artists, who range from Italians such as Mimmo Rotella and Alberto Burri to Anselm Kiefer and George Condo, PAD’s time span, which ranges from the moderns though to “early” contemporary, is ideal.

She also loves the intimate scale. Due to restrictions on the size of the marquee, PAD cannot expand further but Custot has no doubt that its diminutive proportions are a unique selling point. “Because it is a small fair, we talk to each other and buy from each other. It is like a little club.”

Indeed, in many ways PAD feels like Frieze’s elegant, older sister. The latter specialises in art, much of it installation, film and photography, at its most challenging and edgy. Although stimulating, much of this work sits uneasily in the homes of all but those with the most avant-garde taste.

PAD, by contrast, proffers art of a scale and sensibility to be in synergy with less outré sitting-rooms. This year’s highlights include, from the Spanish gallery Manuel Barbié, Jean Arp’s original plaster model for the sculpture “Coquille Crystal”, which was subsequently realised by his assistants; a 1944 india ink drawing by Jean Dubuffet from Galerie Natalie Seroussi in Paris, exhibiting for the first time this year; Bruton Street gallery E&R Cyzer Art presents a late Chagall oil painting “Les Amants au Cirque” (c1980), which has been in the same private hands since it was bought from the artist; while London photography gallery Michael Hoppen offers photographs that have been inked, painted or collaged on by the likes of Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Guy Bourdin.

Yet isn’t there a danger that the aura of these artists, whose vision was often revolutionary in its time, will be tamed by association with PAD’s cosy world of domesticity and design? “I don’t think that we have a problem with that,” says Robert Delaney, director of Cork Street emporium and regular PAD exhibitor Bernard Jacobson, adding that PAD attracts a cache of “serious, wealthy European collectors”, which sets it apart from other fairs where much of the crowd is made up of “the curious public”.

Alma Luxembourg agrees: “People live with both art and design in their homes. PAD offers a holistic way of collecting both at the same time.” Artists have always crossed back and forth between categories; think of the decorative character of many antique freschi or the furniture of Dalí.

Although now it is art that garners most attention, blue-chip design still shines. With judges who include Zaha Hadid, Tom Dixon and V&A director Martin Roth, one of the year’s most eagerly awaited design and decorative arts awards is the Moët Hennessy PAD London Prize, whose winner takes up residence in the V&A’s permanent collection. Potential recipients surely include 28-year-old British designer Bethan Laura Wood whose “Playtime” shelving unit, created out of a snaking tables decorated with marquetry patterns is on display at the Nilufar gallery from Italy.

It is indicative of the fair’s success that two new editions are set to open. In November, 49 exhibitors, 60 per cent from Europe and 40 per cent from the US, will gather in New York’s Park Avenue Armoury space, in a week that coincides with New York’s modern and contemporary autumn auctions.

The decision to launch there was kicked off, says Patrick Perrin, by “extremely high demand from dealers” who bemoaned the absence of a “Masterpiece or Maastricht” in the city, particularly when several fairs failed to survive the recession.

Local New York art dealer Stellan Holm is enthusiastic: “If it is like PAD in London, it will be fantastically well-organised and a pleasant atmosphere.”

But PAD’s most daring move is its bid to open a pure design fair in Milan next spring during the week of the Salone del Mobile. “There is no design fair in Milan,” says Perrin provocatively, before referring to the Salone as a “contemporary furniture fair that covers everything for the home from bathrooms to fabrics to lighting”.

His new venture, as you might expect, will be far smaller and more exclusive, concentrating only on high design from the 20th-century avant-garde to cutting-edge newcomers. Although still waiting for confirmation of a space in Via Tortona, hub of the week’s satellite design shows, Perrin is already planning a series of PAD Limited Edition designs in conjunction with top houses such as Moroso and Cappellini.

When PAD first welcomed modern art galleries into its glamorous tent it was clear that it was exploiting the arrival of the art world’s major players in London for Frieze. Now, however, it is PAD that is setting trends. Next year, Frieze is to launch its own satellite fair dedicated to modern art masters. When I ask Stéphane Custot how he feels about this flattering imitation, he says dryly that he would prefer not to comment.

PAD London runs from October 11-16; www.padlondon.net

PAD New York runs from November 10-14; www.padny.net

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