Sunday, September 12, 2010

Go East Old Man, Go East

For the past dozen years I have spent most of my summers at our home in Santa Fe and always flown East around September 11 (still excellent air fares that day) to get back to New York and or Europe.

I have, however, always wanted to stay in Santa Fe for the month of September. The summer crowd has left, the weather is beautiful and there are many activities after the Fiesta celebrations. But there is always something that I need to do back East so it does not happen. As I say every year at this time, “Maybe next year”.

This year what is luring me away is the 25th Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris. The fair, which will open on September 14 and run from the 15th-22nd, is organized by the Syndicat National des Antiquaires the French art and antiques dealers association. It has around 350 members, mostly from France, but several other nations are represented as well. Although we do not exhibit in the Biennale my firm has been a member of the Syndicat ever since my uncle lived in Paris. He was there from the late 1920’s to the mid 1960’s with a decade’s gap in the 40’s when he lived in New York.

Years ago this fair was one of the most innovative in the world. I remember when a group of 8 Parisian dealers, who often worked together, built a fortress with each dealer showing in his own part of the fort. An English dealer constructed a major mahogany library on his stand, but the most innovative installation that year was a dealer who had borrowed a French 18th century painting from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. He showed it under a glass bridge that one had to cross over to get into his booth. I would have liked to see the curator’s face when he learned how the dealer planned to protect the painting. Well, it was certainly under glass!

Shortly after that extravaganza the Grand Palais, the beaux arts architectural wonder in the center of Paris that had housed the Biennale, closed for a 10 year renovation. The Biennale moved into an exhibition space in the Carrousel du Louvre, the underground shopping mall next to the great museum. There was no room for innovative installations there and the tradition of design competition among the dealers was lost by the time the show came back to the Grand Palais just a few years ago. Who knows, maybe this year it will be revived.. A friend and colleague of mine who will be exhibiting said that they had a surprise, something special, planned so I am very curious to see what it is.

The September date seems early for a major fair to us in the U.S. where we haven’t yet settled into our fall work routines. Maybe that is why they pick it. But scheduling such events is a very complicated affair, and the exhibitors’ opinion of a desirable date that does not conflict with other arts activities is not the only consideration. One cannot just walk into the Grand Palais and demand a certain time slot. There are commercial, political and museum priorities at this prestigious venue where various sections are used for exhibitions throughout the year.

What will this year’s Biennale be like? The art dealer lives in eternal hope. Will there be something to race his/her motor, and possibly buy, around the next corner? And then will there be a passionate collector who will fall in love with it at the next turn? All in all the Paris Biennale is an excellent reason to venture East.