The 15th Biennale de Monaco, Aug. 1-17, 2003, at Le Sporting d'Hiver, Place du Casino, Monte-Carlo
Curious about the highflying taste for the arts on the Riviera? Then be sure to catch the 15th edition of the Biennale de Monaco, held in the world's smallest sovereign state.
Perched on a massive cliff, Monte-Carlo boasts more wealth than any other town in the world. It registers the highest per capita income anywhere, and its harbor holds more 80-foot-plus yachts than any other. The Biennale vernissage, held last Thursday evening, July 31, was packed with glitterati, sporting massive rocks along with Pucci and Galliano galore. On first reflection, the show's got an Ivana Trump kind of flash. Even Andy Warhol factory alum Ultra Violet showed up.
This year, the range of periods of the 30-dealer Biennale runs far beyond the haute dix-huitme sicle. In fact, Andr-Charles Boulle (1642-1732), the most celebrated of Louis XIV bnistes, reigns -- along with the violence-prone graffiti graphics of Jean-Michel Basquiat (at Sophie Scheidecker Fine Art, New York). Overall, the Biennale fare speaks of rarefied taste bolstered by a remarkably demanding sense of connoisseurship.
"Even I was surprised by the number of clients seeking important pieces," says Jacques Perrin, the Paris dealer who co-founded the Biennale and serves as its president. "Originally, we thought clients would want 'second home' material."
In his effort to satisfy the quest for top-tier antiques, Perrin showcases a dazzling marriage chest in ebony with gleaming gilt bronze mounts attributed to Boulle himself. It's veneered in tortoiseshell, pewter and brass.
Nearby, Paris dealer Segoura is sporting a set of Louis XV silver-plated chairs. These rare items truly represent a lost art, as most silver-plated furniture was later gilded when owners despaired over the heavy duty maintenance of polishing such creations.
The wares of New York dealer Conor Mahoney, who presides over the Chinese Porcelain Company, speak further of rarities prized by this crowd. There's a deep brownTang horse with a striped mane dating from the 8th century, this equine masterpiece was from the imperial family and is priced at a surprisingly reasonable $1 million. "There are very few chocolate horses and less than a dozen exist of such magnificence," says Mahoney, who is sharing a stand with the Paris-based Galerie Flore.
At 34 years old, Flore de Brantes is the youngest dealer in the Biennale and her stock here represents the new more eclectic taste. In addition to old-fashioned favorites like a German gilt fire screen from fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld's Rococo-collecting period, and a series of eight 17th-century Brussels tapestries, "Equestrian Education of Louis XIII," this dealer has a dinning table by Maison Jansen. On reeded bronze legs, the table stretches 12 feet across.
Maison Jansen was headed up by Stphane Boudin, who did up the White House under First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Opening night, de Brantes sold a pair of French 18th-century gilt armchairs to a Monaco decorator.
The eight jewelry dealers on board are a measure of how much this commodity is favored. The stand of Laurence Graff, who boasts boutiques from here to New York and sales representatives even in Moscow and Dubai, was filled to capacity opening night with viewers ogling his marquise, oval and emerald cuts of diamonds in vivid pink, yellow and blue. Prices for the larger jewels start at $250,000 and go up to $14 million.
As to fine art, Jan Bruegel the Younger appears to be the Old Master of the moment and Galerie St.-Honor is sporting no less than five of his paintings. The most ravishing, Landscape with a Village Feast, contains an astonishing 290 figures, including the artist's family and his dog. The price is $2.7 million and it's bound to be picked up by a museum. Last year, this dealer picked up substantial sales.
One measure of the seriousness of the vernissage crowd: Patrick Leclercq, Monaco's minister of state, spent an impressive one hour and half perusing the stands, confirming the fervor for this Biennale.
Plus, an index of how hip this town has become is the oh-so contemporary Grimaldi Forum, which is hosting "Super Warhol," July 16-Aug. 31. This extravaganza of artworks organized by Germano Celant, includes concerts by John Cale, readings by Gerard Malanga and a variety of "licensed products." Expected attendance? A stunning 50,000.