In a world that is in love with minimalist steel and glass, who needs ormolu and marquetry? Who wants the grand goût français?
The premise that supported the world’s premier art and antiques fair, the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris, for much of its half-century of life has been rudely challenged in by changing tastes and the consequent decline in both interest and prices in this once pre-eminent marketplace. The last edition, in 2010, saw a fall in the number of exhibitors, and some reports of a lacklustre atmosphere.
It’s a quandary that besets antiques fairs everywhere. but the Syndicat National des Antiquaires (SNA), which organises the Biennale, has decided to fight back, and this year’s event looks set to present a revived face to the world. Newly returned as president of the SNA and director of the Biennale (after a stint from 2002 to 2007) is Christian Deydier, who is interviewed by Georgina Adam. His first coup was to enlist the design eye of Karl Lagerfeld, who has masterminded a new look that extends even to the balloonist poster and a giant antique balloon under the mighty dome of the Grand Palais.
Here, some 146 galleries – two-thirds of which are French, as this remains a very national event – include traditional museum-like displays of 18th-century French furniture, and of Renaissance Italian pieces, and of treasures from Asia. But beyond that, offerings range right up to the almost-contemporary, with a strong showing of 20th-century design classics and the arts decoratifs for which this is a prime market – as well as sculpture and painting up to and including Louise Bourgeois and Gerhard Richter. The range of fine western art across some six centuries, with Asian and other antiquities extending the time line much further than that, makes for an unparalleled showing.
The other important aspect that now distinguishes this fair from most others is the presence of the haute joaillerie – which is to mere jewellery what haute couture is to off-the-peg fashion. Ten of France’s most venerable jewellers have a presence, and several create new collections especially for the event.
And of course, there will be very, very good food, in a gourmet pop-up under the command of a different starred chef each day. Would we expect anything less?
Biennale des Antiquaires, Grand Palais, Paris, September 14-23 www.sna-france.com