Design Now

Design Now

It’s Spring and Paris is abuzz with Design Art. Budding greenery and warm sunny weather added a festive allure to the bumper 15th edition of the Pavillon des Arts et du Design in the Tuileries Gardens. Founded by Patrick Perrin, the son and grandson of Parisian antique dealers, and contemporary art dealer Stéphane Custot, the Pavillon, or PAD, began as an art and antiques fair. Its evolution into design and the decorative arts picked up speed when the duo created a London edition held in Mayfair’s chic Berkeley Square. Timed to coincide with the October Frieze contemporary art fair in Regent’s Park, the Pavilion of Art & Design London was a resounding success. Last year’s show drew praise from even such skeptics about contemporary art as International Herald Tribune critic Souren Melikian.

Now, with a growing number of participating international dealers attracting an equally international clientele, Perrin and Custot will launch PAD’s first New York edition this November in the Park Avenue Armory.

What defines Design Art? The term usually refers to late 20th–21st century design pieces, either unique or produced in limited editions, and sold in galleries rather than furniture stores. High profile design collectors include Christie’s owner François Pinault and American hotelier Ian Schrager, along with fashion locomotives Karl Lagerfeld, Hedi Slimane, Azzédine Alaïa and Jean Paul Gaultier. Design Art also embraces prototypes and is starting to encompass the Art Deco, 1940s and mid-20th century pieces that are making high prices at auction. Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann’s record-smashing 1929 chaise longue on skis, originally designed with the Maharajah of Indore in mind, scored the top price of €2.865 million at Christie’s €42 million Château de Gourdon sale in Paris during PAD week.

In the PAD’s tents, prices were not so vertiginous, and spacious stands offered an increasing number of contemporary works in eyepopping displays. On Manhattan dealer Todd Merrill’s stand, New York-based ceramic artist Beth Katleman’s 3,500-piece, five-yard-long installation Folly covered an entire wall. The designer describes the exuberant work—dozens of white porcelain fairytale vignettes populated by Disneyesque figures—as “three-dimensional Toile de Jouy wallpaper”. The first of a prospective limited edition of 12, it sold on opening night to an Australian collector for $200,000.

Carpenters Workshop Gallery of London starred Studio Job’s showstopper Robber Baron series of five substantial polished bronze pieces with 24-karat gilding. A large cabinet, looking a lot like a free-standing safe, weighed in at 2,200 lbs, despite a large hole through the center. A 5-foot-3-inch floor lamp in the form of a skyscraper was encircled by a ring of golden-bubble clouds and topped by a floating dirigible. A jewel safe was decorated with a hand-painted clown whose nose is the open-sesame. Prices range from €60,000 to €190,000. And tucked away on a pedestal in a discreet back passage, designer Mathieu Lehanneur’s alabaster and glass S.M.O.K.E. lamp—like a big puff of smoke—was priced at €9,800.

“We don’t do design, we are doing sculptures with functions,” asserts CWG partner Julien Lombrail, who added that the gallery, based in Mayfair and Chelsea, will be opening a third space in Paris this fall. “We need to spread the word,” he believes. “Design Art is not just a business, it’s a culture. I spend half my time working with artisans to handcraft the artist’s pieces.”

What else caught the eye? Perimeter’s hand knotted Circus rug made of hemp dolls by the Brazilian brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana, and Mathieu Lehanneur’s intriguing Age of the World black-enameled clay sculptures, whose shapes are determined by demographic chart patterns of Brazil, India, China and Russia; India’s bottom-heavy version rises to a point, illustrating the country’s phenomenal birthrate; the Russian and Chinese versions curve in and out to mark population declines during revolutionary periods.

At Lamberty, British designer Mark Brazier-Jones’s irresistible clusters of his Floret wall lights, made of glass balls and lenses on filigree ironwork and priced at £1,650 each, attracted 29 commissions during the fair alone.

The young Paris gallery NextLevel, about to move into a new space on the rue Pastourelle in the Marais, showed Bina Baitel’s Pad lamp, made of hand-sewn kidskin and fluocompact light components, along with a trompe l’oeil sculpture rug made of polyethylene foam “coal” and felt by Raphaël Charles.

Former Dansk Moebelkunst director Maria Wettergren now offers the work of contemporary Danish designers in her eponymous Saint Germain des Prés gallery. At PAD, she displayed Mathias Bengtsson’s Slice chair—Bengtsson combines high-tech laser-cut layers of wood with traditional craftsmanship in assembling the sculpted wooden chair that looks like a wind-rippled desert dune. Designer Erling Christoffersen’s Flugstol chaise longue, a sleek swoop of walnut wood, steel and rope, will be a star of the Wettergren gallery’s Wood Couture show this month. 18 rue Guénégaud, Paris 6th.

Also upping PAD’s contemporary quotient: New York gallery owner Cristina Grajales, who brought French designer Christophe Côme’s Mirror Cabinet and Nigel Coates’s nostalgic lavender silk settee; and the Italian Galleria Nilufar, which premiered 29-year-old Tuscan designer Giacomo Ravagli’s Barometro Lamps, unique pieces in rare Italian marble that he makes by hand in Carrara. “Marble means imagination, patience, stubbornness, but, above all, courage,” Ravagli declares.

Gallery hopping

The opening of a Project Space upstairs at Larry Gagosian’s new gallery has also given Paris new design clout. On view until May 21 are French architect Jean Nouvel’s first limited-edition design pieces: a metal Tool Box storage system and a hyper-long Table au KM, whose name is a wink at the table’s 20-foot length. “You can dine at one end, do your work in the middle, and keep the far end for amusement,” Nouvel advises, “or invite forty to dinner.” In a limited edition of six, costing €70,000 each, the table must be ordered at a minimum length of four meters (13 feet), but Nouvel’s architectural structuring means the length, supported by a lamination of solid oak, hornbeam and acacia, can be increased “to infinity”. (With prices to match, one might wonder?) 4 rue de Ponthieu, 8th. website

Galerie Downtown François Laffanour, whose forte has been the work of 1940s legends Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret, is moving into the contemporary scene with young Japanese architect Junya Ishigami’s playful Picnic collection, on show through May 31. His “family” of curvy, crosshatched wire chairs is dressed and shod in adorable crocheted knits, right down to their booties. 33 rue de Seine, 6th. website

Through June 4, the Galerie du Passage will be showing Graphiques Electriques, Modernist-influenced lighting designed by French Vogue’s former artistic director Patrick Hourcade, whose forms have echoes of the Bauhaus, Mondrian and 85-year-old French artist François Morellet. 20 Galerie Véro-Dodat, 1st. website

In the 1970s, when it was really avant-garde to do so, Baron and Baroness Gourgaud commissioned designer Maria Pergay to create furniture, lighting and objets d’art for their summer home in Corsica. The recently rediscovered Pergay, who is still working, was once a favorite of such patrons as Salvador Dalí and Pierre Cardin. “Nothing is more beautiful than steel,” she affirms, and her treatment of the cold material is surprisingly sensuous, sophisticated and luxurious. Eighteen pieces from the Gourgaud collection will be auctioned at Artcurial on May 24, including a stainless steel corner sofa (estimated at €30,000–€40,000); a spiral-shaped stainless steel coffee table with beige, brown and red lacquer effects (€40,000-€50,000); and the unique glass-and-steel Gerbe dining table (€35,000–€45,000). website

Originally published in the May 2011 issue of France Today

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